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Benoit v. City of Boston

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

May 16, 2017

BRIAN BENOIT
v.
CITY OF BOSTON (and a consolidated case[1]).

          Heard: January 9, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on November 24, 2014.

         A motion to dismiss was heard by Linda E. Giles, J.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on November 3, 2015.

         A motion to dismiss was heard by Paul D. Wilson, J.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          John M. Becker for the plaintiff.

          E. David Susich (Thomas A. Pagliarulo also present) for the defendant.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          LENK, J.

         On September 5, 2011, after working almost twenty years as an emergency medical technician and paramedic for the defendant city's emergency medical services (EMS), the plaintiff suffered an incapacitating ankle injury while transporting a patient. Unable to work, he received workers' compensation payments for almost one year pursuant to G. L. c. 152, the workers' compensation act.

         Learning that the plaintiff had been indicted on October 31, 2012, on charges relating to misuse of controlled substances intended for EMS patients, the defendant suspended him indefinitely without pay pursuant to G. L. c. 268A, § 25 (suspension statute). After the defendant, a self-insured municipal employer, discontinued the plaintiff's workers' compensation payments, he took the matter to the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA); the defendant was ordered to restore those payments.

         When the defendant did not comply with the DIA order, the plaintiff sought enforcement in the Superior Court pursuant to G. L. c. 152, § 12 (1). The defendant argued then, as now, that the provision of the suspension statute requiring that suspended public employees "shall not receive any compensation or salary during the period of suspension" prevails over the requirements of the worker's compensation act, and that the DIA order requiring proscribed payments should accordingly not be enforced. A Superior Court judge agreed and dismissed the enforcement actions.[2] We conclude that workers' compensation benefits are not "compensation" as defined in the suspension statute, because they are not payments made "in return for services rendered." G. L. c. 268A, § 1 (a.) . The Superior Court actions brought by the plaintiff to enforce the orders of the DIA accordingly were dismissed in error.[3]

         1. Background.[4]

         The plaintiff began working for the city of Boston as an emergency medical technician in 1996, and was promoted to paramedic in 2004. On September 5, 2011, he suffered a significant ankle injury while helping bring a patient to his ambulance. As a result of the plaintiff's incapacitation, the defendant paid workers' compensation benefits to him from September 5, 2011, until August 4, 2012.[5]

         In August, 2012, the defendant notified the plaintiff that his workers' compensation payments would be terminated.[6] The plaintiff filed a claim contesting the termination of the payments with the DIA on October 23, 2012. Just over a week later, the plaintiff was indicted on seventy-three counts of criminal misconduct involving controlled substances in his ambulance. The defendant suspended the plaintiff's employment shortly thereafter pursuant to the suspension statute.[7]

         The DIA conducted a hearing regarding the plaintiff's workers' compensation claim on September 30, 2013. On October 6, 2014, the DIA ruled in favor of the plaintiff and ordered the defendant to resume making workers' compensation payments. The defendant appealed from the DIA's decision and did not comply with the order.[8] On November 24, 2014, the plaintiff brought an action in the Superior Court to enforce the DIA's order against the defendant pursuant to G. L. c. 152, § 12 (1) .[9] A Superior Court judge granted the defendant's subsequent motion to dismiss on the ground that the suspension statute prohibited the plaintiff from receiving workers' compensation payments while he was suspended because it constituted "compensation" under the statute. See G. L. c. 268A, § 25 ("Any person [suspended pursuant to the statute] shall not receive any compensation or salary during the period of suspension . . ."). The plaintiff appealed from the decision.

         On August 5, 2015, the plaintiff pleaded guilty to one felony count and seventeen misdemeanor counts and resigned from his employment with the defendant. He then brought another enforcement action in the Superior Court on the basis that the suspension statute no longer barred his compensation payments because he was no longer suspended. A different Superior Court judge granted the defendant's subsequent motion to dismiss, concluding that the suspension statute still barred the plaintiff from receiving workers' compensation because his suspension had not been lifted prior to his resignation. The plaintiff appealed from the ruling; his request that both ...


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