Providence County Superior Court
ATTORNEYS OF RECORD Lynette Labinger Samuel D. Zurier, Stephen M. Robinson, Stephen Adams, Andrew D. Henneous, Matthew T. Oliverio, Jon Anderson, Mackenzie Mango, Marc DeSisto, William J. Conley, Jr., Raymond Marcaccio,, Arthur G. Capaldi, Matthew Jerzyk, David R. Petrarca, Peter D. Ruggiero,, Andrew A. Thomas, David P. Martland, Sara Rapport, Timothy C. Cavazza, Albert B. West, Diana E. Pearson, David D'Agostino, Brian LaPlante Erica S. Pistorino, William M. Dolan, III, Nicholas Nybo, William K. Wray, Jr., Vincent F. Ragosta, D. Peter DeSimone, Gerald J. Petros, Andrew S. Tugan, Thomas R. Landry, Gregory P. Piccirilli, Gary Gentile, Esq., Joseph F. Penza, Jr., Douglas L. Steele, Sara Conrath, Mark Gursky, Elizabeth A. Wiens, Michael B. Forte, Jr., Sean T. O'Leary, Rebecca T. Partington, Kelly A. McElroy, Carly Beauvais Iafrate, Jonathan F. Whaley, Jay E. Sushelsky, John A. Tarantino, Patricia K. Rocha, Joseph Avanzato, Nicole J. Benjamin,
Before this Court for decision is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the Clifford Plaintiffs' conversion claim pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 56.Plaintiffs have objected. Plaintiffs filed the underlying actions in 2014 against the Governor and General Treasurer of the State of Rhode Island, the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI), by and through the Retirement Board, and the Chairman and Secretary of the Retirement Board (collectively, Defendants), raising various challenges to the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act (RIRSA) of 2011. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.
Facts and Travel
A detailed recitation of the facts and travel of these cases has been provided by this Court in its April 25, 2014 Decision. See Rhode Island Council 94 v. Chafee, 2014 WL 1743149 (R.I. Super. Apr. 25, 2014). Consequently, this Court will provide only the facts it deems necessary for ruling on the instant Motion.
Pursuant to ERSRI, participants' pension benefits were compounded by a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). The intent of the COLA was to maintain the real value of a retiree's pension in light of changes to the cost of living occurring over the life of retirement. However, as a consequence of the underfunding of Rhode Island's public pension system, the General Assembly enacted RIRSA in November 2011. Relevant to this motion, RIRSA permanently reduced all COLAs to apply only to the first $25, 000 of a person's retirement allowance and suspended all COLAs until they are funded to eighty percent, which is estimated to take at least sixteen years.
Plaintiffs contend that the State's action with respect to the COLAs amounted to conversion. Defendants now move for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' conversion claim, arguing that the Plaintiffs' claim fails as a matter of law because the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) benefits are not specifically identifiable property capable of being converted.
Standard of Review
When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial justice must keep in mind that it "'is a drastic remedy and should be cautiously applied.'" Steinberg v. State, 427 A.2d 338, 339– 40 (R.I. 1981) (quoting Ardente v. Horan, 117 R.I. 254, 366 A.2d 162, 164 (R.I. 1976)). "Thus, '[s]ummary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the [C]ourt determines that there are no issues of material fact in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Quest Diagnostics, LLC v. Pinnacle Consortium of Higher Educ., 93 A.3d 949, 951 (R.I. 2014). However, only when the facts reliably and indisputably point to a single permissible inference can this process be treated as a matter of law. Steinberg, 427 A.2d at 340. The party who opposes the motion for summary judgment "carries the burden of proving by competent evidence the existence of a disputed material issue of fact and cannot rest on allegations or denials in the pleadings or on conclusions or legal opinions." Accent Store Design, Inc. v. Marathon House, Inc., 674 A.2d 1223, 1225 (R.I. 1996); see also McAdam v. Grzelczyk, 911 A.2d 255, 259 (R.I. 2006).