The defendant, the Madison Parish School Board, appeals the trial court judgment which ordered the reinstatement of plaintiff, Isaac Guy, to his tenured position as a school bus operator and ordered defendant to reimburse plaintiff for back pay and other accrued benefits. Plaintiff has answered the appeal, seeking damages for frivolous appeal. We affirm.
The plaintiff had been employed by the Madison Parish School Board as a school bus operator for at least six years prior to the 1988-89 school year.
The school board claims that the plaintiff's employment was terminated when the consolidation of bus routes became necessary because of budget cuts. Notice of the cuts in school bus transportation funding for the 1988-89 year was received by the school board sometime after July 19, 1988. The official decision to terminate plaintiff's employment came at the school board meeting of August 15, 1988. The plaintiff had no notice of, nor did he attend, this school board meeting.
Following several attempts to settle this dispute through the school board's grievance procedure,
The statute at issue in this case, LSA-R.S. 17:493, provides:
Even the demotion of a tenured school bus operator must be done in compliance with LSA-R.S. 17:493. Jones v. Richland Parish School Board, 488 So.2d 1045 (La.App. 2d Cir.1986), writ denied, 491 So.2d 22 (La.1986). Numerous cases have placed a similar construction on the kindred teacher tenure statutes, LSA-R.S. 17:441 et seq.
In the instant case, the Madison Parish School Board candidly admits that it did not follow the formalities specified in LSA-R.S. 17:493 prior to discharging the plaintiff. Nevertheless, the board argues that, due to the time constraints with which it was faced, it was impossible for the board to fully comply with the 20-day notice to the plaintiff required by LSA-R.S. 17:493. In essence, the board seeks the creation of a jurisprudential good faith exception to the notice and hearing requirements of the statute.
The board claims that its referral of the plaintiff to its five-step employee grievance procedure constituted a good faith exercise of its discretion in this matter. Clearly, however, the grievance procedure posterior to the plaintiff's termination is not tantamount to plaintiff's right to notice and an opportunity to present evidence prior to the school board's ultimate decision, specifically mandated by LSA-R.S. 17:493. Requiring resort to a grievance procedure is inappropriate where procedure for resolution of the grievance is established by law. Cf. Brown v. Red River Parish School Board, 469 So.2d 1110 (La.App. 2d Cir.1985).
Thorne v. Monroe City School Board, 531 So.2d 567 (La.App. 2d Cir.1988), affirmed,
The Madison Parish School Board's claim, that Thorne urges a less liberal or expansive interpretation of the tenure laws, is incomplete. In Thorne, the supreme court opinion noted that the tenure laws should be strictly construed in determining the class of persons who are entitled to the benefit of tenure. However, the court went on to note that once it has been determined that a claimant falls within the class of persons entitled to the benefit of the tenure laws, such laws should then be liberally construed in favor of the tenured employees.
As a tenured employee, LSA-R.S. 17:493 must be liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff. Thus, Thorne is not supportive of the board's position.
While we are not unmindful of the stress imposed by budget and time constraints on local school boards, we must nevertheless hold that the lack of compliance with LSA-R.S. 17:493 is not justifiable. Cf. Pardue v. Livingston Parish School Board, 251 So.2d 833 (La.App. 1st Cir.1971) (school board's noncompliance with the teacher tenure laws in case of plaintiff's demotion was not legally excusable notwithstanding federal court order two weeks before beginning of school year which compelled major reshuffling of school personnel). In the instant case, the school board received notice of cuts in transportation funding shortly after July 19, 1988, obviously more than 20 days prior to the August 15th school board meeting at which the plaintiff was terminated as a bus operator. Unfortunately, the record does not reflect when the ultimate consolidation proposal that adversely affected the plaintiff's employment was made. There is no adequate explanation by the board why plaintiff was not, at that time, immediately notified and the school board meeting held 20 days thereafter. We also note that even after the plaintiff cited the school board to its failure to comply with LSA-R.S. 17:493, the board refused to mitigate its damages by holding even an untimely hearing on plaintiff's termination. As the school board failed to comply with LSA-R.S. 17:493, the plaintiff's discharge was of no legal effect, and the district court correctly ordered the plaintiff to be reinstated as school bus operator and ordered that defendant pay plaintiff his back wages.
By answer to the appeal, the plaintiff seeks damages for frivolous appeal pursuant to LSA-C.C.P. Art. 2164. We note that appeals are favored and appellate courts are therefore reluctant to impose damages for frivolous appeal. Bellard v. Safeway Insurance Company, 442 So.2d 1314 (La.App. 3d Cir.1983); Weatherall v. Department of Health and Human Resources, 432 So.2d 988 (La.App. 1st Cir. 1983), writ denied, 437 So.2d 1150 (La. 1983). An appeal will only be deemed frivolous if it does not present a substantial legal question or if it is obvious either that it was taken solely for delay or that counsel does not seriously believe in the view of the law he advocates. Johnson & Placke v. Norris, 571 So.2d 702 (La.App. 2d Cir. 1990), writ denied, 573 So.2d 1142 (La. 1991); In re Succession of Bradford, 550 So.2d 678 (La.App.2d Cir.1989).
Because the law is quite clear on this subject, as we have pointed out, we were tempted to award damages for frivolous appeal in this case—particularly since the
However, we are reminded by the jurisprudence that our focus in the question of whether an appeal is frivolous is to be directed to the nature of the appeal itself rather than to the actions of the appellant which gave rise to the lawsuit. It is manifest that damages for frivolous appeal will be awarded only when it is clear that the appeal is taken solely for delay or it is clear that counsel does not seriously believe in the position advanced. Lowe v. Rivers, 465 So.2d 839 (La.App. 2d Cir.1985); Elliott v. Elliott, 458 So.2d 634 (La.App. 3rd Cir. 1984). Moreover, the position advanced on appeal must be so ridiculous or so opposed to rational thinking that it is evident beyond any doubt that the position is deliberately proposed for ulterior purposes. Parker v. Interstate Life & Accident Insurance Company, 248 La. 449, 179 So.2d 634 (1965).
These factors considered, along with the quality of appellant's brief and appearance at oral argument, we are unable to say that damages for frivolous appeal are warranted. The judgment appealed from is affirmed at appellant's cost.