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Malden Police Patrolman's Association v. City of Malden

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

August 11, 2017

MALDEN POLICE PATROLMAN'S ASSOCIATION
v.
CITY OF MALDEN.

          Heard: February 7, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on January 21, 2015.

         The case was heard by Bruce R. Henry, J., on motions to dismiss and for summary judgment.

          Christopher G. Fallon for the plaintiff.

          Albert R. Mason for the defendant.

          Present: Trainor, Blake, & Shin, JJ.

          BLAKE, J.

         The plaintiff, Malden Police Patrolman's Association (union), is a labor organization comprised of approximately seventy-nine police officers employed by the defendant, the city of Malden (city). The union and the city were parties to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) covering three fiscal years from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2013. The CBA set forth the provisions governing, among other matters, paid detail work performed by the officers.[1] During the summer of 2014, the union notified the city that it was in arrears on the payment of compensation to officers for detail work, requested a written explanation for the nonpayment, and demanded the outstanding detail pay. The city took the position that, because the officers earned the detail pay for work performed for third parties, the city was exempt from the provisions of the Massachusetts wage and hour laws, requiring timely payment of earned wages.

         On January 21, 2015, the union filed a complaint in the Superior Court against the city, [2] alleging that the city owed the officers approximately $410, 000 in compensation for the performance of past detail work.[3] The complaint requested relief under theories of breach of contract (count I), breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (count II), promissory estoppel (count III), unjust enrichment (count IV), and violation of the Massachusetts Wage Act, G. L. c. 149, § 148 (Wage Act) (count V). The union then filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. 56, 365 Mass. 824 (1974). The city moved to dismiss the union's complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment and declaratory judgment.

         By memorandum of decision and order dated February 9, 2016, the judge denied the union's motion for summary judgment, allowed the city's motion to dismiss with respect to counts I through IV of the complaint, and granted summary judgment for the city with respect to count V of the complaint. First, the judge stated that the union's claims for breach of contract and breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing were governed by the CBA and, therefore, those claims were "best resolved by whatever dispute resolution provisions [were] contained in that agreement." While the record does not contain the entire CBA, neither party disputes that it contains an arbitration/grievance procedure. Next, the judge concluded that promissory estoppel was not a viable claim against the city. The judge also determined that the circumstances of the present dispute did not give rise to a claim of unjust enrichment. Finally, the judge concluded that, although detail pay constituted wages under G. L. c. 149, § 148, the union could not prevail under the Wage Act due to the provisions of the municipal finance law, G. L. c. 44, § 53C.[4] Following the entry of judgment, the union appealed. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the allowance of summary judgment in favor of the city on count V of the complaint, setting forth the union's Wage Act claim, and remand for further proceedings. In all other respects, we affirm.

          1. Compliance with Superior Court rules.[5]

         The union first contends that the judge erred in granting the city's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment because the city failed to comply with Rules 9A and 9B of the Rules of the Superior Court (2014). In particular, the union asserts that the city failed to include with its motion either a separate statement of uncontested material facts with references to supporting materials, or a joint appendix with an index of exhibits. See Superior Court Rule 9A(b)(5)(i) and (vi). The union claims that the city, when notified of these deficiencies, did not correct them properly. In addition, the union points out that the city failed to include a certificate of service on the last page of its motion. See Superior Court Rule 9B. In the union's view, the city's motion was fatally defective because of these deficiencies and, therefore, should have either not been considered or been denied. We disagree.

         We have said that "[r]ules of procedure are not just guidelines. Their purpose is to provide an orderly, predictable process by which parties to a law suit conduct their business. Any litigant who fails to turn a procedural corner squarely assumes the risk that the rules infraction will be used against him and the rule vigorously enforced by the trial judge." USTrust Co. v. Kennedy, 17 Mass.App.Ct. 131, 135 (1983). See Superior Court Rule 9A(b)(6) (judge "need not consider any motion or opposition that fails to comply with the requirements of this rule"). "Every violation of a procedural rule, however, need not -- and should not -- require the perpetrator to be undone. The defect may be harmless." USTrust Co. v. Kennedy, supra, and cases cited. Consequently, trial judges "have discretion to forgive a failure to comply with a rule if the failure does not affect the opposing party's opportunity to develop and prepare a response." Ibid. See Greenleaf v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Authy., 22 Mass.App.Ct. 426, 429 (1986) (management of case committed to discretion of trial judge).

         Here, the judge, in his discretion, chose to consider the merits of the city's motion, notwithstanding the city's alleged noncompliance with procedural rules. We note that in a revised memorandum of law accompanying its motion, the city did set forth agreed factual allegations taken directly from the paragraphs of the union's complaint. It also appears from the Superior Court docket that a statement of material facts was filed, although it has not been included in the record appendix. We agree with the union that the city failed to file a joint appendix with an index of exhibits and to include a certificate of service on the last page of its motion. Nonetheless, the union has not claimed that the city's noncompliance with Rules 9A and 9B affected the union's ability to respond to the city's motion. Absent any prejudice to the union, we conclude that the judge did not abuse his discretion in considering the merits of the city's motion, rather than deeming it fatally defective.

         2. Breach of contract and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Both parties have characterized the judge's dismissal of the contract-based claims as one under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction and have briefed the issue accordingly. The union contends that the judge erred in this respect because judicial resolution of such claims would not interfere with any pending administrative proceedings, and courts routinely resolve these types of controversies. In the union's view, its claims presented only questions of law for which the expertise of the Department of Labor Relations (department) was unnecessary. That being the case, the union argues, there was no reason for the judge to relinquish jurisdiction over its contract-based claims. We disagree.[6]

         Both the doctrine of primary jurisdiction and the doctrine of exhaustion of remedies serve the purpose of "promoting proper relationships between the courts and administrative agencies." Lincoln v. Personnel Administrator of the Dept. of Personnel Admin.,432 Mass. 208, 211 n.4 (2000), quoting from Nader v. Allegheny Airlines, Inc.,426 U.S. 290, 303 (1976) (Nader). The exhaustion doctrine, however, "is commonly applied to prevent premature interference with a pending administrative proceeding." J. & J. Enterprises, Inc. v. Martignetti,369 Mass. 535, 539 (1976). It "contemplates a situation where some administrative action has begun, but has not yet been completed." Murphy v. Administrator of the Div. of Personnel Admin.,377 Mass. 217, 220 (1979) (Murphy). See Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co. v. Workers' Compensation Trust Fund, 88 Mass.App.Ct. 183, 187 (2015). The ...


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