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Dickinson Educ. Ass'n v. Dickinson Pub. Sch. Dist.

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 17, 2014

Dickinson Education Association, Petitioner and Appellee
v.
Dickinson Public School District, Respondent and Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of Stark County, Southwest Judicial District, the Honorable William A. Herauf, Judge.

Michael J. Geiermann, Bismarck, N.D., for petitioner and appellee.

Rachel A. Bruner-Kaufman (argued) and Gary R. Thune (on brief), Bismarck, N.D., for respondent and appellant.

Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Dale V. Sandstrom. Crothers, Justice, dissenting.

OPINION

Page 616

VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

[¶1] The Dickinson Public School District (" District" ) appealed from a district court judgment granting the Dickinson Education Association's (" Association" ) petition for a writ of mandamus and ordering the District to offer the Association a one-year negotiated agreement for the 2013-2014 school year. We conclude the district court did not err in limiting the District's authority to unilaterally issue last-offer contracts to a one-year period and did not abuse its discretion in issuing the writ of mandamus. We affirm.

I

[¶2] For several years before the 2013-2014 school year, the Association and the District had conducted negotiations under N.D.C.C. ch. 15.1-16 and developed and agreed upon a series of negotiated master agreements. The prior negotiated agreements between the Association and the District contained the terms and conditions of employment between the certified staff and the District. The prior negotiated agreement's terms and conditions carry over to the next year unless the conditions are modified, changed, or deleted. The Association and the District had negotiated and agreed to two-year negotiated agreements for the last ten years.

[¶3] Between December 2012 and May 2013, the Association and the Dickinson Board of Education (" Board" ) held collaborative bargaining team meetings for purposes of formulating a negotiated agreement. The Association and the District's negotiations covered various provisions for both the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years, but the parties were ultimately unable to come to a resolution on all issues. In May 2013, after declaring an impasse, the parties sought the involvement of an education fact-finding commission (" Commission" ).

[¶4] In June 2013, the Commission held a hearing to assist the parties in resolving the impasse and subsequently issued its report and recommendations. The Commission's report recommended: (1) a two-year contract; (2) that all items previously agreed to remain in the agreement; (3) the Board's final offer on salary in year one and year two of the two-year contract; and (4) the addition of one professional development day in year two of the contract. On July 11, 2013, the Commission published its findings and recommendations in the Dickinson Press. In late-July 2013, with the parties still unable

Page 617

to reach an agreement, the District unilaterally issued contracts based on the Commission's recommendations, containing provisions for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years.

[¶5] In August 2013, the Association petitioned the district court for a writ of mandamus and also filed an application for temporary restraining order and other supporting documents. On August 8, 2013, the district court granted an alternate writ of mandamus, suspending the continuing contract offers made by the Board for the 2013-2014 school year, prohibiting the District from requiring the contract offers be returned until further court order, and ordering the District to execute a negotiated agreement for only the 2013-2014 school year. After a September 2013 telephonic hearing, the district court issued an order quashing the alternate writ of mandamus and ordering that individual teaching contracts for the 2013-2014 school year based on the Board's final offer were due September 13, 2013. The Association's petition for writ of mandamus remained pending, and the parties agreed the issue before the court was whether the District could unilaterally issue contracts for the 2014-2015 school year based on the negotiation process.

[¶6] In October 2013, the district court held a hearing on the Association's petition, after which the court granted the petition, concluding the unilateral offer of a two-year negotiated agreement is not lawful in North Dakota and the Association was entitled to an order of mandamus requiring the District to offer the Association a one-year negotiated agreement for the 2013-2014 school year. The court subsequently issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order of mandamus. A judgment of mandamus was entered on October 30, 2013.

II

[¶7] The District argues the Association did not meet its burden of proof to show it had a clear legal right to the granting of the petition for writ of mandamus and the district court erred in limiting the school district's authority to unilaterally issue last-offer contracts to only a one-year period.

[¶8] Section 32-34-01, N.D.C.C., addresses when a district court may issue a writ of mandamus:

The writ of mandamus may be issued by the supreme and district courts to any inferior tribunal, corporation, board, or person to compel the performance of an act which the law specially enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust, or station, or to compel the admission of a party to the use and enjoyment of a right or office to which the party is entitled and from which the party is precluded unlawfully by such inferior tribunal, corporation, board, or person.

See also N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8 (" The district court shall have authority to issue such writs as are necessary to the proper exercise of its jurisdiction." ).

[¶9] Whether to issue a writ of mandamus is left to the district court's sound discretion. See Kenmare Educ. Ass'n v. Kenmare Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 28, 2006 ND 136, ¶ 9, 717 N.W.2d 603 (" Kenmare" ); Wutzke v. Hoberg, 2004 ND 42, ¶ 3, 675 N.W.2d 179. A district court abuses its discretion if it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or capricious manner, or if it ...


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