Providence County Superior Court. (PM 12-4837). Associate Justice Bennett R. Gallo.
For Plaintiff: Vincent F. Ragosta, Jr., Esq.
For Defendant: Carly B. Iafrate, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.
Maureen McKenna Goldberg,
This case came before the Supreme Court on April 29, 2015, on appeal by International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 301 (union), from a Superior Court order granting the City of Cranston's (city) motion to vacate an arbitration award in the union's favor. The union asserts that the Superior Court justice erred in vacating the award and that the judgment should be vacated and the arbitration award confirmed. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.
Facts and Travel
The material facts in this case are not in dispute. On August 20, 1990, Officer Tori-Lynn Heaton (Officer Heaton) was hired as a civilian dispatcher for the city. On June 6, 1994, Officer Heaton became a police officer. In 1995, approximately one year after she was hired as a police officer, Officer Heaton opted out of the city's pension system and into the State of Rhode Island's pension system--the Municipal Employee Retirement System (MERS). The parameters and specifics relating to MERS were codified by the Rhode Island General Assembly in G.L. 1956 title 45.
In 2009, Officer Heaton contacted the city, contending that she was eligible to retire on February 21, 2010, in accordance with the " round-up rule" in section 24.4 of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The so called round-up rule allowed for " [a]ny year in which a[n officer] completes over six (6) months of service [to] be credited with a complete year of credited service." Id. Accordingly, for pension purposes, this rule would allow an officer to retire with a full twenty years of service credit with only nineteen years, six months, and one day of service. On June 11, 2009, the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) advised the city that, under G.L. 1956 § 45-21.2-5(a)(8), Officer Heaton was not entitled to credit for twenty years of service after completing only nineteen years, six months, and one day of service. The city subsequently notified the union that Officer Heaton was not eligible to retire and receive her full twenty-year pension benefit pursuant to the round-up rule.
On September 9, 2009, Officer Heaton filed a grievance with the city seeking " [t]o
be made whole in every way, but not limited to; being allowed to retire from the Cranston Police Department at 19 years, 6 months, plus one day * * * with [her] full 20 year pension * * *." Officer Heaton alleged that she was entitled to the credit in accordance with the round-up rule, as specified in the CBA and a memorandum of agreement (MOA) dated July 26, 2000, and entered into between the city and the union. The city denied the grievance on the basis that ERSRI " is governed by [t]itles 36 and 45 of the Rhode Island General Laws * * *, and, as such, supersede[s] any local ordinances and/or memorandums." Specifically, § 45-21.2-22(1)--which governs the years of service necessary to retire under MERS--states that " [a]ny member may retire pursuant to this section upon his or her written application to the board stating * * * [he or she] has completed ...