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Langlois v. Caprio

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

May 17, 2019

NANCY LANGLOIS
v.
FRANK T. CAPRIO, GENERAL TREASURER IN HIS CAPACITY AS CHAIRMAN OF THE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF RHODE ISLAND

          For Plaintiff: John D. Biafore, Esq. Paul A. Lietar, Esq.

          For Defendant: Michael P. Robinson, Esq. John H. McCann, Esq.

          DECISION

          PROCACCINI, J.

         Appellant Nancy Langlois (Appellant) appeals from the decision of the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI or Board), wherein the Board unanimously affirmed the decision of the hearing officer Raymond A. Marcaccio (Hearing Officer). In that decision, the Hearing Officer affirmed the administrative decision of Frank J. Karpinski (Karpinski), Executive Director of ERSRI, denying Appellant's request for full service credit for the period of time between 1990 and 1994 during which she worked twenty-one hours per week in a thirty-five hour per week position and further denied Appellant's request to purchase the time.

         On April 26, 2012, this Court remanded the case to the Board and directed it to consider the issue of Appellant's eligibility to receive one year of service credit towards retirement for the years at issue. On October 24, 2012, the Hearing Officer issued a second decision addressing the issue as directed by this Court. On December 12, 2012, the Board upheld the Hearing Officer's decision in a 13-1 vote. The case is now before this Court for a final review of the Board's decision. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 42-35-15.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         Portions of the facts are excerpted from this Court's Decision of April 26, 2012, remanding this case to the Board for further findings of fact and conclusions of law. For twenty-eight years, Appellant worked as an engineering technician for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM or Department). (Hr'g Tr. at 5:10-17, Sept. 10, 2009) (2009 Hr'g Tr.) In 1988, Appellant took a maternity leave from work, thereafter returning in 1990. (Hr'g Tr. at 3:20-21, Dec. 12, 2012) (2012 Hr'g Tr.) Upon Appellant's return to work in 1990, Appellant was placed in a different position within the Department. (2009 Hr'g Tr. at 6:14-17.) The new position accommodated Appellant's family situation by allowing her to work twenty-one hours per week in a thirty-five hour per week position. (2009 H'rg Tr. at 6:12-17.) Appellant continually worked twenty-one hours per week, until returning to a thirty-five hour work week in 1994. (2009 Hr'g Tr. at 6:18-20.)

         During the period from 1990 through 1994, in which Appellant worked a twenty-one hour work week, Appellant contributed to ERSRI on a prorated basis and accordingly received fractional service credit towards her retirement credit. (2009 Hr'g Tr. at 82:11-83:3.) Upon returning to her full-time work week of thirty-five hours in 1994, Appellant's contribution to ERSRI increased, and she thereafter began to receive one year of service credit towards her retirement for each year she worked a thirty-five hour work week. (2009 Hr'g Tr. at 54:15-55:8; 58:12-17; 65:15-19.)

         In January of 2009, Appellant applied to the Board to retire from DEM with twenty-eight years of service credit towards retirement. (2009 Hr'g Tr. at 10:25-11:4.) Subsequently, the Board denied Appellant's request finding that she only had 26.2 years of service credit at the end of January 2009. (2009 Hr'g Tr. at 16:9-13.) Based upon the Board's computation of Appellant's service credit, Appellant would not be eligible to retire with twenty-eight years of service until December of 2010. (2009 Hr'g Tr. at 16:14-16.) Appellant disputed this computation, believing she had 27.6441 credits towards retirement and therefore, Appellant assumed that she would be eligible to retire with twenty-eight years of service credit as of June of 2009. (2009 Hr'g Tr. at 12:3-15.)

         Appellant challenged the Hearing Officer's decision averring that the Hearing Officer misconstrued the issues. (Designation of R. Administrative Appeal Ex. 12.) (R.) Subsequently, a hearing was held on January 13, 2010 wherein the Board voted unanimously to affirm the decision of the Hearing Officer. (Hr'g Tr. at 22:20-23:17, Jan. 13, 2010) (2010 Hr'g Tr.) The Board thereafter issued a written notification on January 14, 2010 affirming the Hearing Officer's decision. (R. at Ex. 14.) Appellant timely filed an appeal to this Court on February 11, 2010, pursuant to § 42-35-15. In an April 26, 2012 Decision, this Court remanded the case to the Board and directed it to make findings regarding what this Court considered the central issue in the case-whether Appellant was entitled to earn a full year of service credit rather than fractional service credit for each year worked from 1990 through 1994. (Decision at 10.)

         The Hearing Officer issued a second decision on October 24, 2012, specifically addressing the issue discussed above. (Second Decision, Oct. 24, 2012) (Decision After Remand.) He considered Appellant's argument that she is entitled to a full year of service credit for each year worked regardless of the hours worked provided she worked more than twenty hours per week. Id. at 1-2. Specifically, Appellant argued that language contained within the ERSRI Handbook (Handbook) unambiguously states that "[i]f you are a state or municipal employee, you will receive one year of retirement credit for each year worked. You must have worked a minimum of 20 hours per week." (Decision After Remand at 2.) The Hearing Officer also considered Appellant's argument that there is no authority for the proposition that an employee must work the full amount of hours their position requires in order to be entitled to a year of service credit. Id. Both the Hearing Officer and the Board gave that interpretation short shrift finding instead that the above-quoted language merely describes the general eligibility criteria for being eligible to earn a year of service credit. Id.

         The Hearing Officer began his analysis with G.L. 1956 § 36-9-25, the statute which governs the standard for service credits. (Decision After Remand at 3.) That statute requires the retirement board to "fix and determine, by appropriate rules and regulations, how much service in any year is equivalent to a year of service . . . ." Sec. 36-9-25(a). The Hearing Officer then reviewed the September 10, 2009 testimony of Karpinski. (Decision After Remand at 4-5.)

         The Hearing Officer concluded that the Board had the power "to determine how much retirement service credit is to be calculated for a state employee for any given year worked." Id. at 5. He further found that ERSRI's policy for determining service credit was a fair and reasonable calculation, and that the interpretation advanced by the Petitioner would be ...


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