AFSCME COUNCIL 4, LOCAL 1303-325 v. TOWN OF WESTBROOK, SC 18969
Judicial District of Middletown
Arbitration; Municipalities; Labor; Whether Court's Review Limited to a Comparison of the Award and the Submission; Whether Court Properly Upheld Award Determining that Grievant's Discharge From Position as Tax Assessor was not Arbitrable. After appointing Ivan Kuvalanka as its tax assessor and subsequently renewing his appointment for several years, the defendant town declined to offer him an additional one year appointment. Kuvalanka, who is a member of the plaintiff union, filed a grievance claiming that under the collective bargaining agreement, the town could only remove him from his position for "just cause." The matter was submitted to arbitration, and the arbitrators issued an award concluding that the dispute was not arbitrable. In reaching that decision, the arbitrators determined that "[p]ositions which are inherently political in nature are not subject to all of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement especially when there is a statute that confers upon the legislative body of a municipality the authority to appoint and remove an individual occupying said position for a 'term of office.'" They found that General Statutes § 9-198, which provided that a town could establish the assessor's term of office, granted the town the right to determine Kuvalanka's term and the sole discretion to end his employment upon the expiration of that term. Moreover, they noted that § 17-1 of the Westbrook ordinances sets a one year term of office for the town assessor and provides that removal of an individual from that position need be "for cause" only when the removal occurs prior to the expiration of that term. The union filed an application to vacate the arbitration award, taking issue with the arbitrators' reference to § 17-1 and arguing that they exceeded their authority by looking beyond the language of the collective bargaining agreement. In denying the union's application, the trial court first noted that because the arbitration submission was unrestricted, its review was limited to determining whether the award conformed to the submission. It found that because the union had not pointed to any deviation between the submission and the award, the union's claims of error did not provide a basis for vacating the award. Finally, the court noted that it was clear that § 9-198 empowered the town to establish the assessor's term of office pursuant to § 17-1. The union appeals, claiming the trial court improperly limited its review to a comparison of the award and the submission. It asserts that where a party claims that an arbitration award is inherently inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement, the trial court's review is broader and a court should determine whether the arbitrators ignored their obligation to interpret and apply the contract. Finally, the union claims that the fact that § 9-198 was repealed effective October 1, 2010 supports its argument that the legislature never intended that the assessor position be deemed a political one that is not subject to all of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.