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Rhinehart v. Marshall County

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 7, 2017

EUGENE C. RHINEHART, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MARSHALL COUNTY, IOWA, and MARSHALL COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marshall County, John J. Haney, Judge.

         A retired county employee appeals a summary judgment ruling in favor of the county and its board of supervisors on his claim for unpaid wages.

          Bruce E. Johnson and Robert C. Gainer of Cutler Law Firm, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant.

          Jason M. Craig of Ahlers & Cooney, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

          Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.

         A retired county employee appeals a summary judgment ruling in favor of the county and its board of supervisors on his claim for unpaid wages.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The facts are essentially undisputed. Eugene Rhinehart worked as a nonunion jail supervisor in the Marshall County Sheriff's Office. He requested a demotion to a unionized position of jailer to take advantage of a collective bargaining agreement provision that would have allowed him to cash out fifty percent of his 954 hours in accrued sick leave at the time of his expected retirement on June 30, 2014. The sheriff tentatively approved the request subject to final approval by the Marshall County Board of Supervisors. The board denied the request as well as Rhinehart's subsequent appeal.

         Rhinehart eventually took a demotion to jailer and retired while in that position, but not before the board issued a memorandum of understanding prohibiting a sick leave payout if the demotion occurred within two years of retirement. Rhinehart filed a grievance challenging the board's attempt to alter the collective bargaining agreement language. The grievance was denied as untimely.

         Rhinehart sued Marshall County and its board of supervisors under the Wage Claim Act seeking "unpaid wages" in the form of his forfeited sick leave payout. See Iowa Code chapter 91A (2015). Rhinehart alleged in part that once the sheriff approved his demotion, the board's action in denying his request "was an exercise of authority that exceeded the authority of the board granted under Iowa law and therefore was without effect." He asked the court to conclude he "would have been entitled to his sick leave payout if he had not been deterred by Defendants from retiring June 30, 2014, as he had intended."

         Marshall County and the board filed a motion for summary judgment. They asserted "(1) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear a critical component of [Rhinehart's] claim because the Public Employment Relations Board has exclusive jurisdiction over such aspect of [Rhinehart's] claim; and (2) the Collective Bargaining Agreement [(CBA)] in effect at the time of [Rhinehart's] retirement did not provide for the payment of sick leave under the circumstances of [Rhinehart's] retirement." Rhinehart also moved for summary judgment, asserting "[t]he [CBA] that was in force from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2014, was in force when [the sheriff] made the decision to transfer [him] to a jailer position, and [he] had the right to be paid wages in the form of sick leave payout under that CBA." The district court granted the defendants' motion and denied Rhinehart's motion. The court reasoned that exhaustion of the CBA grievance procedures was necessary under Iowa Code chapter 20, the Public Employee Relations Act. Rhinehart moved for enlarged findings and conclusions, which the court denied. This appeal followed.

         Rhinehart asserts (1) the sheriff "had statutory authority to transfer [him] from a jail supervisor position to a jailer (keeper) position, and the Marshall County Board of Supervisors exceeded its statutory authority when it acted to interfere with the sheriff's authority over that jail operational decision" and (2) "exhaustion of the CBA grievance procedures under section 20.18, Iowa Code, is not a condition precedent to a chapter 91A action in district court and therefore dismissal of [his] action and denial of motion for summary judgment was error." We find it unnecessary to reach the second issue because resolution of the first issue is dispositive.

         II. ...


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