State Bd. of Retirement v. Woodward

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation847 N.E.2d 298,446 Mass. 698
Decision Date15 May 2006
847 N.E.2d 298
446 Mass. 698
Francis WOODWARD & others.2
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.
Argued April 6, 2006.
Decided May 15, 2006.

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Peter Sacks, Assistant Attorney General, for the plaintiffs.

Edward J. McCormick, III, Franklin (Elizabeth Maitland with him) for Francis Woodward.



The primary question before us is whether the vote of the State Board of Retirement (board) to implement the pension forfeiture provisions of G.L. c. 32, § 15(4), against former State Representative Francis Woodward, based on Woodward's Federal convictions of mail fraud, wire fraud, interstate travel to commit bribery, and conspiracy to commit those crimes, was time barred. We hold that it was not, and that pension forfeiture proceedings under § 15(4) are not subject to any statute of limitations.

1. Background. Woodward was a State representative from January, 1977, until May, 1992, and an employee of the Department of Industrial Accidents from May, 1992, until he retired in July, 1995. A twenty-eight count indictment was returned against him on July 27, 1995, in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. On October 2, 1996, a jury found him guilty on five counts, and not guilty on twenty-three counts. Woodward's convictions stemmed from his acceptance of illegal gratuities from a lobbyist for John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, with the intent of depriving his constituents of his honest services as a legislator at a time when he was House chairman of the joint committee on insurance. He was sentenced on February 7, 1997, and his convictions were affirmed on appeal. United States v. Woodward, 149 F.3d 46 (1st Cir.1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1138, 119 S.Ct. 1026, 143 L.Ed.2d 37 (1999).

The board did not take action against Woodward's pension at the time of his convictions. Although the board now acknowledges that Woodward's convictions likely received media attention at the time, the record does not indicate that the board had actual knowledge of the convictions before October, 2002.3 See Nantucket v.

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Beinecke, 379 Mass. 345, 352-353, 398 N.E.2d 458 (1979) (board of selectmen's awareness of probable presence of article in local newspaper about pending litigation not proper subject for judicial notice in determination when statute of limitations began to run). On October 17, 2002, in response to published newspaper articles regarding the continued receipt of pension payments by several government retirees, including Woodward, who had been convicted of a crime related to their public employment, the board notified Woodward that it had received information that could result in the forfeiture of his benefits under G.L. c. 32, § 15(4).4 Woodward was offered an opportunity to appear and show cause why his pension benefits should not be terminated. On November 21, 2002, the board voted to implement § 15(4) pension forfeiture against Woodward.

Woodward timely sought review in the Wrentham Division of the District Court Department under G.L. c. 32, § 16(3). He moved for summary judgment, asserting that the board's action was time barred under the six-year statute of limitations applicable to actions in contract, G.L. c. 260, § 2. He argued that he had been convicted on October 2, 1996, and the board had failed to take action to forfeit his pension until October 17, 2002, more than six years later.

The board filed a cross motion for summary judgment on the issue of the statute of limitations, arguing that forfeiture is an automatic consequence of a member's conviction of a crime involving a violation of laws applicable to his office or position; that a proceeding to forfeit a pension is not an action for breach of contract subject to the contract statute of limitations; and that even if the contract statute of limitations did apply, it did not bar forfeiture because Woodward's conviction did not become final for purposes of § 15(4) until he was sentenced, which did not occur until February 7, 1997, less than six years before the board's action.

In granting summary judgment for Woodward, the District Court judge ruled that Woodward's pension was an "enforceable contract," and that "an action pursuant to G.L. c. 32, § 15(4)[,] ... [is a] cause of action in contract ... [that] must be brought within six years of the alleged breach. G.L. c. 260, § 2." The judge then ruled that the statute of limitations began to run on October 2, 1996, the date the jury returned their guilty verdicts against Woodward in the United States District Court, which she ruled was the date of the final conviction for purposes of § 15(4). The judge concluded that because the board commenced its action under § 15(4) by letter dated October 17, 2002, more than six years later, it was time barred.5

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The board filed a petition for certiorari under G.L. c. 249, § 4, in the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County. A single justice reserved and reported the following questions, without determination, to the full court:

"1. Whether G.L. c. 249, § 4, provides the State Board of Retirement with a right to judicial review of the decision of the District Court or whether G.L. c. 249, § 4, provides for a judicial review as a matter of discretion, requiring, where the issue is raised by the defendant's motion to dismiss, a preliminary finding by the Reviewing Court that the petitioner is entitled to a review of the District Court Decision?

"2. Whether (if the answer to the first question is that the Board has established its entitlement to review), as argued in the Motion to Strike and/or Dismiss, on certiorari review of the District Court's decision, the only materials that should be considered by the reviewing court are the materials physically presented to the District Court in connection with the cross-motions for summary judgment, or instead whether the reviewing court should consider other materials filed with the district court?

"3. Whether (if the answer to the first question is that the Board has established its entitlement to review) the District Court was correct in concluding that the Board's implementation of G.L. c. 32, § 15(4), resulting in forfeiture of Woodward's retirement allowance, was time barred?"

2. Certiorari. Woodward filed a motion to strike or dismiss the board's complaint for relief in the nature of certiorari, alleging that because certiorari review rests in the sound discretion of the court, the board first must seek leave to obtain certiorari review before it may file its complaint. The issues raised in Woodward's motion to dismiss are the subject of the first reported question.

Prior to the 1974 promulgation of the current Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, a petition for a writ of certiorari could be granted only after notice to the tribunal whose proceedings were sought to be quashed, and an opportunity to show cause why the writ should not issue. Farmington River Water Power Co. v. County Comm'rs, 112 Mass. 206, 214 (1873). The granting of the petition and the issuance of the writ was not a matter of right, but rested in the sound discretion of the reviewing court. Id. at 212. See Byfield v. Newton, 247 Mass. 46, 58, 141 N.E. 658 (1923). The writ did not issue except on a showing that substantial justice required it. Farmington River Water Power Co. v. County Comm'rs, supra. See Byfield v. Newton, supra. ("It must appear that manifest injustice has been done to the petitioner" because of substantial error of law).

At a second phase of the proceedings, after the writ issued and the lower tribunal made a return by certifying the record of its proceedings in obedience to the writ, or by answer to the writ, the reviewing court was bound to examine the entire record and determine whether the proceedings were legal or erroneous. Farmington River Water Power Co. v. County Comm'rs, supra.

By 1873 the "uniform practice . . . ha[d] been to hear the whole case upon the petition, in order to avoid unnecessary delay and expense to the parties, and to enable the court to deal with the substantial justice of the case." Id. at 214. The issue of manifest injustice, originally the threshold discretionary issue to be pleaded

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and proved before a writ would issue and the case decided on the merits, became an element of a petitioner's case in chief. Failure to state a proper case was grounds for sustaining a demurrer. See Lucia v. Water & Sewer Comm'rs of Medford, 332 Mass. 468, 470, 125 N.E.2d 776 (1955); Colantuoni v. Selectmen of Belmont, 326 Mass. 778, 779, 96 N.E.2d 870 (1951).

On July 1, 1974, the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure became effective. 365 Mass. 730 (1974). Rule 81(b) of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, 365 Mass. 841 (1974), abolished ancient writs, including certiorari, but provided that "relief formerly obtainable under any such writ" would continue to be available in a civil action under the rules.6 Under the rules, certiorari follows the prerules practice of deciding the questions of...

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