The Labor Tribune

City Burning?

City loses first round in legal battle with fire fighters

UPDATE 1: LEGAL BATTLE

Round one: City loses: St. Louis Circuit Court judge Robert Dierker issued a preliminary injunction against the City of St. Louis enforcing Board Bill 11, a new ordinance passed by the Board of Aldermen earlier this month that prevents the trustees of the fire fighters pension fund from suing the city and paying for the suit with the fund’s money. As Board Bill 11 is written, any lawsuit brought by the fund’s trustees would have to be paid by the trustees personally.

The preliminary injunction was necessary because Board Bill 11 passed by the Board of Aldermen last week has an emergency clause that would allow it to take effect the moment it’s signed by the mayor. A full hearing on the issue will be held later; briefs from both sides are due by July 16.

A second ordinance to completely change the current pension system – Board Bill 12 – is still pending before the Board of Aldermen. While the legality of it is also being challenged in the lawsuit already filed by the fire fighters pension board, the judge can’t take any action one way or the other until it is acted on by the Board.

Noted Judge Dierker: the pension fund’s new lawsuit “raises serious and substantial questions concerning the authority of the City to control the administration of the retirement system. The Court is doubtful that the City may disable the system trustees from seeking judicial relief if an ordinance pertaining to the retirement system is invalid as exceeding the City’s powers.” He noted that the City has already lost a legal battle over the issue of whether or not the fund can sue the City. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled the trustees have that right.

The judge noted that in one part of the new ordinance it gives the fund’s trustees the authority to fully manage the retirement system but in another section then denies them the right to seek judicial relief places “the trustees in an impossible situation.”

“Although it’s a preliminary ruling, Judge Dierker has ruled correctly that it was a violation of state law for the City to try and prevent the trustee from suing because not only do they have the right, they have a legal and fiduciaryobligation as trustees to sue to make sure the pension plan is properly interpreted and enforced,” said Dan Tobben, the retirement fund’s attorney with the law firm of Danna McKitrick.

Tobben added: “The ruling upholds the American system of law: for the City to try and take away the option for a judge to rule whether or not an action is proper, goes against everything we believe in America.”

The saga continues.

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