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Worcester Regional Retirement Board v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

November 29, 2017

WORCESTER REGIONAL RETIREMENT BOARD
v.
CONTRIBUTORY RETIREMENT APPEAL BOARD & others. [1]

          Heard: October 11, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on September 15, 2015.

         The case was heard by Shannon Frison, J., on motions for judgment on the pleadings.

          Michael Sacco for the plaintiff.

          Thomas F. Gibson for Middlesex County Retirement Board.

          Present: Milkey, Massing, & Ditkoff, JJ.

          MASSING, J.

         The Worcester Regional Retirement Board (WRRB) appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court, which affirmed a decision of the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board (CRAB) requiring the WRRB to permit a former member to purchase nine additional months of creditable service.[2] At issue is whether the WRRB is responsible for not having enrolled the employee, Brian Pierce, as of the day he became eligible for membership, or whether Pierce had an affirmative obligation to ensure that he had been enrolled as of his start date. CRAB determined that the responsibility lay with the WRRB, not the employee; that the retirement system records should be corrected to reflect Pierce's nine months of uncredited membership; and that Pierce should be permitted to buy back the time of which he had erroneously been deprived. Discerning no legal error or abuse of discretion on CRAB's part, we affirm.

         Background.

         Pierce began permanent, full-time employment as a third-class lineman for the Princeton Municipal Light Department, which is a member unit of the Worcester Regional Retirement System (WRRS), on December 6, 1982. On October 24, 1983, Pierce completed a new entrant enrollment form "[i]n order that [he] may be properly enrolled" in the WRRS.[3] The WRRB stamped the form as received on November 18, 1983. The form correctly indicated that Pierce's full-time permanent employment had begun on December 6, 1982. The WRRB enrolled Pierce as a member as of September 1, 1983, crediting him with service prior to its receipt of his enrollment form, but not for the first nine months of his employment starting on December 6, 1982.

         Pierce's service with the town of Princeton ended on May 1, 1986, when he took a similar position with the Middle borough Light Department. At that time, Pierce became a member of the Plymouth County Retirement System, and his funds in the WRRS, representing two years and eight months of service (September 1, 1983, to May 1, 1986) were transferred to the Plymouth system. After ten years and one month of service in Middle borough, Pierce went to work for the Littleton Light Department, and his funds within the Plymouth system were transferred to the Middlesex County Retirement System (MCRS). On June 30, 2008, after eleven years and nine months of service in Littleton, Pierce retired from service with superannuation retirement benefits through the MCRS.[4]

         Shortly before his retirement, Pierce initiated a request to purchase from the WRRS the nine months of full-time service for which he had not received credit.[5] Following a series of communications among Pierce, the town of Princeton, the WRRB, and the MCRS, the WRRB declined to accept Pierce's request and denied liability for his noncontributing service period.

         Pierce, joined by the MCRS, timely appealed from the WRRB's decision to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA). A DALA magistrate concluded that because Pierce correctly indicated his start date when he applied for membership, "the WRRB had notice of [his] membership status and eligibility to purchase that service as of the date he became a member." The magistrate further stated, "There was no additional onus on [Pierce] to be proactive and request to purchase said service at that time. [Pierce] was entitled to retroactive membership from the moment the WRRB accepted the enrollment form. The omission was an error of the board." Accordingly, the magistrate concluded that "the omission of [Pierce] from the system from his date of hire through September 16 [sic], 1983 was an error of the WRRB which must be corrected pursuant to G. L. c. 32, § 20(5) (c) (1) ."

         The WRRB appealed from the DALA magistrate's decision to CRAB. CRAB adopted the magistrate's findings and conclusions, adding, "Pierce's application for membership listed his date of hire and should have resulted in his enrollment commencing on that date, with any makeup payments necessary. Under these circumstances he was not ...


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