64 A.3d 84 (R.I. 2013), 2011-358-M.P., McAninch v. State of Rhode Island Dept. of Labor & Training

Docket Nº:2011-358-M.P.
Citation:64 A.3d 84
Opinion Judge:FLAHERTY, Justice.
Party Name:Karen McANINCH, et al. v. STATE OF RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND TRAINING, et al.
Attorney:Carly Beauvais Iafrate, Esq., for Plaintiff. Matthew H. Parker, Esq., Providence, for Defendant Providence Public Library. Mary Ellen McQueeney-Lally, Esq., for Defendant State of Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.
Judge Panel:Present: SUTTELL, C.J., GOLDBERG, FLAHERTY, and INDEGLIA, JJ. Justice ROBINSON did not participate.
Case Date:April 19, 2013
Court:Supreme Court of Rhode Island
 
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64 A.3d 84 (R.I. 2013)

Karen McANINCH, et al.

v.

STATE OF RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND TRAINING, et al.

No. 2011-358-M.P.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island.

April 19, 2013

Carly Beauvais Iafrate, Esq., for Plaintiff.

Page 85

Matthew H. Parker, Esq., Providence, for Defendant Providence Public Library.

Mary Ellen McQueeney-Lally, Esq., for Defendant State of Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.

Present: SUTTELL, C.J., GOLDBERG, FLAHERTY, and INDEGLIA, JJ.

OPINION

FLAHERTY, Justice.

The plaintiff, Karen McAninch, business agent for United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island (USAW-RI), seeks review of a judgment of the Superior Court that dismissed her complaint for lack of jurisdiction. The plaintiff had filed a complaint in the Superior Court under G.L.1956 § 42-35-15 of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), seeking judicial review of a decision of the State of Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT). The plaintiff argues that the trial justice erred when she found that the plaintiff was tardy in filing her complaint after the statutory timeframe for doing so had expired. This case came before the Supreme Court for oral argument on February 27, 2013, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this matter should not summarily be decided. After hearing the arguments and examining the memoranda filed by the parties, we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown, and we proceed to decide the case at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Travel

The plaintiff is the business agent for a labor organization that represents former employees of the Providence Public Library (the library). On June 30, 2009, the final day of the library's fiscal year, the library terminated the employment of thirty-eight union and eight nonunion employees. On July 9, 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint with the DLT's Division of Labor Standards. The complaint alleged that the library had failed to pay the employees a total of $149,482.82 in vacation pay that the employees had accrued at the time of their termination. McAninch argued that, under USAW-RI's collective bargaining agreement (CBA), as well as the library's employee manual, the employees were entitled to the vacation time for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2009. The library, on the other hand, argued that the vacation pay did not accrue until July 1, 2009, and because the employees were terminated on the previous day, they were not entitled to the vacation pay.

On July 8, 2010, a hearing officer of the DLT conducted a hearing. In a written decision, he held that, under the CBA and employee handbook, the employees' vacation time accrued on July 1 of each fiscal year. Because the employees were not employed on that date, he concluded that they were not entitled to any vacation pay for the previous year. The DLT decision was mailed to the parties on September 9, 2010. The plaintiff then filed a complaint in the Superior Court on October 12, 2010, seeking judicial review of the DLT's decision.1 The plaintiff requested that the

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court reverse that decision and order the library to remit the requested vacation pay to the affected employees.

On October 5, 2011, the trial justice issued a written decision in which she dismissed plaintiff's appeal " due to lack of jurisdiction," holding that the complaint had not been timely filed. The trial justice raised the jurisdictional issue sua sponte, holding that " [i]f an administrative appeal is untimely filed, the [c]ourt lacks subject matter jurisdiction." She also concluded that administrative appeals are not civil actions, but rather that they are appellate in nature. Thus, she held that such appeals are analogous to this Court's review of Superior Court decisions. According to the trial justice, adherence to the time limitations for filings in this Court are " mandatory," and therefore she held that " Rule 6 of the [Superior Court] Rules of Civil Procedure— which extends the last day in computing any time period to the next day which is neither a Saturday, Sunday, nor holiday— is not applicable and does not govern the review proceedings for an administrative appeal." Further, she found that " § 42-35-15 does not provide for an extension of time for ‘ excusable neglect.’ "

Accordingly, the trial justice held that, under the clear and unambiguous language of § 42-35-15(b), plaintiff had exactly thirty days within which to file its complaint in the Superior Court, which meant that plaintiff had " until October 9, 2010 to file a timely appeal." Because plaintiff's complaint was not filed until October 12, 2010, the trial justice concluded that the court " lack[ed] subject matter jurisdiction over th[e] matter," and she dismissed the case, even though October 9, 10, and 11 comprised the Columbus Day weekend. The plaintiff filed a petition for the issuance of a writ of certiorari on November 4, 2011, which this Court granted on February 2, 2012.

II

Standard of Review

This Court's review under § 42-35-16 of the APA is de novo. Heritage Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Marques, 14 A.3d 932, 936 (R.I.2011). " Although this Court affords the factual findings of an administrative agency great deference, questions of law— including statutory interpretation— are reviewed de novo. " Id. (quoting Iselin v. Retirement Board of the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island, 943 A.2d 1045, 1049 (R.I.2008).) " When we undertake such a review, ‘ our ultimate goal...

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