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Tentative Ruling
Judge Donna Geck
Department 4 SB-Anacapa
1100 Anacapa Street P.O. Box 21107 Santa Barbara, CA 93121-1107

CIVIL LAW & MOTION

County of Santa Barbara vs Civil Service Commission etc

Case No: 1440046
Hearing Date: Fri Apr 18, 2014 9:30

Nature of Proceedings: Motion: Stay of Administrative Decision

Real party in interest Grady Williams is a professional engineer (“P.E.”), licensed in the state of Washington, but not in the state of California.  In June 2002, Williams was hired by petitioner County of Santa Barbara as a project manager in the County’s capital projects division.  In July 2013, County terminated Williams for using the P.E. designation in the documents, emails, reports, and memoranda he prepared on behalf of County.  Williams contends that he never misrepresented that he had a P.E. license in the state of California, that other County officials, including his supervisors, regularly utilized the P.E. designation when referring to him, and that the P.E. designation appeared in his title throughout his eleven years of employment.  Williams appealed his dismissal to respondent Civil Service Commission of Santa Barbara County and on November 13, 2013, the Commission concluded that Williams’s dismissal was not justified under the facts in the case and ordered County to reinstate him to his position with full pay, benefits, and interest.

 

On February 14, 2014, County filed its petition for writ of mandamus to set aside and vacate the decision of the Commission.  On that same date, County filed the present application for stay of the administrative decision, arguing that a stay will preserve the status quo and will not harm the public interest.

 

County’s application for stay is made pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure Section 1094.5, subdivision (g), which states:

 

“Except as provided in subdivision (h), the court in which proceedings under this section are instituted may stay the operation of the administrative order or decision pending the judgment of the court, or until the filing of a notice of appeal from the judgment or until the expiration of the time for filing the notice, whichever occurs first.  However, no such stay shall be imposed or continued if the court is satisfied that it is against the public interest.”

 

Subdivision (h) applies where a state agency conducts a hearing pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act.  Code Civ. Proc. §1094.5, subd. (h)(1).  A municipal civil service board or commission is not one of the agencies to which the adjudication provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act apply.  Hansen v. Civil Service Board (1957) 147 Cal.App.2d 732, 734.

 

County argues that a stay in this matter “will not harm the public interest and will merely preserve the status quo, without any financial impact to Williams.”  (Appl., p. 3:18-19.)  Conversely, County argues, a denial of the stay request will cause it to “have to move personnel around in the department, and potentially initiate a layoff to create funding and a vacancy,” which actions would be unnecessary if County prevails on its petition.  (Appl., p. 3:21-26.)  Williams asserts that both of these arguments are untrue and that the stay application should be denied.  As set forth in Williams’s opposition, Williams’s health care insurance through COBRA has been declined (although the premiums were paid for three months) and needs to be addressed immediately because Williams was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010 and, while he completed chemotherapy in 2012, his medical condition must still be monitored on a regular basis.  (Williams Decl., ¶¶ 4, 22.)  When Williams asked County about the issue of his health care coverage, he received no response.  (Williams Decl., ¶22.)  Also, contrary to County’s assertion, it will not be necessary for County to lay off anyone if Williams is reinstated to his former position as project manager because County is still advertising to fill the position.  (Williams Decl., ¶23.)

 

To overturn the decision of the Civil Service Commission, County must prove that the Commission abused its discretion by reinstating Williams.  Code Civ. Proc. §1094.5, subd. (c).  “[T]he remedy of mandate is not available to control the exercise of official discretion or judgment, or to alter or review action taken in the proper exercise of such discretion or judgment . . . .”  Lindell Company v. Board of Permit Appeals (1943) 23 Cal.2d 303, 310.  While this court does not want to prejudge the merits of County’s writ petition, the task ahead of County is substantial and it would be both improper and unfair to continue to deprive Williams of his job and, most importantly, his benefits during the pendency of the appeal.  The court is aware, of course, that should County prevail on its petition, Williams would again cease to be a County employee and any benefits paid to him would have to be returned.

 

For the foregoing reasons, County’s application for stay of the administrative decision of the Commission will be denied.    

 

Tentative Ruling:

The application for stay of the administrative decision of the Civil Service Commission of Santa Barbara County is denied.