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McLaughlin v. Boston Ret. Bd.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 12, 2015

RICHARD McLAUGHLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
BOSTON RETIREMENT BOARD, CITY OF BOSTON, AND COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, Defendants

         Decided November 10, 2015

         As Corrected November 14, 2015.

          Richard McLaughlin, Plaintiff, Pro se, Weymouth, MA.

         For Boston Retirement Board, Defendant: Padraic P. Lydon, LEAD ATTORNEY, Boston Retirement Board, Boston, MA; Timothy J. Smyth, LEAD ATTORNEY, City of Boston Retirement Board, Boston, MA.

         For City of Boston, Defendant: Erika Reis, LEAD ATTORNEY, City Of Boston Law Department, Boston, MA.

         For Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Defendant: Julia E. Kobick, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Attorney General, Boston, MA; Ricardo Brandon Rios, LEAD ATTORNEY, Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, Boston, MA.

         MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         Allison D. Burroughs, District Judge.

         Plaintiff Richard McLaughlin filed his complaint in this action on March 12, 2015. [ECF No. 1 (" Complt." ).] McLaughlin, a retired Boston firefighter, alleges widespread misconduct by the three defendants--the Boston Retirement Board (" Retirement Board" ), the City of Boston (" Boston" ), and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (the " Commonwealth" )--in connection with his retirement and accidental disability benefit payments. All three defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint, [ECF Nos. 31, 37, & 65], and on October 27, 2015, the Court granted the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. [ECF No. 77.] Now before the Court are the Retirement Board and Boston's motions to dismiss. For the foregoing reasons, both motions are GRANTED and all other pending motions in this case are DENIED as MOOT.

         I. Background

         McLaughlin retired from the Boston Fire Department in 1997 after suffering a broken leg. Complt. ¶ ¶ 1, 7; McLaughlin v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Bd., Civil Action No. 2012-04354-D, Id. *1 (Mass. Super. Jan. 13, 2014).[1] Starting on January 31, 2000, McLaughlin began receiving accidental disability retirement benefits from the Retirement Board, pursuant to Mass. Gen. Law ch. 37, § 7. Contributory Retirement Appeal Bd. In January 2009, while still receiving those benefits, a jury convicted McLaughlin of operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor (" OUI" ) and negligent operation to endanger. See McLaughlin v. MacDonald, No. CIV.A. 11-11587-JLT, 2013 WL 4679604, at *1 (D. Mass. Aug. 29, 2013) (habeas opinion summarizing McLaughlin's previous criminal proceedings). By a subsequent jury-waived trial, the judge found the OUI conviction to be McLaughlin's third such offense and sentenced him to two and a half years of incarceration under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, § 24(1)(a)(1). See id. The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed his conviction in 2011 and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court denied further review. Commonwealth v. McLaughlin, 79 Mass.App.Ct. 670, 670, 948 N.E.2d 1258 (2011), rev. denied 460 Mass. 1110, 951 N.E.2d 350 (2011). McLaughlin filed two petitions for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, which were both denied. McLaughlin v. Gillen, No. CIV.A. 11-10746-NMG, 2011 WL 2746459 (D. Mass. July 8, 2011); MacDonald, 2013 WL 4679604. He was released on parole on October 4, 2011. See MacDonald, 2013 WL 4679604, at *2-3.

         On or about July 15, 2011, the Retirement Board became aware of McLaughlin's incarceration and stopped paying his accidental disability benefit payments. Contributory Retirement Appeal Bd. The Retirement Board subsequently entered into an agreement with McLaughlin, in which he agreed to repay the $115,974.30 in benefits he received from January 15, 2009 (when he was first incarcerated) to July 15, 2011 (when the Retirement Board learned he was incarcerated). [ECF No. 83-1, at 4.][2] The Retirement Board acted pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws c. 32, § 7(2)(d), which provides that:

Payments to a member retired under the provisions of this section who is incarcerated for having been convicted of a felony committed on or after the effective date of this paragraph shall cease for the period of such member's incarceration. Under no circumstances shall such payments be recoverable by such member after such period of incarceration.

         McLaughlin later requested a waiver of repayment and on December 2, 2011, the Retirement Board held a hearing on McLaughlin's request. [ECF No. 83-1, at 1.] The Hearing Officer recommended that McLaughlin's request for waiver be denied and in February 2012, the Retirement Board adopted his recommendation. [ECF No. 83-1, 83-2.] The Hearing Officer found that " the Legislature has made it abundantly clear through its use of the phrase -- 'under no circumstances' -- that it did not want to provide retirement boards with the discretion to award accidental disability retirement benefits to members while they were incarcerated on account of a felony conviction." [ECF No. 83-1, at 7.] Accordingly, McLaughlin " could not be relieved of his obligation to repay benefits received while he was incarcerated on account of Board error, as there was none." Id. at 6.

         McLaughlin appealed the Retirement Board's decision to the Contributory Retirement Appeals Board (" CRAB" ), which assigned the matter to the Division of Administrative Appeals (" DALA" ). Contributory Retirement Appeal Bd. After both sides filed cross-motions for a summary decision, the DALA affirmed the Retirement Board's decision to deny McLaughlin's request for waiver. Id. On October 1, 2012, the CRAB received a letter from McLaughlin with objections to the DALA decision and a request for additional time to file documents. Id. The CRAB denied McLaughlin's request and determined that it lacked jurisdiction to hear an appeal of the DALA decision, since McLauhlin had sent the letter outside the fifteen-day appeals window. Id. at *3-4 (citing Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 32, ยง 16 (4)). In a January 13, 2014 opinion, the Suffolk County Superior Court affirmed the CRAB's finding that McLaughlin's appeal was untimely. Though it did not need to reach the merits of McLaughlin's claim, the Superior Court noted that even had McLaughlin filed his appeal on time, he would not have prevailed. There was " no proper basis to ...


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