Murphy v. Administrator of Division of Personnel Administration

Decision Date02 February 1979
Citation386 N.E.2d 211,377 Mass. 217
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Morris M. Goldings, Boston (Herbert D. Friedman, Boston, with him) for plaintiffs.

Alan K. Posner, Asst. Atty. Gen., for defendants.


HENNESSEY, Chief Justice.

The action before us is an appeal from a Superior Court ruling dismissing the complaint of thirty-five professional employees of the Commonwealth who assert that "class reallocations" 1 of their positions in 1972 and 1973 by the General Court's Joint Committee on Ways and Means (hereafter Joint Committee) are binding on the defendants, the Administrator of the Division of Personnel Administration (hereafter Personnel Administrator 2) and the Secretary of Administration and Finance of the Commonwealth. In accordance with these reallocations the plaintiffs seek to compel the defendants to reclassify their positions and to pay them the compensation for which these grades are entitled. We affirm.

The material facts may be summarized as follows. In June, 1972, and June and July, 1973, the Joint Committee approved schedules of positions which upgraded the plaintiffs' jobs by two, and in some cases three, job group levels. For some of the plaintiffs (hereafter designated as the Murphy group), reallocations were initiated and approved by the Joint Committee on its own motion. Owing to the absence of an administrative request for these reallocations, the Personnel Administrator refused to permit their release, and the Murphy group continued to work at existing pay levels. Subsequently, tax counsel members of the Murphy group appealed to the Personnel Bureau and then to the Personnel Appeals Board, pursuant to G.L. c. 30, § 49, seeking a three-job group reallocation. Although the Personnel Bureau denied the claim, the Personnel Appeals Board in April, 1975, awarded these attorneys a two-job group increase, which the Personnel Administrator has since honored.

The other group of professional employees comprising the plaintiffs in this action are lawyers for whom the Personnel Administrator in 1973 recommended upward reallocations of one job group. Despite the Personnel Administrator's limited request, the Joint Committee reallocated each class upward by two job groups. As with the Murphy group reallocations, the Personnel Administrator released allocations no greater than those requested; thus, upgrades of only a single job group were allowed. Unlike the tax counsel members of the Murphy group, no member of this second group of State employees exercised his right of appeal. Instead, these employees joined with the Murphy group, whose tax counsel members continued to seek the additional job group reallocated by the Joint Committee, and brought this action on November 1, 1974, in the Superior Court in Suffolk County.

Following the filing of an answer and a statement of agreed facts, the trial judge in September, 1977, granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on the grounds that (1) the reallocations by the Joint Committee were invalid under G.L. c. 30, § 45; and (2) all but ten of the thirty-five plaintiffs had failed to exhaust administrative remedies. A subsequent motion to vacate the judgment under Mass.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1) and (6), 365 Mass. 828 (1974), was denied by a judge in the Superior Court.

On appeal, the plaintiffs challenge all these rulings and specifically contend that the Joint Committee's reallocations of their jobs were incorporated by reference into the General Court's 1972 and 1973 budgetary appropriations. We granted the plaintiffs' request for direct appellate review on April 12, 1978.

Because we find no basis in law for authorizing the job reallocations which the plaintiffs seek, we affirm the judge's dismissal of the plaintiffs' complaint. Despite this principal holding, we nevertheless conclude that it was erroneous in this case for the judge to mandate exhaustion of administrative remedies as a prerequisite for judicial action.

1. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies Primary Jurisdiction.

As a preliminary matter, we consider the propriety of the decision of the lower court judge that all plaintiffs in this action were obliged to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief. 3 In recent years this court has frequently emphasized the importance of judicial application of exhaustion principles when litigation is initiated before an administrative agency. See e. g., Assuncao's Case, --- Mass. --- A, 359 N.E.2d 1304 (1977); East Chop Tennis Club v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 364 Mass. 444, 305 N.E.2d 507 (1973). By permitting an agency to apply its expertise to the statutory scheme which it is charged to enforce, courts preserve the integrity of the administrative process while sparing the judiciary the burden of reviewing administrative proceedings in a piecemeal fashion. Assuncao's Case, supra, --- Mass. at --- - --- B, 359 N.E.2d 1304.

The problem we confront here, however, is more correctly termed one of "primary jurisdiction" or "prior resort" than one of exhaustion. The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies contemplates a situation where some administrative action has begun, but has not yet been completed; where there is no administrative proceeding under way, the exhaustion doctrine has no application. In contrast, primary jurisdiction situations arise in cases where a plaintiff, in the absence of pending administrative proceedings, invokes the original jurisdiction of a court to decide the merits of a controversy. See J. & J. Enterprises, Inc. v. Martignetti, 369 Mass. 535, 539-541, 341 N.E.2d 645 (1976); Jaffe, Primary Jurisdiction, 77 Harv.L.Rev. 1037, 1037 (1964); Comment, Confusion of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies & Primary Jurisdiction Doctrines, 7 Suffolk U.L.Rev. 124, 136-137 (1972). We describe the circumstances herein as a primary jurisdiction case, because the plaintiffs, prior to their filing a complaint, were subject to no administrative action.

Having noted the procedural distinction between exhaustion and primary jurisdiction, we observe that the rationale underlying primary jurisdiction is in substance much the same as that which supports exhaustion. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction, like exhaustion, "is concerned with promoting proper relationships between the courts and administrative agencies charged with particular regulatory duties." Nader v. Allegheny Airlines, Inc., 426 U.S. 290, 303, 96 S.Ct. 1978, 1986, 48 L.Ed.2d 643 (1976), quoting from United States v. Western Pac. R.R., 352 U.S. 59, 63, 77 S.Ct. 161, 1 L.Ed.2d 126 (1956). As Professor Davis has stated: "The principal reason behind the doctrine is recognition of the need for orderly and sensible coordination of the work of agencies and of courts. . . . (A) court (normally) should not act upon subject matter that is peculiarly within the agency's specialized field without taking into account what the agency has to offer, for otherwise parties who are subject to the agency's continuous regulation may become the victims of uncoordinated and conflicting requirements." 3 K. C. Davis, Administrative Law § 19.01 at 5 (1958). Thus, the doctrine is particularly applicable when an action raises a question of the validity of an agency practice, see e. g., Danna v. Air France, 463 F.2d 407, 409 (2d Cir. 1972); Southwestern Sugar & Molasses Co. v. River Terminals Corp., 360 U.S. 411, 417-418, 79 S.Ct. 1210, 3 L.Ed.2d 1334 (1959), or when the issue in litigation involves "technical questions of fact uniquely within the expertise and experience of an agency." Nader v. Allegheny Airlines, Inc., supra, 426 U.S. at 304, 96 S.Ct. at 1987.

The primary jurisdiction doctrine does not apply, however, when the issue in controversy turns on questions of law which have not been committed to agency discretion. New Bedford v. New Bedford, Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard & Nantucket S.S. Auth., 329 Mass. 243, 247-248, 107 N.E.2d 513 (1952). Locust Cartage Co. v. Transamerican Freight Lines, Inc., 430 F.2d 334, 340 n. 5 (1st Cir.), Cert. denied, 400 U.S. 964 91 S.Ct. 365, 27 L.Ed.2d 383 (1970). FTC v. Feldman, 532 F.2d 1092 (7th Cir. 1976). Lugo v. Simon, 426 F.Supp. 28, 32 (N.D. Ohio 1976). 2 F.E. Cooper, State Administrative Law at 569 (1965). Cf. Gallagher v. Metropolitan Dist. Comm'n, 371 Mass. ---, --- C, 359 N.E.2d 36 (1977); McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185, 198-199, 89 S.Ct. 1657, 23 L.Ed.2d 197 (1969). Since the linchpin of the present controversy is the interpretation to be given to appropriation acts having no special reference to the Personnel Bureau, see Infra, we believe that the instant case falls within this exception to the primary jurisdiction doctrine. No problem calling for the special expertise of the Commonwealth's Personnel Bureau is involved here. Nor will the resolution of the instant case by a court interfere with the development and administration of personnel department policy. Inasmuch as these considerations provide the underpinnings of primary jurisdiction, United States Tour Operators Ass'n v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 556 F.2d 126, 130 (2d Cir. 1977), there is indeed no justification for the doctrine's application in a case such as this. Compare Gallo v. Division of Water Pollution Control, --- Mass. ---, --- - --- D, 372 N.E.2d 1258 (1978).

2. Validity of Job Reallocations Promulgated by the Joint Committee.

We now address the central question facing us in this appeal: whether the reallocations of the plaintiffs' jobs by the Joint Committee are entitled to the full force of law. Our inquiry begins with an examination of G. L. c. 30, § 45, the statutory provisions governing classification and pay of most State offices and positions.

The origins of the current c. 30, § 45, are...

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