OKLAHOMA CITY ZOOLOGICAL TRUST v. STATE ex rel. PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RELATIONS BD.

Annotate this Case

OKLAHOMA CITY ZOOLOGICAL TRUST v. STATE ex rel. PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RELATIONS BD.
2007 OK 21
158 P.3d 461
Case Number: 101978
Decided: 04/10/2007

THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA

OKLAHOMA CITY ZOOLOGICAL TRUST, A Public Trust, Plaintiff/Appellee,
v.
STATE OF OKLAHOMA ex rel. PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RELATIONS BOARD, A STATE AGENCY, Defendant,
THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES UNION, LOCAL 2406, AFL-CIO, Defendant/ Appellant.

ON APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT, OKLAHOMA COUNTY
CAROLYN R. RICKS, TRIAL JUDGE

¶0The Oklahoma City Zoological Trust brought an action against the Public Employees Relations Board and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for declaratory and injunctive relief from the Oklahoma Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act. The district court found the Zoological Trust was not subject to the terms of the Act and granted the requested injunctive relief. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, defendant below, brought this appeal which stands retained for this court's disposition.

AFFIRMED

Kenneth Dale Jordan, Diane Lewis, Marsha D. Harrod, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for plaintiff/appellee Oklahoma City Zoological Trust.
W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General of Oklahoma, Sandra D. Rinehart, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for defendant, Public Employees Relations Board.
James R. Moore, Sue Wycoff, Chanda R. Graham, Moore & Vernier, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for defendant/appellant, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Opala, J.

¶1 The dispositive issue here is whether Oklahoma City may be considered to stand in the status of legal employer vis-a-vis the employees of the Oklahoma City Zoological Trust, a public trust. The trial court's answer was in the negative and today we reaffirm its correctness.

I.
ANATOMY OF LITIGATION

¶2 On 1 November 2004, the same day the Oklahoma Municipal Employee Collective Bargaining Act (Act)

¶3 The district court found on 24 March 2005 that the Zoo Trust was not a municipal employer within the meaning of the Act, PERB would be exceeding its authority if it were to certify AFSCME as the exclusive bargaining representative of Trust employees, and the Trust was entitled to the injunctive relief it sought. AFSCME appealed.

¶4 AFSCME argues here the Trust has not exhausted its administrative remedies, the district court erred in declaring the Act did not apply to the Trust, the Trust was created by Oklahoma City (City), and the Trust's arguments are contrary to the intent of the Act. The Trust argues that exhaustion of administrative remedies does not apply here, the Act was never intended to be imposed upon the Trust, nor is the latter entity an "authority" created by the City.

II.
STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶5 "An appellate court's standard of review is not mere ritualistic legal liturgy. It defines the permissible sweep of critical testing to be undertaken by a reviewing court."

¶6 The Legislature's intent in passing the law submitted for judicial testing governs its construction.

III.

¶7 The Trust need not exhaust any administrative remedies. Ordinarily, a plaintiff is required to pursue all available administrative relief before bringing a court action.

IV.
THE ZOO TRUST IS NOT SUBJECT TO THE TERMS OF THE ACT

¶8 The express terms of the Act, as well as its stated intent, make clear that it is to apply only to those entities which the State of Oklahoma or a municipality created and controls.

¶9 The provisions of

A.
The Trust Was Not Created By Its Beneficiary

¶10 The Trust was not created by the City but by its trustors.

B.
The City Enjoys No De Jure Control Over The Trust

¶11 Neither the trust document nor any statutory authority confers upon the City the right to control the Trust.

C.
The Trust Is Free From De Facto Control By The City

¶12 The record is devoid of any facts to suggest the City exercises control over the Zoo Trust's employees. The trust instrument itself does not confer any control upon the City.

¶13 The Trust's acceptance by the City confers on the latter no operational powers over the Trust which could be exercised before the Trust's legal dissolution. The record does not hence support an employment relationship between the Zoo Trust's employees and the City. The latter neither possesses nor exercises de facto or de jure control over the Trust's employees.

¶14 This court is mindful that a public trust may be declared to be "illusory"

V.
SUMMARY

¶15 The Act is clear in its purview - it applies solely to entities that a municipality created and controls. We are unwilling to ignore all the time-tested

¶16 The self-governed and self-supported Zoo Trust is a separate legal entity that is entirely free of both de jure and de facto control by the City's municipal government. The Zoo Trust is hence not subject to compliance with the terms of the Oklahoma Municipal Employee Collective Bargaining Act. The trial court's judgment, which declares the Zoo Trust to be an autonomous public trust entity and not a mere appendage of the City's municipal government structure, does not offend the law's standard of correctness. It is hence affirmed.

¶17 LAVENDER, HARGRAVE, OPALA, WATT, TAYLOR and COLBERT, JJ., CONCUR;

¶18 WINCHESTER, C.J. and KAUGER, J., CONCUR IN RESULT;

¶19 EDMONDSON, V.C.J., DISSENTS.

FOOTNOTES

1 11 O.S. Supp. 2004 § 51-200 et seq.; see also City of Enid v. Public Employees Relations Bd., 2006 OK 16, 133 P.3d 281 (deciding the constitutionality of the Act).

2 Capshaw v. Gulf Ins. Co., 2005 OK 5, ¶8, 107 P.3d 595, 600(citing Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 260, 121 S. Ct. 1452, 1471, 149 L. Ed. 2d 430 (2001)(Thomas, J., dissenting)).

3 City of Chandler v. State ex rel. Dept. of Human Services, 1992 OK 137, ¶9, 839 P.2d 1352, 1354 (citing the terms of what is now 12 O.S. 2001 §1654).

4 See Id.; Brown ex rel. Brown v. Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Ass'n., 2005 OK 88, ¶11, 125 P.3d 1219, 1225.

5 Star Fruits S.N.C. v. U.S., 393 F.3d 1277, 1281 (Fed. Cir. 2005).

6 City of Chandler, supra note 3, at ¶10, at 1354.

7 Udall v. Udall, 1980 OK 99, ¶11, 613 P.2d 742, 745.

8 See generally Llewellyn, Remarks on the Theory of Appellate Decision and the Rules or Canons about Statutes are to Be Construed, 3 Vand. L.Rev. 395 (1950) (explaining the "thrust" and "parry" of the canons of construction).

9 City of Chandler, supra note 3, at ¶ 10, at 1354 (citing Darnell v. Chrysler Corp., 1984 OK 57, 687 P.2d 132).

10 Dodd v. U.S., 545 U.S. 353, 359, 125 S. Ct. 2478, 162 L.E.2d 343(2005) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

11 Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Aviall Services, Inc. 543 U.S. 157, 167, 125 S. Ct. 577, 160 L.E.2d 548 (2004) (citing United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 35-36, 112 S. Ct. 1011, 117 L. Ed. 2d 181 (1992)).

12 Bates v. U.S., 522 U.S. 23, 29, 118 S. Ct. 285, 139 L.E.2d 215 (1997).

13 62 Cases, More or Less, Each Containing Six Jars of Jam v. U.S., 340 U.S. 593, 596, 71 S. Ct. 515, 95 L. Ed. 566 (1951).

14 Murphy v. State Election Bd., 1950 OK 141, ¶11, 218 P.2d 917, 919; See also Dierks v. Walsh, 1950 OK 138, ¶24, 218 P.2d 920, 925 ("It is not within the province of the court to question the wisdom or the necessity of an Act of the Legislature.")

15 See Waste Connections, Inc. v. Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, 2002 OK 94, ¶7, 61 P.3d 219, 223 (giving an overview of relevant law).

16 This court has previously stated that:

There are several reasons for the rule of exhaustion of administrative remedies. These include the expertise of the agency in the subject matter area and notions of judicial efficiency; … [the fulfillment of] legislative purpose in granting authority to an agency by discouraging frequent deliberate flouting of administrative procedure; … protect[ing] agency autonomy by allowing the agency in the first instance to apply its expertise and correct its errors; … aid[ing] judicial review by allowing parties to develop material facts in agency proceedings; … and promot[ing] judicial economy by avoiding repetition of judicial and administrative factfinding and perhaps the necessity for judicial involvement.

Atkinson v. Halliburton Co.