Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio
Dissenting Opinion by Justice Barnard Filed March 19, 2014.
From the 166th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas. Trial Court No. 2011-CI-14030. Honorable Martha B. Tanner, Judge Presiding.
For APPELLANT: Lowell F. Denton, Alberto J. Pena, Denton, Navarro, Rocha & Bernal, P.C., San Antonio, TX.
For APPELLEE: David Van Os, David Van Os & Associates, P.C., Austin, TX.
Sitting: Catherine Stone, Chief Justice, Marialyn Barnard, Justice, Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.
Catherine Stone, Chief
This appeal arises from Bexar County's refusal to permit payroll deductions which it contends are not authorized by law. The deductions in controversy are from the paychecks of deputy sheriffs that are transmitted to the Deputy Sheriff's Association of Bexar County. The County claims the requested deductions are impermissible political action committee contributions, while the Association claims the requested deductions are permissible union membership dues. After a bench trial, the trial court granted a declaratory judgment in favor of the Association. On appeal, the County contends: (1) it is not statutorily authorized to deduct payments which have been designated as political action committee contributions; and (2) the trial court's award of attorney's fees was not just and equitable. We disagree with the County's contentions and affirm the trial court's judgment.
In 2006, the Association became the exclusive bargaining agent for the Bexar County deputy sheriffs. In the collective bargaining agreement, the County agreed to deduct the Association's membership dues from the payroll of deputies who so authorized the deduction. The minimum amount of monthly dues necessary to maintain membership in the Association is forty dollars. The Association has also established a general purpose political action committee (PAC). If an Association member wishes to contribute an additional ten dollars of dues towards the PAC, they are instructed to authorize a payroll deduction of fifty dollars per month. After each payroll period, the County initiates a wire transfer all of the funds collected from the payroll deductions to the Association's
bank account. For each forty dollar deduction, the Association treasurer then transfers thirty dollars to its parent labor organization, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), and ten dollars to the Association's general fund. For each fifty dollar deduction, the treasurer does the same, but transfers an additional ten dollars to the PAC account. The PAC reports the contribution in the individual name of the member to the Texas Ethics Commission.
When the Bexar County Auditor became aware that a portion of the fifty dollar deduction was ultimately transferred to the PAC, the Auditor refused to process deductions in excess of forty dollars. The Association sought a declaratory judgment declaring that its dues could be deducted in this manner. The trial court declared " that the [PAC] contributions procedure utilized by [the Association] and its members as described in [the Association's] Original Petition is not unlawful."
A. Standard of Review
A trial court's declaratory judgment involving the interpretation of a statute is a legal question subject to a de novo review. City of Houston v. Bates, 406 S.W.3d 539, 543 (Tex. 2013); City of Houston v. Hildebrandt, 265 S.W.3d 22, 25 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2008, pet. denied). An appellate court's " ultimate purpose when construing a statute is to discover the Legislature's intent." City of Round Rock v. Rodriguez, 399 S.W.3d 130, 133 (Tex. 2013). The best indication of that intent is found in a statute's words, which are construed " according to their plain and common meaning." Id.; City of Rockwall v. Hughes, 246 S.W.3d 621, 625 (Tex. 2008); Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 311.011(a) (West 2013).
The issue in this case involves the interpretation of Section 155.001(a)(2) of the Texas Local Government Code. The statute provides, in relevant part:
(a) The commissioners court, on the request of a county employee, may authorize a payroll deduction to be made from the ...