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Massachusetts Department of Correction v. Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

November 23, 2018

MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION
v.
MASSACHUSETTS COMMISSION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION and Pamela Scanlan

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          MICHAEL D. RICCIUTI, Justice of the Superior Court

         Plaintiff Massachusetts Department of Correction ("DOC") moves pursuant to G.L. c. 30A, § 14, G.L. c. 151B, § 6, Superior Court Standing Order 1-96, and Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(c) to vacate an assessment of interest on attorney’s fees and costs imposed by defendant Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ("MCAD") in a decision rendered in favor of defendant Pamela Scanlon, a DOC employee, on September 28, 2017. MCAD opposes and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings. Scanlan adopts and incorporates the MCAD’s arguments.

         In consideration of the parties’ memoranda of law and oral arguments, and for the reasons that follow, DOC’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is ALLOWED and the MCAD’s cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Claims for judicial review of administrative agency proceedings are resolved through motions for judgment on the pleadings under Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(c). Massachusetts Superior Court Standing Order 1-96, § 4. The Court’s "review shall be confined to the record." Id. at § 5. "Such record ‘shall consist of ... the entire proceeding." Id. at § 2, quoting G. L. c. 30A, § 14. The record in this case reveals the following facts:

         Defendant Scanlon filed a charge of discrimination against the DOC and litigated it before the MCAD pursuant to G. L. c. 151B, § 5, not in Superior Court pursuant to G.L. c. 151B, § 9. On or about March 19, 2013, and pursuant to G. L. c. 151B, § 5, an MCAD Hearing Officer issued a decision in favor of Scanlon and awarded her compensatory damages. On or about March 29, 2013, Scanlon submitted a petition for attorney’s fees and costs.

         DOC appealed to the Full Commission of the MCAD.

         On September 28, 2017, the Full Commission affirmed the Hearing Officer’s decision and awarded Scanlon attorney’s fees of $41, 600 and costs of $386, to which the MCAD added interest calculated at 12% "from the date the petition for attorney’s fees was filed, until paid, or until this order is reduced to a court judgment and post-judgment interest begins to accrue." The Order concluded that "[t]his order represents the final action of the Commission for purposes of M.G.L. c. 30A. Any party aggrieved by this final determination may contest the Commission’s decision by filing a complaint in superior court seeking judicial review ... Failure to file a petition in court within thirty (30) days of service of this order will constitute a waiver of the aggrieved party’s right to appeal pursuant to M.G.L c. 151B, § 6."

         On November 1, 2017, DOC field a timely complaint in this court, seeking an order vacating the award of interest on attorney’s fees and costs.

         DISCUSSION

         The Court may set aside the MCAD’s decision only on the grounds enumerated in G.L. c. 30A, § 14. See Howard Johnson Co. v. Alcoholic Beverages Control Comm’n, 24 Mass.App.Ct. 487, 490 (1987). The Court thus reviews the MCAD’s decision to determine whether it was not supported by substantial evidence, was arbitrary or capricious, or was based on an error of law. G.L. c. 30A, § 14(7); see also, e.g., The Local Citizen Group v. New England Wind, LLC, 457 Mass. 222, 228 (2010). A moving party bears a heavy burden of establishing that an agency’s decision is invalid. See Merisme v. Board of Appeals on Motor Vehicle Policies and Bonds, 27 Mass.App.Ct. 470, 474 (1989); Mass. Ass’n of Minority Law Enforcement Officers v. Abban, 434 Mass. 256, 263-64 (2001).

         "We generally review an agency’s interpretation of law de novo. However, we grant deference to the interpretations administrative agencies make of the statutory scheme that they administer." Trustees of Health & Hosps. of the City of Boston, Inc. v. Massachusetts Comm’n Against Discrimination, 65 Mass.App.Ct. 329, 333 (2005) (citations omitted), aff’d sub nom. Trustees of Health & Hosps. of City of Boston, Inc. v. Massachusetts Comm’n Against Discrimination, 449 Mass. 675 (2007). Further, the Court gives due weight to the "experience, technical competence, and specialized knowledge of the agency" and the discretionary authority conferred upon it, see G. L. c. 30A, § 14(7), and will not substitute its judgment for that of the agency. Southern Worcester Cnty. Reg’l Cov. Sch. Dist. v. Labor Relations Comm’n, 386 Mass. 414, 420-21 (1982).

         Chapter 151B claims are resolved through one of two generally mutually-exclusive methods - before the MCAD pursuant to § 5 or before the Superior Court pursuant to § 9. This is a § 5 case. Two years ago, in a § 9 case, the Supreme Judicial Court decided Brown v. Office of the Commissioner of Probation, 475 Mass. 675 (2016), in which the Court found that sovereign immunity barred a Superior Court from awarding post-judgment interest on an award of attorney’s fees and costs against a public agency.[1] The MCAD concedes that post-judgment interests on attorney’s fees and costs does not accrue under Brown, but contests when "judgment" is issued. Because the instant case was adjudicated before the MCAD under § 5, not in Superior Court under § 9 as was the case in Brown, the MCAD argues that the Court should not read Brown to find that interest on attorney’s fees and costs imposed by the MCAD constitutes post-judgment interest. Instead, the MCAD claims that all the interest that accrues based upon the MCAD’s decision issued under § 5 is pre-judgment interest because the MCAD must seek enforcement of a § 5 order in Superior Court; until the Superior Court rules, it claims, any interest that accrues on the judgment is pre-judgment interest not within the scope of Brown.

         The MCAD’s position is flawed. It proceeds from the erroneous premise that the MCAD must always proceed in Superior Court under § 6 for its § 5 order to be final. This is not the case. Section 6 permits, but does not require, resort to Superior Court by the MCAD or anyone who is "aggrieved" by its decision. G.L. c. 151B, § 6 ("Any complainant, respondent or other person aggrieved by such order of the commission may obtain judicial review thereof, and the commission may obtain an order of court for its enforcement, in a proceeding as provided in this section") (emphasis added). Unless a timely action is filed in superior court, a § 5 decision of the MCAD is final - and, indeed, will be given preclusive effect under ...


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