State asks judge to reconsider sick-leave ruling in county’s favor

The state has requested Linn County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Murphy reconsider his paid sick leave ruling he made last week.

“The Court has not yet held a summary judgment hearing on the financial threshold issue,” the state said in its motion for reconsideration.

According the document, “there are several compelling reasons to deny Plaintiffs’ cross-motion for summary judgment on that issue.”

On Dec. 8, Murphy ruled that Linn County and eight other counties could opt out of Oregon’s paid sick leave law because the law is an unfunded mandate.

Oregon’s paid sick leave law, which was passed in 2015 and went into effect Jan. 1, has applied to employers who have 10 or more employees, with exception of Portland, where the threshold is six.

Under the law, full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers accrue sick time, according to the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The county argued that under Article XI, Section 15 of the Oregon constitution it is not required to comply with the paid sick leave law because it “compels Plaintiffs to expend money on a new program or increases a level of service for an existing program without providing Plaintiff’s constitutionally adequate reimbursement.”

During a Nov. 23 hearing, attorneys for both sides debated the definitions of the words “program” and “service.”

In his ruling, Murphy said the the plaintiff counties cited the Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary definitions.

“This court is not sure that we need to even go there in that the criteria for program in Section 15 appears clear and unambiguous,” Murphy said. “However, should an appellate court find that resort to a dictionary definition is useful or even required, in this analysis this court finds the Merriam definition instructive.”

Murphy also addressed the issue of whether the sick leave law would cost Linn County more than one-hundredth of a 1 percent of the county’s 2016-17 budget.

While the county submitted a declaration, the state did not “know if they dispute the amount claimed by plaintiffs,” according to the ruling.

In September, Dave Alderman, Linn County accounting officer, stated in a court filing that the county has taken actions to implement the new law.

“We have modified our payroll system to meet the requirements of the new law, which increased the number of employees we accrue and track sick leave for by 154 employees,” Alderman said.

He said complying with the law required the county to “plan and implement a new procedure to track and set up non-employees in our payroll system when staffing is done through temporary staffing agencies.”

This process added several hours each month to payroll staff’s workload, he added.

Staff used the actual number of hours worked by part-time hourly staff in 2015 to calculate hours that would have been accrued, according to the document. The result was an additional 1,725 hours, with a value of $41,067.

“This amount is well above one-hundredth of 1 percent of the county’s 2016-2017 budget,” Alderman said.

The reasons cited by the state in its request for Murphy to reconsider include testimony from an expert regarding whether the “Paid Sick Leave Law requires plaintiffs to spend more than one-hundredth of 1 percent of their annual budget; material discovery is ongoing and several counties have yet to produce any documents in response to the state’s request for production and depositions have not yet occurred; and the face of plaintiffs’ own factual submittals fail to carry their burden on the financial threshold issue.”

Additionally, the court did not hear the state’s arguments for the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment and a continuance was set for Dec. 29.

“This is not a case where the answer is crystal clear,” Murphy said in his Dec. 8 ruling. “However the court is persuaded that the law defines the Sick Leave law as a program and by Section 15 of Article XI the program may not increase costs to the counties.”

The other counties submitted similar declarations, Murphy said.

He said the plaintiff may submit judgments and “a judgment enjoining the state from enforcing the sick leave law against the plaintiffs.” The judgments must be submitted no later than Jan. 8, 2017.

The state requested a previously scheduled Dec. 29 hearing remain on the docket.