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Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

February 13, 2018

PUBLIC EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT ADMINISTRATION COMMISSION
v.
CONTRIBUTORY RETIREMENT APPEAL BOARD & others. [1]

          Heard: November 6, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on May 14, 2015. The case was heard by Peter M. Lauriat, J., on motions for judgment on the pleadings.

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

          Judith A. Corrigan, Special Assistant Attorney General, for the plaintiff.

          Michael Sacco for retirement board of Swampscott.

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

          CYPHER, J.

         The plaintiff, the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC), appeals from a Superior Court judge's decision affirming a determination by the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board (CRAB) that sick or vacation payments, when used to supplement workers' compensation payments, are not "regular compensation" as defined in G. L. c. 32, § 1. PERAC argues that CRAB's decision is incorrect as a matter of law. We disagree, and for the following reasons we affirm the decision of the Superior Court judge.

         Background.

         The relevant facts are not in dispute. From September 30, 1985, to July 7, 2012, Robert Vernava worked for the town of Swampscott's department of public works. On June 13, 2010, Vernava sustained injuries while performing job-related duties. He began receiving workers' compensation benefits the same day. In addition to the workers' compensation benefits, under G. L. c. 152, § 69, Vernava also received two hours per week of sick or vacation pay (supplemental pay) in order to maintain his union membership and life insurance.[2]

         Pursuant to G. L. c. 32, § 7, on February 1, 2012, the town of Swampscott filed an application seeking to retire Vernava involuntarily for accidental disability. On June 28, 2012, the retirement board of Swampscott (board) approved the application and voted to involuntarily retire Vernava due to accidental disability. Vernava received his workers' compensation benefits and supplemental pay until July 7, 2012.

         Under G. L. c. 32, § 7 (2), the effective date of an employee's accidental disability retirement is the latest of the following: (1) "the date the injury was sustained;" (2) "the date six months prior to the filing of the written application for such retirement;" or (3) "the date for which he last received regular compensation for his employment in the public service." Following the board's decision to retire Vernava involuntarily, PERAC determined that Vernava's effective retirement date was July 7, 2012, because this was the last day Vernava received "regular compensation" in the form of his supplemental pay. The board, while not agreeing with PERAC's determination, was bound to follow PERAC's ruling.

         Vernava appealed from PERAC's determination to the division of administrative law appeals (DALA). DALA reversed PERAC's decision, finding that Vernava's supplemental pay did not constitute "regular compensation" under G. L. c. 32, § 1. DALA determined that Vernava last received such compensation on June 13, 2010, the date of his injury. Based on that determination, DALA set Vernava's effective accidental disability retirement date as August 1, 2011. This was because, with DALA's determination that the supplemental pay was not regular compensation, the latest occurring event under G. L. c. 32, § 7 (2), became the date six months prior to the filing of the accidental disability application, here August 1, 2011, and not the date Vernava last received regular compensation.

         PERAC appealed from DALA's findings to CRAB, and CRAB upheld DALA's decision. PERAC sought judicial review of CRAB's decision pursuant to G. L. c. 30A, § 14. A Superior Court judge affirmed CRAB's decision, and PERAC appealed. We transferred the ...


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