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Ark. police, firefighters notch important win in class action

By Nicholas Gueguen | Feb 28, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Arkansas on Feb. 16 decided to uphold a Faulkner County Circuit Court certified a class of Conway police and firefighters who are seeking salary increases.

Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Judge Rhonda K. Wood wrote in the court's opinion that the case originated when Conway police officers and firefighters brought a class action lawsuit against the city in which they alleged breach of contract by the city because it failed to put sales-tax revenues toward salary increases.

The city appealed the circuit court's decision because it felt that the individual issues in dispute were not enough to warrant a class action.

Wood explained in the court's opinion that the circuit court certified a class including all city firemen and policemen, except for department heads and officials who were elected, that the city employed from Dec. 1, 2001 through Dec. 31, 2012, and named class representatives at a class-certification hearing. Wood said in the opinion the circuit court also felt "there were overarching, common questions that could be efficiently determined on a class-wide basis."

Under Rule 23, there are six elements that must be present in order for a lawsuit to attain class action status, which are numerosity, commonality, typicality, adequacy, predominance and superiority. When the city appealed the circuit court's certification, it questioned the court's opinions on four of those six elements.

Wood explained that the city contended that no common questions exist because the claim of breaching contract means that each plaintiff would have to figure out their individual issues before common questions could be figured out. According to the opinion, the city also felt that it was not possible to establish liability because each plaintiff's set of facts were different for each of his or her claims.

Wood also wrote in the opinion that the city argued that the named class representatives made different claims than the rest of the class and that class action does not constitute a superior way to decide plaintiff's claims.

The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision that commonality existed because the city was found to have treated all its employees the same in terms of the city's human resources department handing prospective employees a hiring packet of information that included benefits, pay, and other employment terms, including a pay grid. Wood also wrote in the opinion that upon giving each prospective employee this grid, the city's human resources department told the candidates the grid said how much those candidates would get paid.

The court also affirmed the circuit court's finding of predominance because it found that the fact that each employee got the same pay grid and notification that told them how much they would make proved that the common questions of whether the city promised to pay them through the sales-tax resolution and whether the employees accepting the employment offer meant they gave enough thought outweighed the individual issues.

The court also affirmed that typicality exists in the case because the class reps' claims, which the city tried to argue to the circuit court did not match those of the rest of the class, clearly came from the same alleged wrong that the class argued.

Finally, Wood wrote in the court's opinion that the Arkansas Supreme Court felt that a class action lawsuit would benefit the city because the city would save money in trying to defend against one claim instead of 200, and so agreed with the circuit court that it would be more efficient to resolve all the claims at once.

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Arkansas Supreme Court