RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND TRAINING, DIVISION OF LABOR STANDARDS, and CAROL A. LEWIS-CULLINAN
County Superior Court
Plaintiff: Melissa A. Thomson, Esq. Patricia E. Andrews, Esq.
Daniel T. Angelone, Esq.
Defendant: Michael L. Mineau, Esq. David S. Francazio, Esq.
Mary Ellen McQueeney-Lally, Esq.
the Court is a Motion for Assessment of Attorney's Fees,
Prejudgment Interest, and Costs filed by Carol A.
Lewis-Cullinan (Ms. Lewis-Cullinan), following this
Court's denial of an appeal taken by Genexion, Inc.
(Genexion) from a decision of the Rhode Island Department of
Labor and Training (the DLT). Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L.
1956 § 42-35-15 and chapter 14 of title 28 of the Rhode
Island General Laws, entitled "Payment of Wages"
case involves a successful claim for unpaid vacation wages
filed by Ms. Lewis-Cullinan against Genexion, her former
employer, with the DLT. A detailed recitation of the
underlying facts may be found in Genexion, Inc. v. R.I.
Dep't of Labor & Training, C.A. No. PC-2011-1625
(R.I. Super. Ct., filed Sept. 3, 2014); accordingly, this
Court will provide only a brief narration of the pertinent
Lewis-Cullinan worked for Genexion as Senior Executive
Director of North America Operations from October 1, 2006
until October 9, 2009. An Employment Agreement governing her
employment during that period provided, inter alia,
that she was entitled to a maximum of five weeks of vacation
time per year, and that she could carry over four weeks of
vacation time from year to year. The Employment Agreement
also provided that she would be paid a lump sum for any
accrued vacation time within thirty days of termination.
her leaving the company, Ms. Lewis-Cullinan requested a
payout of 225.06 hours of vacation wages accrued. Genexion
made a one-time payment of $5000 on November 16, 2009, and
requested that Ms. Lewis-Cullinan accept periodic payments
for the balance of the amount owed.
November 30, 2009, Ms. Lewis-Cullinan filed a complaint with
the DLT in which she alleged that Genexion owed her $14,
637.89 in accrued vacation wages. On January 13, 2011, the
DLT conducted a hearing on the matter. At the hearing,
Genexion's principal, Yves Grumser, M.D., represented the
corporation and also testified on its behalf. The only other
witness to testify was Ms. Lewis-Cullinan.
considering the evidence and Ms. Lewis-Cullinan's request
for attorney's fees, the DLT hearing officer issued a
decision on February 23, 2011. In said decision, the hearing
officer awarded $14, 637.89 to Ms. Lewis-Cullinan, ordered
Genexion to pay a twenty-five percent penalty ($3659.47) to
the DLT, and denied Ms. Lewis-Cullinan's request for
attorney's fees on the grounds that he did not have
authority to do so under the Wages Act.
filed a timely appeal from the hearing officer's decision
to this Court. As grounds for its appeal, Genexion alleged
that the hearing officer erred by not expressly informing Dr.
Grumser of his right to cross-examine Ms. Lewis-Cullinan and
by refusing to consider arguments regarding Ms.
Lewis-Cullinan's alleged misappropriation of corporate
property. Genexion also argued that the decision was
substantively deficient because the hearing officer's
determinations were not supported by the competent evidence
in the record. After carefully reviewing the record evidence
and testimony, this Court issued a written decision affirming
the decision of the hearing officer.
prevailed against Genexion in its appeal, Ms. Lewis-Cullinan
now contends that she is entitled to prejudgment interest
pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-21-10. She also asks for
attorney's fees and costs on a variety of statutory
grounds: §§ 42-92-3; 9-1-45; or 28-14-19. In the
alternative, Ms. Lewis-Cullinan requests the Court to award
attorney's fees, costs, and interest under its inherent
equitable powers. In support of her Motion, Ms.
Lewis-Cullinan has submitted an affidavit from counsel and a
sworn accounting report indicating that, in defending the
appeal, she has incurred litigation expenses in the amount of
Genexion initially objected to the Motion, it since has
withdrawn its objection and, instead, has elected to defer to
the Court's judgment on the matter. The DLT has objected
to Ms. Lewis-Cullinan's request for attorney's fees,
but has declined to take a position on the issue of interest.
Lewis-Cullinan contends that she is entitled to prejudgment
interest pursuant to § 9-21-10, entitled "Interest
in civil actions." According to Ms. Lewis-Cullinan's
calculations, she is owed approximately $9138.86 in
prejudgment interest on her award of $14, 637.89. However,
before addressing the amount, if any, of prejudgment interest
to which Ms. Lewis-Cullinan might be entitled, the Court must
address whether she is entitled to prejudgment interest under
§ 9-21-10 in the first instance.
well established that '"when the language of a
statute is clear and unambiguous, this Court must interpret
the statute literally and must give the words of the statute
their plain and ordinary meanings."' Shine v.
Moreau, 119 A.3d 1, 9 (R.I. 2015) (quoting State v.
Diamante, 83 A.3d 546, 548 (R.I. 2014)). It also is well
established "that, 'because the right to receive
interest on judgments was unknown at common law as it is a
right created by statute, the court will strictly construe
any statute that awards interest on judgments so as not to
extend unduly the changes enacted by the
legislature.'" Imperial Cas. & Indem. Co. v.
Bellini, 947 A.2d 886, 894 (R.I. 2008) (quoting
Clark-Fitzpatrick, Inc./Franki Found. Co. v. Gill,
652 A.2d 440, 451 (R.I. 1994)); see also Gott v.
Norberg, 417 A.2d 1352, 1357 (R.I. 1980) ("We
construe statutes that award interest on judgments
9-21-10 provides in pertinent part:
"[i]n any civil action in which a verdict is
rendered or a decision made for pecuniary damages, there
shall be added by the clerk of the court to the amount of
damages interest at the rate of twelve percent (12%) per
annum thereon from the date the cause of action accrued,
which shall be included in the judgment entered
therein." Sec. 9-21-10 (emphasis added).
9-21-10 clearly and unambiguously states that prejudgment
interest is available in civil actions. Sec.
9-21-10. Our Supreme Court has declared that "[t]he term
civil action, as used in statutes, has been held to be a
proceeding in a court of justice by one party against another
for the enforcement or protection of a private right or the
redress of a private wrong." Thrift v. Thrift,
30 R.I. 357, 75 A. 484, 487 (1910) (internal quotations
omitted). As such, "the words 'civil action' in
[§] 9-21-10 do not encompass appeals to the Superior
Court from decisions of [an] administrator."
Gott, 417 A.2d at 1357; see also id. at
1357 n.6 ("administrative appeals are not civil actions
within the meaning of the Rules of Civil Procedure");
McAninch v. State of R.I. Dep't of Labor &
Training, 64 A.3d 84, 86-90 (R.I. 2013) (recognizing
that administrative appeals are appellate in nature and not
civil actions, but applying Superior Court rules of time
computation to administrative appeals because Super. R. Civ.
P. 6(a) applies to computation of time for "any
applicable statute"); Notre Dame Cemetery
v. R.I. State Labor Relations Bd., 118 R.I. 336,
338, 373 A.2d 1194, 1196 (1977) (stating "[a] judicial
review of the administrative action . . . is essentially an
appellate proceeding and not a civil action"). See
generally In re Estate of Cantore, 814 A.2d 331, 335
(R.I. 2003) (trial justice properly refused to award
prejudgment interest under § 9-21-10 because an action
in the Probate Court for an accounting "is an action for
reimbursement, which is not the equivalent of a civil action
for pecuniary damages"); Carbone v. Planning Bd. of
Appeal of S. Kingstown, 702 A.2d 386, 388 (R.I. 1997)
(declaring "[a]n appeal from a zoning board or other
similar agency while not a civil action is a civil procedure
as contemplated in Rule 1 of the Superior Court Rules of
Civil Procedure ").
time Ms. Lewis-Cullinan filed her complaint with DLT, she
could have filed a civil action in this Court pursuant to
then-existing § 28-14-18.1(a). See §
28-14-18.1(a) (repealed) ("A person who alleges a
violation of this chapter may bring a civil action
for appropriate injunctive relief or actual damages or both
within one year after the occurrence of the alleged violation
of this chapter.") (emphasis added). However, Ms.
Lewis-Cullinan chose not to file a civil action; instead, she
filed a complaint with DLT which resulted in the instant
administrative proceeding under § 28-14-19(a).
See § 28-14-19(a) ("It shall be the duty
of the director to insure ...