Zabrocki v. Teachers’ Retirement System

Zabrocki v. Teachers’ Retirement System, 2016 MT 146 (June 14, 2016) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in affirming he decision of the Teachers retirement Board denying motions for summary judgment and remanding for an evidentiary hearing.

Short Answer: No.

Affirmed

Facts: Edward Zabrocki began receiving Teachers Retirement System (TRS) benefits in 2007. In February 2012 TRS notified him that he did not qualify for those benefits and must reimburse TRS for the amounts it paid. Zabrocki requested an administrative review, and the TRS Board concurred. In January 2013 Zabrocki requested a contested case hearing with TRS.

TRS appointed a hearing examiner, who issued a scheduling order. In August 2013,before the hearing was held, Zabrocki and TRS filed summary judgment motions. In November 2013 the examiner issued a proposed order granting TRS’ motion and denying Zabrocki’s. Zabrocki filed exceptions to the proposed order and the TRS Board heard oral argument in February 2014. At the end of the argument the acting chair stated the board considered the issues submitted for final decision, that a written decision would be prepared by outside counsel, and that the final decision would be adopted at a later meeting of the board.

In May 2014, the TRS Board issued its order, finding there were genuine issues of material fact in dispute precluding summary judgment and remanding to the hearing examiner for an evidentiary hearing. Zabrocki petitioner for judicial review, claiming TRS violated the statutory requirement that a final decision in a contested case must be issued within 90 days after it is submitted for a final decision by issuing an interim decision instead.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court concluded that Zabrocki had not exhausted his administrative remedies because the TRS board had not issued a final decision. Zabrocki appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: Zabrocki contends the statutory requirement for a final agency decision within 90 days after a contested case is submitted requires the agency to issue a final decision within that time period. The Court disagrees, concluding such an interpretation would frustrate the legislative goals of the contested case proceeding statutes. A decision denying a motion for summary judgment is not a final disposition of a case.