Anderson v. Bd. of Regents of Mo W. State College

Decision Date07 August 2001
Docket NumberWD59415
Citation58 S.W.3d 581
PartiesWilliam Andresen, et al., Appellants v. Board of Regents of Missouri Western State College, et al., Respondents. WD59415 Missouri Court of Appeals Western District 0
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Appeal From: Circuit Court of Cole County, Hon. Thomas J. Brown, III

Counsel for Appellant: Daniel N. McPherson

Counsel for Respondent: Stephen J. Briggs

Opinion Summary:

Appellants, active and retired faculty members of Missouri Western State College (MWSC), petitioned for a declaratory judgment finding that they were entitled to receive benefits for accumulated sick leave prior to the 1992-1993 academic year. The court found in favor of respondents, Missouri State Employee's Retirement System ("MOSERS") and the MWSC Board of Regents. The court found that section 516.120, the applicable statute of limitations, barred their claims, that the Board was entitled to fix the compensation of its employees under sections 174.120 and 174.140, and that section 36.350 does not apply to academic institutions. Appellants argue that claims for additional compensation accrue when the compensation is due and not paid, and that their claims were brought within five years of when the compensation was due to them. Secondly, appellants argue that section 36.350 applies to academic institutions during the relevant time periods and that statute entitled MWSC's employees to accumulated sick leave without limitations.

Vacated as to the portion of the court's judgment barring Appellants' claims based on the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Affirmed in all other respects.

Division Two holds: Because the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the employee is eligible to obtain that benefit, Appellants' cause of action was timely filed.

The legislature unambiguously intended to exclude academic institutions from section 36.350, and, thus, section 36.350 does not conflict with sections 174.120 and 174.140. Further, the amendment to section 36.020(1) was intended only to clarify an existing law and was not meant to include academic institutions within section 36.350 prior to the amendment.

Jr., J., concurs and

Spinden, C.J., concurs in separate concurring opinion.

Thomas H. Newton, Judge

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Appellants are active and retired faculty members of Missouri Western State College (MWSC). The Honorable Thomas J. Brown, III, of the Circuit Court of Cole County entered an order certifying Appellants' action as a class action. The class is defined as all persons who were employed by MWSC and who were members of Missouri State Employee's Retirement System (MOSERS) during the 1992-93 academic school year and who earned, prior to July 1, 1992, unused accumulated sick leave that has not been counted by MWSC for purposes of reporting to MOSERS. The Respondents are MOSERS and MWSC. MOSERS is a statutory retirement system that provides retirement income and other benefits for state employees.

This appeal arose after the trial court ruled against the Appellants, finding that they were not entitled to a declaratory judgment and are, therefore, not entitled to receive benefits for accumulated sick leave prior to the 1992-1993 academic year. Before 1988, faculty members were members of the Public School Retirement System of Missouri (PSRS). In 1988-89, many of the faculty, administration, staff, and employees of MWSC elected to became members of MOSERS, but some teachers elected to stay in the PSRS. But those retiring under the MOSERS plan have the benefit of utilizing the amount of creditable service accrued based on unused accumulated sick leave. The accumulated sick leave is determined by a formula pursuant to section 104.601 or section 104.1021.2, which entitles the members of MOSERS to receive, upon the member's retirement, additional creditable service for the member's unused accumulated sick leave as reported to MOSERS by the member's employer.

Section 104.601 was enacted in 1982 and provided that for each eighty-four days of unused accumulated sick leave earned the employee gained one-twelfth of a year of creditable service. It was amended in 1984 to provide for one-twelfth of a year of creditable service for each forty-two days of unused accumulated sick leave, and in 1990 it was amended again allowing for one-twelfth of a year of creditable service for each twenty-one days of unused accumulated sick leave earned by an employee.

Then in 1999, the legislature passed sections 104.800 through 104.1093. In particular section 104.1006 created a new retirement system referred to as the Year 2000 Plan. This new plan replaced the previous plan herein referred to as the Closed Plan.1 The Closed Plan under section 104.1003(7) is "a benefit plan created pursuant to [Chapter 104] and administered by a system prior to July 1, 2000." It precluded persons employed on or after July 1, 2000, from joining the Closed Plan, but those who were members prior to July 1, 2000, could continue to be covered by and remain in the Closed Plan.2 Those employed on or after July 1, 2000, are members of the Year 2000 Plan.3 The Appellants in this class are all members of the Closed Plan. Members retiring under the Closed Plan have their creditable service calculated under section 104.601, while section 104.1021.2 governs the way the creditable service is calculated under the Year 2000 Plan. These statutes governing MOSERS generally entitle a member of MOSERS to receive, upon the member's retirement, additional creditable service for the member's unused accumulated sick leave as reported to MOSERS by the member's employer. Section 104.601 governs the amount of additional service to which retirees under the Closed Plan are entitled for their unused accumulated sick leave. It allows members who retire under the Closed Plan to "be credited with all his unused sick leave as certified by his employing agency. When calculating years of service, each member shall be entitled to one-twelfth of a year of creditable service for each twenty-one days of unused accumulated sick leave earned by him."

MWSC, however, capped unused sick leave prior to 1990 to 960 hours. An employee could not earn more than 960 hours of sick leave, not even for credit toward his retirement. During the 1989-90 academic year, MWSC increased the cap on unused sick leave to 1,008 hours. Again, an employee could not accumulate more than 1,008 hours of unused sick leave. This sick leave was for actual use and the employees were not allowed to accumulate sick leave as creditable service to be used toward their retirement plan. Then during the 1992-93 academic year, MWSC changed the sick leave policy. The cap of 1,008 hours of sick leave available for actual use remained, but all additional hours accrued for unused sick leave were reported to MOSERS for the employees' retirement. In other words, the employee could earn up to 1,008 hours of sick leave that could be taken at any given time, but if the employee earned sick leave in addition to the 1,008 hours, he would report it to MOSERS and it would be credited to his retirement. As of the date of this appeal, this policy remains in effect.

The plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action in the Cole County Circuit Court. The petition alleged that the plaintiffs were denied retirement income because MWSC limited or capped the amount of sick leave the employees could earn prior to July 1, 1992. They asked that the court remove the cap from the prior years allowing them to be credited for the additional sick leave earned before the 1992-1993 academic year.

The trial court entered its judgment on November 9, 2000, barring the Appellants' claims under the applicable statute of limitations, section 516.120, finding that MWSC is entitled to fix the compensation of its employees under sections 174.120 and 174.140, and that section 36.350 does not apply to academic institutions. This appeal followed.

The Appellants raise two points on appeal. First, they allege that the trial court erred in entering judgment for the Respondents based on the statute of limitations because claims for additional compensation accrue when the compensation is due and not paid, and the Appellants' claims were brought within five years of when the compensation was due to the Appellants. In the second point, they claim that the trial court erred in its interpretation of section 174.120, 174.140, and 36.350 in that MWSC's policy of capping the number of hours of accumulated sick leave that can be reported to MOSERS violates Missouri's public policy because section 36.350 applies to academic institutions during the relevant time periods and that statute entitled MWSC's employees to accumulated sick leave without limitations.

II. Standard of Review

Although the trial court denied the Appellants' declaratory judgment and issued a judgment in favor of the Respondents, we review this case under the same standard as if the declaratory judgment was ordered.4 This court reviews a declaratory judgment under the standard applicable to other court-tried cases.5 We affirm the trial court's judgment regarding issues of fact unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law.6 We review questions of law de novo.7

III. Legal Analysis
A. Statute of Limitations

The Appellants contend that the trial court erred in granting a declaratory judgment in favor of the Respondents because the statute of limitations, section 516.120(2), had not expired at the commencement of this action. Section 516.120(2) bars claims created by statute, other than a penalty or forfeiture, if they are not brought within five years. The Respondents assert that the Appellants' claims are barred under section 516.120(2) because the claim accrued when they were denied the sick leave in 1992, and the petition was not filed until 1999, after the statute of limitations expired. We disagree.

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