Police, fireman get OK to notify potential class-action suit members

A Faulkner County circuit judge has OKed a class notice and notice plan submitted by Conway police officers and firefighters in a class-action lawsuit against the city.

 

“After review and consideration of the applicable law and the positions of the parties, as expressed in materials submitted to this Court, the Court hereby approves the Class Notice and the Notice Plan detailed in the Motion,” the order approving the class notice reads.

The order, signed by Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr., was filed in Faulkner County Circuit on July 7.

“The Court further finds that the Class Notice and Notice Plan are reasonably calculated to apprise all interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to exclude themselves from the litigation or present their objections,” the order approving the class notice reads.

In their request to notify the “class,” Conway Police Department K-9 officer Richard Shumate and Conway Fire Department Cpt. Damon Reed laid out which employees and former employees would be valid class members and how individuals would be notified and on what steps to take to dismiss themselves or remain as part of the suit.

The class, as previously certified in Faulkner County Circuit Court, includes all Conway police and fire employees, excluding department heads and elected officials, who were employed by the city between Dec. 1, 2001, through Dec. 31, 2012.

As part of the notification plan, the defendant (City of Conway) will provide the lass known address for each potential class member so that plaintiffs can reach out and propose the first phase of the notice — the “long form” notice.” Notices may also be sent via email.

The long form notice is an explanation of the case, explaining its origin and who has a right to become a class member.

A “short form” will also be sent out in the newspaper “one time per week for two consecutive weeks,” according to the notice plan.

The short form is a summarized clip explaining the case and notifying potential class members of who to contact.

Braswell approved the notice plan Friday, and informed Shumate and Reed to include an opt-out date in their notice.

“Plaintiffs are ordered to include within the Class Notice and Notice Plan an opt-out date at least forty-five (45) days after the last issuance or publication of Class Notice,” the order reads.

Attorney Justin Eichmann, who represents the city, said this ruling was standard in moving forward with a class-action lawsuit.

“After these preliminary steps, the City of Conway will have the opportunity to defend the remaining parts of this lawsuit,” he said in an email statement. “The City has already prevailed on the multi-million dollar attack on the sales tax which has been used to support the salaries of the fire fighters and police in Conway. At trial, the City will continue to vigorously defend itself against the unfounded claims that it was obligated to provide certain pay raises during the economic rescission.”

Attorneys Tom Kieklak and Christa Miller also represent Conway in this litigation.

The Log Cabin also reached out to the plaintiff’s attorneys for comment Tuesday. However, calls were not returned by press time.

This suit stems from a 2012 lawsuit Shumate and Reed filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court that accused the city of breaching its contract for salary improvements.

Through their attorneys Thomas Thrash and Russell A. Wood, the two sought class-action status against the city on behalf of the Conway police and fire departments.

In December 2015, Braswell granted Shumate and Reed class action status. However, the city appealed the decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has sicne determined Braswell did not abuse his discretion when he certified about 200 Conway police officers and firefighters in the breach of contract lawsuit.

“A court abuses its discretion when it acts improvidently, thoughtlessly, or without due consideration. … We cannot say that the court abused its discretion here, when it carefully considered the complaint and matters in the record to find that common questions were present,” Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood wrote in a majority opinion earlier this year.

Braswell dismissed the plaintiffs’ illegal exaction claim in December 2015 but ruled in favor for police and fire employees that were employed with the city between Dec. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31. 2012, to move forward in a class-action suit against the city.

The lawsuit stems from a Conway City Council-approved quarter-cent sales tax that was to be used “exclusively to the salaries of the employees of the City of Conway,” according tot he ballot resolution that was passed by Conway voters in August 2001.

Employees allege they did not receive money they were promised.

 

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