THE CITY OF GUTHRIE, OKLAHOMA, a municipal corporation, Plaintiff/Appellant,
FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE, LODGE #105, Defendant/Appellee, and MARK BRUNING, Intervenor/Appellee.
Mandate Issued: 02/23/2017
FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF LOGAN COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE
PHILLIP CORLEY, TRIAL JUDGE AFFIRMED.
G. Puckett, MCAFEE & TAFT, A PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Appellant.
A. Leaman, JAMES R. MOORE & ASSOCIATES, P.C., Oklahoma
City, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellee.
Scott Adams, ADAMS & ASSOCIATES, P.C., Oklahoma City,
Oklahoma, for Intervenor/Appellee.
DEBORAH B. BARNES, JUDGE.
Plaintiff/Appellant The City of Guthrie, Oklahoma, a
municipal corporation, (the City) appeals from an order of
the trial court granting a motion for summary judgment by
Intervenor/Appellee Mark Bruning (Bruning) to enforce an
arbitration award on his behalf and that of the
Defendant/Appellee Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #105
(Lodge 105), and denying the City's counter motion to
vacate the "remedy portion of the award" because,
for various reasons, the arbitrator exceeded his authority
under the parties' Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
We conclude the trial court's decision should be
Bruning was a police officer for the Guthrie Police
Department. The circumstances giving rise to the arbitration
occurred at a concert held in Guthrie during which Bruning
arrested his then girlfriend's ex-husband for public
intoxication. Bruning arrested the man despite an Incident
Action Plan (IAP) issued by the Chief of Police directing
officers to make arrests only as a last resort. A holding pen
and other options short of arrest were available to officers.
Written complaints about Bruning's actions were made to
the police department and an internal investigation was
conducted by the Chief of Police pursuant to the terms of the
CBA. The Chief of Police then forwarded the results to a
Disciplinary Hearing Panel consisting of, among others, the
Human Resources Director. After a hearing in which witnesses
testified, the Hearing Panel unanimously determined Bruning
should be discharged for various violations of Guthrie Police
Department policy and recommended termination. That
determination was forwarded to the City Manager who upheld
the recommendation. Bruning was terminated from employment
with the City.
Lodge 105 filed a grievance over Bruning's discharge and,
pursuant to the CBA, requested arbitration. The parties
submitted post-hearing briefs.
The arbitrator found that "[g]iven the nature of the
charges and the severity of the penalty imposed, " the
City had the burden "to prove by clear and convincing
evidence the decision to terminate [Bruning's] employment
was for just cause." Referencing the CBA's
definition of just cause and that just cause was to be in
accord with City of Lawton v. International Union of
Police Associations, Local 24, 2000 OK CIV APP 2, 996
P.2d 954, cert. denied (Mathis), the arbitrator
determined: "To this arbitrator, the rule in Mathis
simply states the widely accepted principle that just cause
requires discipline be issued in a manner that is not
arbitrary and capricious." After setting forth the facts
pertaining to Bruning's alleged misconduct and the facts
pertaining to the conduct of the investigation and the
decision-making process leading to the decision to terminate
Bruning, the arbitrator determined as follows:
The City established by clear and convincing evidence
that [Bruning's] conduct warranted punishment, up to
and including termination. However, [I find] both parties
are at fault in this matter, [Bruning] for exercising
poor judgment and abuse of power, and the City Manager
and Human Resources Director for being influenced by
allegations without any verification. The result was an
unfounded and unacceptable bias against [Bruning] during
the investigation and decision making process. The City
Manager and the Human Resources Director acted in a way
that was arbitrary and capricious, therefore the
Disciplinary Hearing Panel's finding that there was
just cause for the decision to terminate [Bruning's]
employment cannot stand.
arbitrator further found severe discipline was warranted by
Bruning's conduct and instructed the City to place
Bruning on suspension for six months without pay and to
thereafter reinstate him to his rank of Lieutenant.
The City filed a petition to vacate the arbitrator's
decision in the trial court. Thereafter, the parties filed
various pleadings and motions, including motions and counter
motions for summary judgment. After considering the
parties' motions, responses, and replies and supporting
briefs and oral argument, the trial court denied the
City's counter motion for summary judgment, granted
Bruning's motion for summary judgment, and ordered
enforcement of the arbitration award. The City appeals.
"The fundamental purpose of arbitration is to preclude
court intervention into the merits of disputes when
arbitration has been provided for contractually."
Voss v. City of Okla. City, 1980 OK 148, ¶ 5,
618 P.2d 925. The standard applicable to review of an
arbitrator's award is well established in Oklahoma.
Once it is established that there is a collective bargaining
agreement with an arbitration clause broad enough to include
the dispute, the role of this Court is strictly limited to
determining whether the arbitrator exceeded his authority
under the collective bargaining agreement. Affording great
deference to the decision of the arbitrator, we will not
review the factual or legal findings of the arbitrator nor
consider the merits of the award.... Hence, this Court may
only consider whether the arbitrator's decision
"draws its essence from the collective bargaining
City of Yukon v. Internat'l Ass'n of
Firefighters, Local 2055, 1990 OK 48, ¶ 8, 792 P.2d
1176 (citations omitted).
Statutory construction presents a question of law, State
v. Tate, 2012 OK 31, ¶ 7, 276 P.3d 1017, and,
consequently, requires a de novo review standard,
id.; Kluver v. Weatherford Hosp. Auth.,
1993 OK 85, ¶ 14, 859 P.2d 1081.
The City raises six issues on appeal all of which assert the
district court erred in failing to vacate the remedy portion
of the arbitrator's award.  Lodge 105 and Bruning
argue the arbitrator interpreted the CBA, as he is authorized
to do under the CBA, and found no just cause for termination;
consequently, they argue the trial court did not err in
enforcing the arbitration award. We have grouped the
City's propositions into three issues.
Just Cause ...