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Snodgrass v. King County

April 28, 1997

KIM G. SNODGRASS, RESPONDENT,
v.
KING COUNTY, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 94-2-07125-4. Date filed: 10/30/95. Judge signing: Hon. Anthony P. Wartnik.

Authored by Walter E. Webster. Concurring: William W. Baker, Ann L. Ellington.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Webster

WEBSTER, J. - Summary Disposition of a case is inappropriate when a contract provision at issue is ambiguous. We hold that there are ambiguities regarding the application of a collective bargaining agreement to Kim Snodgrass' salary placement that preclude summary judgment Disposition of his claim. We reverse and remand for a trial on the merits. We also hold that because the trial court did not abuse its discretion by granting Snodgrass attorney fees pursuant to CR 37(c), the fees will stand on remand.

FACTS

In October 1979 Snodgrass was hired by King County to work in the Department of Public Safety (DPS). In April 1991 Snodgrass transferred to the position of corrections officer in the Department of Adult Detention (DAD). Wage rates for corrections officers are governed by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between King County and the Public Safety Employees Local 519.

Upon transfer to the DAD, Snodgrass started at the lowest pay for a beginning corrections officer. *fn1 But Snodgrass accrued vacation under the CBA at a rate that included his years of service from his initial hire date with the County.

Snodgrass sued the County, claiming that it had not paid him the proper salary required by Section 70.40 of the King County Administrative Guidelines for Career Service Employees, which entitles career service employees to transfer the salary level acquired in one classification of County employment to another classification. *fn2

The parties agreed to a stipulated order granting Snodgrass' first motion for partial summary judgment. The trial court granted Snodgrass' second motion for partial summary judgment, finding that Snodgrass, as a career service employee pursuant to chapter 3.12 of the King County Code (KCC), was entitled to be paid for the time period following his transfer from the DPS to the DAD pursuant to the King County Personnel Guidelines.

Judgment was entered in favor of Snodgrass, awarding him unpaid wages, prejudgment interest and attorney fees, including attorney fees pursuant to an earlier court order granting his motion for fees under CR 37(c).

I

King County appeals the order granting Snodgrass' second motion for partial summary judgment and the judgment. In reviewing an order of summary judgment, we engage in the same inquiry as the trial court, considering the facts and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. *fn3 If the moving party satisfies the initial burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact, to avoid summary judgment the nonmoving party must present evidence demonstrating that material facts are in dispute. *fn4

Collective bargaining agreements are governed by ordinary rules of contract law. *fn5 The CBA specifically excludes service outside the DAD for purposes of calculating seniority and for determining the order of employees laid off as a result of a reduction in force. Snodgrass argues that this proves that when the parties intended the application of the CBA to be limited to an individual's service as a corrections officer in the DAD alone, they knew explicitly how to do so, and that because wage rates do not expressly exclude service outside the DAD, the parties must have intended inclusion.

Other aspects of the CBA, however, establish an ambiguity regarding the effect of years of service outside the DAD on a new corrections officer's salary. For example, while vacation accrual is based on "years of continuous service", this term is not defined within the CBA.

Furthermore, the wage rate provisions do not employ the "years of continuous service" terminology *fn6 and it is not true, as argued by Snodgrass, that the County is attempting to define the same term differently in different sections of the CBA. Therefore, the fact that Snodgrass accrued vacation at a rate that included ...


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