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Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) v. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757

Supreme Court of Oregon

February 15, 2018

TRI-COUNTY METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION DISTRICT OF OREGON (TriMet), a municipal corporation of the State of Oregon, Petitioner on Review,
v.
AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION LOCAL 757, a labor organization, Respondent on Review.

          Argued and submitted June 14, 2017.

         On review from the Court of Appeals.[*] CC C121215684; CA A154561

          Keith M. Garza, Law Offce of Keith M. Garza, Oak Grove, argued the cause and fled the briefs for the petitioner on review. Also on the briefs was Erik Van Hagen, Portland.

          Aruna A. Masih, Bennett Hartman Morris & Kaplan LLP, Portland, argued the cause and fled the brief for the respondent on review. Also on the brief was Gregory A. Hartman, Portland.

          Todd A. Lyon, Fisher & Phillips LLP, Portland, filed the brief for amicus curiae Oregon Public Employer Labor Relations Association.

          Jeffrey P. Chicoine, Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP, Portland, filed the brief for amicus curiae Oregon School Boards Association. Also on the brief was Jollee F. Patterson, Portland.

          Jacquilyn Saito-Moore, Washington County Counsel, Hillsboro, filed the brief for amici curiae Association of Oregon Counties and League of Oregon Cities. Also on the brief was Kimberly A. Stuart, Hillsboro.

         [362 Or. 485] Before Balmer, Chief Justice, and Kistler, Walters, Nakamoto, Flynn, Duncan, and Nelson, Justices. [**]

         Case Summary: Plaintiff TriMet sought declaratory judgment that anticipated collective bargaining negotiation sessions would not be subject to the provisions of the Oregon Public Meetings Law. TriMet contended that, because its negotiating team, which it considered to be a "governing body" under the Public Meeting Law for purposes of summary judgment, had no quorum requirement, the anticipated bargaining sessions could not be "meetings" as that term is defined in the Public Meeting Law. Held: "Quorum" is a concept that applies to any organized body, and while the number of people that constitute a quorum could present a question of fact, the existence of a quorum is not a question of fact. It is possible for a quorum of a governing body to "meet in private" in violation of ORS 192.630(2) even if there is no "meeting" subject to ORS 192.630(1). TriMet did not establish, for purposes of summary judgment, that the proposed negotiating sessions will not be subject to the Public Meetings Law.

         [362 Or. 486] FLYNN, J.

         Plaintiff, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District (TriMet), brought this action for declaratory relief, seeking a declaration that planned, future collective bargaining sessions between TriMet's bargaining team and the bargaining team for defendant Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 (ATU) will not be "meetings" subject to the open meetings requirements of Oregon's Public Meetings Law, ORS 192.610 to ORS 192.695. ATU opposed the declaration, and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court agreed with TriMet and granted its motion, but the Court of Appeals vacated and remanded. TriMet v. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, 276 Or.App. 513, 368 P.3d 50 (2016). The Court of Appeals reasoned that, even if the bargaining sessions are not "meetings" as that term is defined in the Public Meetings Law, ORS 192.610(5), when the TriMet team participates in the sessions, it may be subject to the prohibition in ORS 192.630(2) that, generally:

"A quorum of a governing body may not meet in private for the purpose of deciding on or deliberating toward a decision on any matter[.]"

         This court allowed review to consider whether the Court of Appeals correctly construed ORS 192.630(2). We conclude that the Court of Appeals' construction of that statute is correct-that it is possible for a "quorum of a governing body" to "meet" in violation of ORS 192.630(2) even if there is no "meeting" subject to ORS 192.630(1). We also conclude that TriMet failed to establish, on this summary judgment record, that no "quorum" of the TriMet team will "meet" during the negotiations; thus, TriMet failed to establish as a matter of law that the bargaining sessions at issue will not be subject to ORS 192.630(2).[1] Finally, we consider, but reject, ATU's proposal that another provision [362 Or. 487] of the Public Meetings Law, ORS 192.660(3), requires that all bargaining sessions of a public body be conducted in an "open meeting" unless both parties consent to private meetings. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals and reverse and remand the judgment of the circuit court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Context

         TriMet is a mass transit district and municipal corporation that operates in the Portland metropolitan area. ORS 267.010 - 267.430. As a public employer, TriMet is required by the Public Employer Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) to engage in collective bargaining with the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit of its employees, here ATU. In 2012, shortly before their collective bargaining agreement was set to expire, ATU notified TriMet that it wished to open negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. TriMet's general manager had designated TriMet's Executive Director of Labor Relations and Human Resources, Stedman, to lead its negotiating team. Stedman, in turn, had chosen seven other TriMet executives to be members of the team.

         After the parties agreed to conduct three bargaining sessions, ATU advised TriMet that it expected the bargaining sessions to be open to the public pursuant the terms of the Public Meetings Law. TriMet did not agree that the Public Meetings Law would apply to the negotiating sessions and did not consent to holding open negotiating sessions. The parties were unable to resolve their dispute regarding the correct interpretation of the Public Meetings Law, and TriMet brought this action in the circuit court. TriMet sought a declaration "that collective bargaining sessions between TriMet's negotiating team and ATU are not subject to ORS 192.610 et seq., governing public meetings" as well as a declaration that, "because collective bargaining sessions between ATU and TriMet's negotiating team are not public meetings, any actions taken in those meetings are not subject to challenge under ORS 192.680." As noted, both parties moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted TriMet's motion.

         [362 Or. 488] B. Overview of the Public Meetings Law

         Before describing the rulings of the lower courts, we briefly describe the key provisions of the Public Meetings Law that are at the heart of the parties' dispute. The Public Meetings Law regulates the decision-making process of "governing bod[ies]" and "public bod[ies]." For purposes of TriMet's motion for summary judgment, TriMet assumed that its designated negotiating team would function in a way that makes it a "governing body" within the meaning of the Public Meetings Law, meaning that the team "consists of two or more members, with authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration." ORS 192.610(3).

         As pertinent to the parties' dispute, the Public Meetings Law requires that most "meetings" of a governing body "shall be open to the public." ORS 192.630(1). A "meeting" is "a convening of a governing body of a public body for which a quorum is required in order to make a decision or to deliberate toward a decision on any matter, " (except for limited situations that are not pertinent here). ORS 192.610(5). In addition, the Public Meetings Law specifies that a "quorum of a governing body may not meet in private for the purpose of deciding on or deliberating toward a decision on any matter, " also subject to certain exceptions that are not pertinent here. ORS 192.630(2).

         C. Lower Court Rulings

         In support of its motion for summary judgment, TriMet submitted an affidavit from Stedman asserting that there would be "no minimum number of the bargaining team that must be present before the bargaining team can engage in negotiations or take any action." According to TriMet, the affidavit establishes that TriMet's bargaining team would have no "quorum" requirement and, thus, that the team's bargaining sessions could not be "meetings" for purposes of the public meetings law, given the definition of "meeting" found in ORS 192.610(5).

         In response, ATU raised a limited challenge to TriMet's contention that there is no quorum required for the proposed negotiating sessions between the ATU and [362 Or. 489] TriMet teams. Specifically, ATU argued that the ATU and TriMet negotiating teams, when combined, constitute a single group that is a "governing body, " which has a quorum requirement because at least one person from each team must be present to conduct negotiations. Thus, according to ATU, the combined bargaining sessions fit the definition of a "meeting." ATU also argued that it was entitled to summary judgment in its favor based on another provision of the Public Meetings Law, ORS 192.660(3). That provision specifies that "[l]abor negotiations shall be conducted in open meetings unless negotiators for both sides request that negotiations be conducted in executive session." Id. The trial court granted TriMet's motion for summary judgment and denied ATU's motion. It entered a judgment declaring that "[c]ollective bargaining sessions between TriMet's negotiating team and the ATU bargaining team are not 'meetings' subject to ORS 192.610 et seq. governing public meetings."

         ATU appealed, and the parties reprised the arguments they had made in the trial court. The Court of Appeals reversed. As an initial matter, the Court of Appeals rejected ATU's argument that ORS 192.660(3) entitles ATU to judgment as a matter of law that TriMet is required to conduct collective bargaining sessions in "the context of open meetings." TriMet, 276 Or.App. at 523. The court also rejected ATU's argument that the bargaining sessions constitute a "meeting" because the negotiating teams, together, constitute a single "governing body" with a quorum requirement. Id. at 524.

         Finally, the court assumed that Stedman's affidavit established that the negotiating sessions would not qualify as a "meeting, " because TriMet had not required a quorum for its team. The court, nonetheless, concluded that the trial court erred in granting TriMet's motion for summary judgment because it concluded that ORS 192.630(2) remains a potential obstacle to private bargaining sessions even if the sessions are not "meetings, " as that term is defined for purposes of the Public Meetings Law. In reaching that conclusion, the Court of Appeals relied on its decision in Handy v. Lane County. 274 Or.App. 644, 362 P.3d 867 (2015), aff'd in part on other grounds. 360 Or. 605, 395 P.3d 1016 (2016), [362 Or. 490] which that court issued while the appeal in this case was pending. In its opinion in this case, the Court of Appeals explained:

"Handy clarifies that the Public Meetings Law applies not only to formal 'meetings' of governing bodies (that is, formal 'convening[s] *** for which a quorum is required in order to make a decision or to deliberate toward a decision on any matter[, ] ORS 192.610(5)), but also to circumstances in which a quorum of a governing body 'meets' to deliberate toward or make a decision outside the context of a 'meeting.'"

TriMet, 276 Or. at 525 (quoting Handy, 274 Or.App. at 657 (brackets and ellipsis in TriMet)). The court reasoned that, regardless of whether TriMet requires a quorum for its negotiating team to convene a bargaining session, the negotiating team has a "quorum" because:

"A quorum is simply 'the number of the members of an organized body of persons *** that when duly assembled is legally competent to transact business in the absence of the other members: a usu. specified number of members (as an absolute majority) in the absence of which an organized body cannot act legally * * *.' We ...

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