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In Precedent-Setting Separation of Powers Decision, Court Cites Irell Amicus Brief

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March 2016

On March 7, 2016, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District unanimously upheld the LA City Council’s decision to withdraw the delegation of authority to the city’s Fire and Police Pension Board to set retiree health subsidies and to freeze subsidies at their current levels. Citing an amicus brief filed by Irell & Manella LLP on behalf of the League of California Cities, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the delegation itself was a “vested benefit,” and that any attempt by the city to enforce its “freeze ordinance” violated the Contract Clause of the California Constitution. The case is Fry et al. v. City of Los Angeles, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (2016).

The Court of Appeal held that the creation of a “vested right” to a board-determined subsidy would conflict with the Charter and violate California’s non-delegation doctrine, as it would divest the city of its ability to take back legislative authority delegated to an administrative board. Such an irrevocable delegation of a city’s core sovereign functions would, the court concluded, be inconsistent with the essential attributes of representative government, including the ability of an elected body to safeguard the use of delegated legislative functions.  

The League is an association of 474 California cities dedicated to protecting and restoring local control to provide for the public health, safety and welfare of their residents.  

Irell partner David A. Schwarz represented the League in this matter. Schwarz is also defending the constitutionality of the City of San Jose’s landmark 2012 pension reform initiative, now on appeal before the California Sixth District Court of Appeal. In May 2015, he successfully challenged the so-called “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation” procedures under the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which imposes a forced contracting process on agricultural growers and a certified labor organization. In a unanimous decision, the California Fifth District Court of Appeal held that this law violated equal protection safeguards under the state and federal constitutions, and unlawfully delegated legislative power.  Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (2015) 236 Cal. App. 4th 1024. The California Attorney General and the United Farm Workers of America have petitioned the California Supreme Court for review. Click here for more details on the Gerawan appeal.

Click here to read the amicus brief, and here to read the decision.