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Matus v. Board of Administration of California Public Employees' Reitrement System

September 8, 2009

KAREN MATUS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TRUSTEE, ETC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND RESPONDENTS,
v.
BOARD OF ADMINISTRATION OF CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' REITREMENT SYSTEM ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, Jack V. Sapunor, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. 06CS01759)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hull, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

An administrative law judge ruled that defendant California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) had underpaid retirement benefits to Clarence Alexander and his widow by more than $3 million (plus interest). CalPERS rejected this proposed decision and opted to decide the case itself upon the record, including the transcript. Plaintiffs, who are pursuing the claim on behalf of Alexander‟s heirs, subsequently filed a petition for writ of mandate, asserting that the proposed decision must be deemed adopted because CalPERS failed to order a transcript within 100 days of rejecting the proposed decision and did not timely issue its own decision. The trial court agreed that CalPERS had violated the time lines established by the Administrative Procedures Act (Gov. Code, § 11400 et seq.), specifically, Government Code section 11517, and issued the requested relief. (Unspecified section references that follow are to the Government Code.)

On appeal, CalPERS asserts that the trial court misconstrued the timelines and that its actions were timely. We affirm the judgment.

SECTION 11517

In order to set the context for this appeal, we outline the relevant provisions of section 11517, the statute that establishes the procedures for deciding contested administrative cases.

Under these provisions, cases may be heard before an administrative law judge (ALJ) or an agency. (§ 11517, subd. (a), (b).) If an agency hears the matter, it must issue its decision within 100 days of submission of the case. (§ 11517, subd. (b)(3).) If the matter is heard before an administrative law judge, a series of time lines come into play, and it is these timeframes that are critical to this appeal.

Within 30 days after the case is submitted, the ALJ must prepare a proposed decision "in a form that may be adopted by the agency as the final decision in the case." (§ 11517, subd. (c)(1).) Within 100 days of receipt by the agency of the ALJ‟s proposed decision, the agency may act in one of five ways: adopt the proposed decision in its entirety (§ 11517, subd. (c)(2)(A)), reduce or mitigate the penalty but otherwise adopt the decision (§ 11517, subd. (c)(2)(B)), make technical or minor changes to the decision (§ 11517, subd. (c)(2)(C)), reject the proposed decision and refer the matter back to the ALJ (§ 11517, subd. (c)(2)(D)), or reject the proposed decision "and decide the case upon the record, include the transcript, or upon an agreed statement of the parties, with or without taking additional evidence." (§ 11517, subd. (c)(2)(E).)

If an agency elects this last option, "the agency shall issue its final decision not later than 100 days after rejection of the proposed decision. If the agency elects to proceed under this subparagraph, and has ordered a transcript of the proceedings before the administrative law judge, the agency shall issue its final decision not later than 100 days after receipt of the transcript. If the agency finds that further delay is required by special circumstance, it shall issue an order delaying the decision for no more than 30 days and specifying the reasons therefor. . . ." (§ 11517, subd. (c)(2)(E)(iv).)

If "within 100 days of receipt of the proposed decision" the agency fails to act in the manner outlined for any one of the five possible options (adoption, mitigation of penalty, minor changes, reference to an ALJ, or deciding the matter itself), "the proposed decision shall be deemed adopted by the agency." (§ 11517, subd. (c)(2).)

We will discuss these provisions in greater length later in our opinion, but turn now to the chronology of events in the case before us.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

As the trial court described, "[t]his action arises out of a dispute regarding the amount of retirement benefits payable by the Legislators‟ Retirement System (LRS) to Frances Alexander as the surviving spouse of Clarence Alexander. Clarence Alexander started working for the State of California in 1947. He retired in 1969 as the Secretary of the California Senate with 22.228 years of service credited under the LRS. Upon his retirement, Mr. Alexander received a monthly retirement allowance until his death in 1998 at which time, a monthly death benefit became payable to his then surviving spouse, Frances Alexander. Mrs. Alexander continued to receive a monthly survivor benefit until her death in late 2005."

In 2003, Mrs. Alexander learned that CalPERS might have miscalculated her husband‟s retirement benefits. She filed a claim, CalPERS denied it, and she appealed. "Since her death, Mrs. Alexander‟s appeal has been pursued by the Alexander Family Trust and Karen Matus, individually and in her representative capacities as trustee of the Alexander Family Trust, executor of the Estate of Mrs. Alexander, and personal representative of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander."

After an evidentiary hearing, an ALJ issued a proposed decision in favor of Mrs. Alexander, awarding her $3,579,578 plus six percent interest, a total of more than $6 million. CalPERS received this proposed decision on May 4, 2006, and on June 21, 2006, well within the 100-day limit required by section 11517, subdivision (c)(2), voted to reject the proposed ...


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