Appeals Court Reaffirms that a Police Chief’s Power to Assign Officers Cannot be Subjected to Arbitration

In a decision issued this morning the Appeals Court has reiterated the Massachusetts rule that a police chief’s decisions regarding the assignment of police officers are immune from collective bargaining and arbitration.

In Town of Framingham v. Framingham Police Officers Union, No. 17-P-1178 (2018), the court reversed a Superior Court ruling. That ruling had denied the city’s motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the arbitration of the chief’s reassignment of an officer from the detective bureau to the patrol force. The Appeals Court relied on established law that under relevant police chief statutes and the general doctrine of nondelegable law enforcement powers the chief’s authority in this area cannot be subjected to arbitration. The case is significant for several reasons.

First, the court emphasized that when a municipality seeks injunctive relief of this kind it need not show irreparable injury; instead, it need only demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits and that an injunction serves the public interest. Second, the court found that the city had established a likelihood of success on the merits despite allegations by the officer and the union that his reassignment was in fact retaliatory and was also premised on past disciplinary issues rather than on the city’s articulated policy reasons. The court made clear that the officer and the union could still grieve and arbitrate the question of the officer’s intervening suspension based on their allegations (or any other violation of the collective bargaining agreement, such as a reduction in rank), but that they could not challenge the reassignment decision. Third, the court held that the provisions of the JLMC statute, St. 1973, c. 1078, as amended, were irrelevant because the collective bargaining agreement involved was not the product of impasse and JLMC procedure. Finally, the court reaffirmed that a police chief’s assignment powers cannot be surrendered to an arbitrator even by agreement. Based on this the court found that the city had also satisfied the “public interest” requirement.

The nondelegable managerial authority of a police chief can take many forms. As always, we recommend that clients consult with counsel when questions which implicate that authority arise.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.