Supreme Court Faced “Tension Between Two Principles”
In United Teachers of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles Unified School District, S177403 (Cal. Sup. Ct. June 28, 2012) (Liu, J., author), the Supreme Court found itself “required to resolve a tension between two principles: (1) collective bargaining provisions in conflict with the Education Code are unenforceable, and (2) courts generally do not examine the merits of the underlying dispute in deciding whether to enforce arbitration agreements.”
The underlying dispute arose after the LA Unified School District approved the conversion of an existing public school into a charter school, and the UTLA filed grievances that the District failed to comply with provisions of a collective bargaining agreement concerning school charter conversions.
Reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeal had concluded that it was not for the court, on a petition of the UTLA to compel arbitration, to decide whether there was a conflict between the collective bargaining provisions and charter school statutes. The sole function of the Court of Appeal was to determine whether there was a valid arbitration agreement that had not been waived. The Court of Appeal ordered the petition to compel arbitration granted. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court concluded that the petition to compel arbitration should be denied “if the collective bargaining provisions at issue directly conflict with provisions of the Education Code – that is, if they would annul, replace, or set aside Education Code provisions.” The Supreme Court further held that under the Education Code, “an arbitrator has no authority to deny or revoke a school charter, as UTLA requests.” However, the Supreme Court then remanded the case to the trial court to give the UTLA an opportunity to identify specific provisions which the collective bargaining provisions allegedly violated, because the UTLA had not identified those provisions with sufficient particularity.
NOTE: The case has no discussion, common in cases involving efforts to compel arbitration, of the federal cases involving federal preemption and the Federal Arbitration Act. We assume this is because a charter school conversion may involve entirely local matters that do not involve the Commerce Clause.