FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23CV-2012-855]
HONORABLE TROY B. BRASWELL, JR., JUDGE
Harrington, Miller, Kieklak, Eichmann & Brown, P.A., by:
Thomas K. Kieklak and R. Justin Eichmann, for appellant.
Law Firm, P.A., by: Thomas P. Thrash and Marcus Neil Bozeman;
and Wood Law Firm, by: Russell A. Wood, for appellees.
K. WOOD, Associate Justice.
of police officers and firefighters brought a class-action
complaint against their employer, the City of Conway. The
class alleged that the City breached its employment contract
with them when it failed to allocate sales-tax revenues to
fund salary increases. The issue before us now is the circuit
court's order certifying the class action. The City has
appealed from this order, arguing that individual issues
render a class action impractical. We reject this argument
and hold that the circuit court was within its discretion
when it certified the class.
Facts and Procedural Background
an appeal from a class-certification order. The underlying
class-action complaint was filed by a fireman and a police
officer against the City of Conway. The first named plaintiff
was Richard Shumate, a member of the Conway Police Department
since 2007. The second named plaintiff was Damon Reed, a
member of the Conway Fire Department since 1994. The dispute
stems from a sales-tax resolution passed by Conway voters in
2001. Revenue from this tax, plaintiffs allege, was intended
to exclusively fund the salaries of city employees. The City
established a pay grid to implement and codify the improved
salary structure. The parties stipulated that the City gave
raises pursuant to the pay grid from 2001 to 2009 but that no
increases have been paid since 2009.
crux of this case arises from the plaintiffs' allegation
that the City has failed to exclusively allocate the revenues
from the sales tax to fund employee salaries. Plaintiffs
allege that the City provided police and fire employees with
packets that outlined the pay-grid structure that had been
implemented under the resolution. Plaintiffs allege further
that the pay grid became part of their employment contract.
Thus, plaintiffs allege, old employees were induced to stay
with the City and new employees were induced to join based on
the pay-grid structure. Once the City stopped funding the
increases in 2009, plaintiffs alleged the City breached its
contract with its employees.
class-action complaint, therefore, was one for breach of
contract. At a hearing on class certification, the circuit
court certified the following class:
All City of Conway Policemen and Fireman (excluding
department heads and elected officials) who were employed by
the City of Conway during the period commencing December 1,
2001 through December 31, 2012 (the "Class
and Reed were named the class representatives. Further, the
court found that there were overarching, common questions
that could be efficiently determined on a class-wide basis.
The City has appealed from this order under Arkansas Rule of
Appellate Procedure- Civil 2(a)(9) (2016).
Standard of Review
certification of a class action is governed by Arkansas Rule
of Civil Procedure 23 (2016). Circuit courts have broad
discretion regarding class certification, and we will not
reverse a circuit court's decision to grant or deny class
certification absent an abuse of discretion. See Gen.
Motors Corp. v. Bryant, 374 Ark. 38, 285 S.W.3d 634
(2008). When reviewing a class-certification order, we focus
on the evidence contained in the record to determine whether
it supports the circuit court's conclusion regarding
certification. Asbury Auto. Grp., Inc. v. Palasack,
366 Ark. 601, 237 S.W.3d 462 (2006). Our focus is
"whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met, " and
"it is totally immaterial whether the petition will
succeed on the merits or even if it states a cause of
action." Am. Abstract & Title Co. v. Rice,
358 Ark. 1, 9, 186 S.W.3d 705, 710 (2004). Stated another
way, we "will not delve into the merits of the
underlying claims when deciding whether the Rule 23
requirements have been met." Nat'l Cash, Inc. v.
Loveless, 361 Ark. 112, 116, 205 S.W.3d 127, 130 (2005).
Rule 23 imposes ...