Decision 2715M – Eastern Municipal Water District

LA-CE-1335-M

Decision Date: May 13, 2020

Decision Type: PERB Decision

View Full Text (PDF)

Decision Headnotes

1103.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES; COMPLAINT
1103.03000 – Variance of Complaint from Charge; Evidence, Findings, or Order Varying from Complaint; Events Subsequent to Charge or Complaint

Generally, “[a]dministrative proceedings are not bound by strict rules of pleading.” (City of Davis (2018) PERB Decision No. 2582-M, p. 11, fn. 5, quoting Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Com. (2015) 237 Cal.App.4th 812, 862.) Thus, PERB has observed that so long as a party is informed of the substance of the charge or defense and afforded the basic, appropriate elements of procedural due process, the party “cannot complain of a variance between administrative pleadings and proof.” (City of Roseville (2016) PERB Decision No. 2505-M, p. 23.)

1103.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES; COMPLAINT
1103.04000 – Amendments

PERB favors the liberal amendment of pleadings, “so that parties are not deprived of the opportunity to have their issues heard on the merits due to legal technicalities.” (Regents of the University of California (2018) PERB Decision No. 2601-H, p. 12.) PERB Regulations explicitly provide that a party may amend a complaint during a hearing unless the amendment “would result in undue prejudice to other parties.” (PERB Reg. 32648; Contra Costa Community College District (2019) PERB Decision No. 2669, p. 8 (Contra Costa), citing Fresno County Superior Court (2017) PERB Decision No. 2517-C, p. 11, partially set aside on other grounds, Superior Court v. Public Employment Relations Bd. (2018) 30 Cal.App.5th 158.) Even if an amended pleading would prejudice the other party, it is appropriate to grant the requested amendment if the ALJ can order accommodations that sufficiently alleviate the prejudice, typically a continuance that allows additional time to prepare the case. (Contra Costa, supra, PERB Decision No. 2669, p. 8.) The Board contrasted the lenient amendment standard which arises before or during a hearing with the stricter unalleged violations standard which attaches after all parties have rested and the hearing is closed. A motion to amend made at the halfway point in the hearing is less likely to cause prejudice which cannot be mitigated than a motion made at the close of a hearing. No matter at what point in the hearing a motion to amend is made, the same core question must be answered: Is there undue prejudice that cannot be sufficiently mitigated by scheduling additional hearing time after an appropriate continuance? There is no absolute bar to curing or otherwise amending a pleading while a dispositive motion is pending. If charging party was prejudiced by employer’s proposed amendments, the ALJ could have granted a continuance to allow him to amend his summary judgment motion and/or prepare for the hearing. However, PERB’s liberal pleading and amendment rules do not permit gamesmanship.

1103.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES; COMPLAINT
1103.04000 – Amendments

Although PERB Regulations do not explicitly reference amendments to an answer, the Board holds that a Board agent’s broad powers under Regulation 32170 warrant treating motions to amend an answer on the same basis as motions to amend a complaint.

1103.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES; COMPLAINT
1103.05000 – Answer or Other Defense/Waiver

Although PERB Regulations do not explicitly reference amendments to an answer, the Board holds that a Board agent’s broad powers under Regulation 32170 warrant treating motions to amend an answer on the same basis as motions to amend a complaint. PERB favors the liberal amendment of pleadings, “so that parties are not deprived of the opportunity to have their issues heard on the merits due to legal technicalities.” (Regents of the University of California (2018) PERB Decision No. 2601-H, p. 12.) PERB Regulations explicitly provide that a party may amend a complaint during a hearing unless the amendment “would result in undue prejudice to other parties.” (PERB Reg. 32648; Contra Costa Community College District (2019) PERB Decision No. 2669, p. 8 (Contra Costa), citing Fresno County Superior Court (2017) PERB Decision No. 2517-C, p. 11, partially set aside on other grounds, Superior Court v. Public Employment Relations Bd. (2018) 30 Cal.App.5th 158.) Even if an amended pleading would prejudice the other party, it is appropriate to grant the requested amendment if the ALJ can order accommodations that sufficiently alleviate the prejudice, typically a continuance that allows additional time to prepare the case. (Contra Costa, supra, PERB Decision No. 2669, p. 8.) A motion to amend made at the halfway point in the hearing is less likely to cause prejudice which cannot be mitigated than a motion made at the close of a hearing. No matter at what point in the hearing a motion to amend is made, the same core question must be answered: Is there undue prejudice that cannot be sufficiently mitigated by scheduling additional hearing time after an appropriate continuance? There is no absolute bar to curing or otherwise amending a pleading while a dispositive motion is pending. If charging party was prejudiced by employer’s proposed amendments, the ALJ could have granted a continuance to allow him to amend his summary judgment motion and/or prepare for the hearing. However, PERB’s liberal pleading and amendment rules do not permit gamesmanship.

1104.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES; PROCEDURE BEFORE ALJ
1104.01000 – In General; Conduct of Hearing

An ALJ’s primary responsibility is to “[i]nquire fully into all issues and obtain a complete record upon which the decision can be rendered.” (PERB Reg. 32170.) Consistent with this mandate, ALJs should decide the merits of a case on a dispositive motion only when the facts truly are undisputed and the parties have had full opportunity to assert any claims or defenses that do not prejudice the other party. PERB reversed the ALJ’s grant of partial summary judgment where there were facts in dispute that were material to the outcome. PERB noted that because discrimination and retaliation cases are inherently fact-specific, it is the rare case that can be decided on a dispositive motion.

1104.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES; PROCEDURE BEFORE ALJ
1104.02000 – Motions

PERB favors the liberal amendment of pleadings, “so that parties are not deprived of the opportunity to have their issues heard on the merits due to legal technicalities.” (Regents of the University of California (2018) PERB Decision No. 2601-H, p. 12.) PERB Regulations explicitly provide that a party may amend a complaint during a hearing unless the amendment “would result in undue prejudice to other parties.” (PERB Reg. 32648; Contra Costa Community College District (2019) PERB Decision No. 2669, p. 8 (Contra Costa), citing Fresno County Superior Court (2017) PERB Decision No. 2517-C, p. 11, partially set aside on other grounds, Superior Court v. Public Employment Relations Bd. (2018) 30 Cal.App.5th 158.) Even if an amended pleading would prejudice the other party, it is appropriate to grant the requested amendment if the ALJ can order accommodations that sufficiently alleviate the prejudice, typically a continuance that allows additional time to prepare the case. (Contra Costa, supra, PERB Decision No. 2669, p. 8.) Although PERB Regulations do not explicitly reference amendments to an answer, the Board holds that a Board agent’s broad powers under Regulation 32170 warrant treating motions to amend an answer on the same basis as motions to amend a complaint.

1104.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES; PROCEDURE BEFORE ALJ
1104.02000 – Motions

The Board contrasted the lenient amendment standard which arises before or during a hearing with the stricter unalleged violations standard which attaches after all parties have rested and the hearing is closed. A motion to amend made at the halfway point in the hearing is less likely to cause prejudice which cannot be mitigated than a motion made at the close of a hearing. No matter at what point in the hearing a motion to amend is made, the same core question must be answered: Is there undue prejudice that cannot be sufficiently mitigated by scheduling additional hearing time after an appropriate continuance?

1104.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES; PROCEDURE BEFORE ALJ
1104.02000 – Motions

There is no absolute bar to curing or otherwise amending a pleading while a dispositive motion is pending. The Board found that the ALJ erred by denying employer’s motion to amend answer despite pendency of charging party’s summary judgment motion. If charging party was prejudiced by employer’s proposed amendments, the ALJ could have granted a continuance to allow him to amend his summary judgment motion and/or prepare for the hearing. However, PERB’s liberal pleading and amendment rules do not permit gamesmanship.

1104.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES; PROCEDURE BEFORE ALJ
1104.02000 – Motions

A Board agent may reach a final decision on the merits without holding an evidentiary hearing if the pleadings (together with any stipulations and any facts that may be administratively noticed) establish that there are sufficient undisputed facts to make a hearing unnecessary. (PERB Reg. 32207; see, e.g., Cal Fire Local 2881 (Tobin) (2018) PERB Decision No. 2580-S, p. 2.) PERB reversed the ALJ’s grant of partial summary judgment where there were facts in dispute that were material to the outcome. PERB noted that because discrimination and retaliation cases are inherently fact-specific, it is the rare case that can be decided on a dispositive motion.

1107.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES;PROCEDURES BEFORE THE BOARD
1107.03000 – Remand for Further Hearing; Remand to General Counsel

The Board found the proposed decision erred by (1) granting partial summary judgment to charging party despite the presence of material disputed facts; and (2) failing to apply the proper lenient amendment standard to the employer’s motion to amend its answer, and instead finding the equivalent of a waiver or technical default. The Board reversed the partial grant of summary judgment and remanded to the Division of Administrative Law to allow the District to amend its answer and then to resolve the merits of the parties’ claims and defenses based upon a full evidentiary record.

1107.00000 – CASE PROCESSING PROCEDURES;PROCEDURES BEFORE THE BOARD
1107.06000 – De Novo Review; Standard of Review by Board

When resolving exceptions to a proposed decision, the Board applies a de novo standard of review. Under this standard, PERB reviews the entire record and is free to make different factual findings and reach different legal conclusions than those in the proposed decision. The Board may affirm, modify, or reverse the proposed decision, order the record re-opened for the taking of further evidence, or “take such other actions as it considers proper.” (PERB Reg. 32320, subd. (a)(2); Regents of the University of California (2018) PERB Decision No. 2601-H, p. 12.)