SANDRA M. TIERNAN
SETH MAGAZINER, IN HIS CAPACITY AS GENERAL TREASURER OF THE STATE OF RHODE ISLAND and FRANK J. KARPINSKI, IN HIS CAPACITY AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF RHODE ISLAND
Plaintiff: Gregory L. Boyer, Esq.
Defendant Michael P. Robinson, Esq.
the Court is a Petition for Declaratory Judgment that was
filed by Petitioner Sandra M. Tiernan (Petitioner or Ms.
Tiernan). Respondents, Seth Magaziner, in his capacity as General
Treasurer of the State of Rhode Island, and Frank J.
Karpinski, in his capacity as Executive Director of the
Employees' Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island
(collectively, Respondents or ERSRI), have filed the instant
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Jurisdiction is pursuant to
chapter 35 of title 42, the Administrative Procedures Act.
facts in this case, which are not in dispute, are detailed in
Tiernan I. On April 25, 2002, Petitioner sustained a
work-related injury. Tiernan I, at *1. She
thereafter applied for, and was granted, workers'
compensation benefits through the Rhode Island Division of
Workers' Compensation (DWC). Ms. Tiernan began receiving
those benefits on April 26, 2002. Id. Subsequently,
Petitioner applied to ERSRI for accidental disability
benefits, which application was approved on March 9,
2005. Id. On the following day, the DWC
informed ERSRI that Ms. Tiernan was receiving benefits and
because the total amount of her workers' compensation
benefits exceeded the disability benefits awarded to her,
ERSRI initially did not pay any disability benefits to Ms.
DWC notified Petitioner that it intended to discontinue her
supplemental benefits. In response, she filed a petition for
continuation of benefits, and later a petition for
coordination of benefits pursuant to G.L. 1956 §
28-33-45(a). Id. In February of 2009, the
Workers' Compensation Court (WCC) entered a Pre-Trial
Order coordinating Ms. Tiernan's workers'
compensation benefits with her disability benefits, the
purpose of which was to ensure that Petitioner would receive
"compensation and retirement benefits equal to the
greater of the compensation or retirement benefits for which
[she] was otherwise eligible . . . ." Based upon certain
agreed upon calculations, the Court, which had originally
ordered DWC to supplement Ms. Tiernan's benefits in the
amount of $21.27 per week, amended the Order to provide for
supplemental benefits in the amount of $76.80 per week,
beginning March 1, 2009.
ERSRI learned about the Suspension Agreement, it began paying
Ms. Tiernan her disability retirement benefits retroactive to
March 2, 2009. Tiernan I, at *2. When ERSRI was
informed subsequently about the monthly supplement that DWC
would be giving to Petitioner pursuant to the original
February 25, 2009 WCC Order, it began deducting those
benefits from the awarded disability pension. Id. As
a result, counsel for Petitioner requested a clarification
from ERSRI with respect to its position regarding the
supplemental benefits and also filed a declaratory judgment
action, pursuant to § 42-35-7. Id.
ERSRI received notice of the increase in benefits being paid
to Ms. Tiernan and as a result, it notified her that
effective immediately, it was going to offset her
workers' compensation payments retroactive to March 1,
2009. Id. ERSRI offered to provide a hearing in the
event that Petitioner objected to the determination and
indicated that she was required to exhaust her administrative
remedies before pursuing an action in the Superior Court.
Id. Subsequently, the parties entered into a
stipulation indicating that the declaratory judgment action
would be held in abeyance until Petitioner had exhausted her
administrative remedies. Id.
ERSRI issued a formal administrative denial of Ms.
Tiernan's request to reconsider the decision to offset
her workers' compensation benefits from her disability
retirement benefits, but agreed to schedule a hearing on the
matter. Id. At that hearing, counsel submitted a
stipulation of facts, with attached exhibits, and agreed that
the matter involved a narrow question of law; namely, whether
the coordination of benefits provision of the Workers'
Compensation Act is subject to the offset provisions
contained in § 36-10-31, which allows for a deduction of
amounts paid pursuant to the provisions of the workers'
compensation law. Id. After hearing arguments of
counsel and reviewing their post-hearing memoranda, the
hearing officer issued a final decision affirming the
administrative denial of Petitioner's request to
reconsider the decision to offset her workers'
compensation payments. Id.
the hearing but prior to the final decision, the executive
director of ERSRI also informed Petitioner that the agency
intended to recover overpayments made to her retroactive to
March 1, 2009. Id. Specifically, because Petitioner
had been collecting her pension since March 2, 2009, with no
offset of the $76.80 per week she had been receiving in
workers' compensation benefits, ERSRI believed that
Petitioner had been overpaid by a total of $24, 396.24 and
indicated it would recover the overpayments in deductions
from her disability allowance. Id. Furthermore,
because she was still receiving the weekly workers'
compensation supplement to her disability retirement
benefits, ERSRI indicated that it intended to continue to
offset her weekly payment of $76.80. Id. The
combined effect of these actions would leave the Petitioner
with a monthly disability pension benefit in the amount of
$49.01 per month until such time as the overpayments were
Petitioner filed an Amended Complaint adding an
administrative appeal to the already existing declaratory
judgment action. She then filed a Second Amended Complaint
adding an estoppel claim. It is the Second Amended Complaint
that is the operative pleading in this matter. Respondents
moved for summary judgment as to Counts I and ...