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Town of Warren v. Clancy

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

April 18, 2018

TOWN OF WARREN Plaintiff
v.
MICHAEL J. CLANCY Defendant

          For Plaintiff: Peter F. Skwirz, Esq. Anthony DeSisto, Esq. Benjamin Ferreira, Esq.

          For Defendant: Gary T. Gentile, Esq.

          DECISION

          LICHT, MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff-the Town of Warren (Town or Plaintiff)-seeks declaratory relief from providing Injured on Duty (IOD) benefits to the Defendant-Detective Michael J. Clancy (Detective Clancy or Defendant). Plaintiff requests declaratory judgments that (1) the Defendant is improperly receiving IOD benefits instead of retirement benefits; (2) the Town is not obligated to continue paying these benefits to Defendant; and (3) in the alternative, if this Court finds that Defendant is entitled to IOD benefits, Defendant is eligible to be moved to a retirement plan.[1] In essence, the Plaintiff wants the Court to declare that the Town can terminate Detective Clancy's IOD benefits. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-30-1, the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         First, the Court adopts and incorporates in its entirety the Stipulated Facts submitted by the parties.

         The salient facts are as follows:

Detective Clancy has been employed as a permanent, full-time police officer for the Warren Police Department since December 16, 1986. Stipulated Facts at ¶¶ 2-3. The Plaintiff is a participating municipality and the Defendant is an active member in the police officer and firefighter's retirement plan of the Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS) administered by the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI). Id. at ¶ 4.

         On January 29, 1998, while at work, the Defendant experienced pain in his back and legs and was sent home. Id. at ¶ 5. Shortly after that date, Defendant was admitted to Roger Williams Hospital and diagnosed with a spinal epidural abscess stemming from a staphylococcal infection, which rendered the Defendant unable to perform his duties as a police officer. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. Following this diagnosis, Defendant has been permanently disabled and unable to perform his duties as a police officer. Id. at ¶ 11. Nonetheless, the Plaintiff continues to pay the Defendant IOD benefits pursuant to the injured on duty statute under G.L. 1956 § 45-19-1. Id. at ¶ 10.

         On October 23, 1998, Defendant applied for an accidental disability pension with the ERSRI pursuant to § 45-21.2-9.[2] Id. at ¶ 12. On December 1, 2000, while the Defendant's application was pending with the ERSRI, the Plaintiff informed the Defendant that it would be terminating his IOD benefits. Id. at ¶ 13. In response, Defendant filed an action to enjoin the Town's purported obligation to continue paying his IOD benefits under § 45-19-1 and sought a temporary restraining order. Id. at ¶ 14. On December 21, 2000, following the hearing, the Court granted Defendant's motion for a temporary restraining order enjoining the Town from the cessation of salary and benefits payable to the Defendant pursuant to the IOD statute. Id. at ¶ 15. A hearing on preliminary or permanent injunction was never held. Id. at 16.

         On February 22, 2001, the Town filed a third party complaint and petition for a writ of mandamus against the ERSRI and requested that the Court direct ERSRI to grant the Defendant an accidental disability retirement. Id. at ¶ 17. On June 6, 2002, the Court denied the Plaintiffs petition for a writ of mandamus. Id. at ¶ 20. On January 3, 2012, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs petition for a writ of mandamus. Id. at ¶ 23.

         On April 11, 2001, ERSRI denied Defendant's application for an accidental disability pension and found that Defendant's disability was not work-related under G.L. 1956 § 36-10-14(a). Id. at ¶ 18. The standards for work-related injuries under the IOD statute and the accidental disability pension statute are different.[3] On May 25, 2001, the Defendant appealed ERSRI's decision, and the Plaintiff joined the Defendant as a co-appellant. Id. at ¶ 19. On June 5, 2003, the Superior Court affirmed ERSRI's decision to deny Defendant's application based on the same conclusion: Defendant's disability was not work-related for accidental disability pension purposes under § 36-10-14(a). Id. at ¶ 22.

         On July 28, 2008, the Town entered into a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local #470 (the Union). Pl.'s Mem., Ex. A at 1. The Town and IBPO added a provision to the CBA that requires an officer to apply for disability pension with the State Retirement Board if he or she (1) collects IOD benefits for more than 365 days and (2) receives a medical opinion that he or she is unlikely to return to work within 180 days of the first 365 days.[4] Id. at Art. X, § 10.01(L). In addition, the Town and IBPO entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which stated that new legislation would be necessary to address situations when IOD status police officers are denied a disability pension. Pl.'s Mem., Ex. B.

         On January 3, 2012, Defendant's action to enjoin the Town from terminating his IOD benefits was dismissed. Stipulated Facts at ¶ 23. Defendant ...


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