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Waterfall v. Retirement Board and Utah Retirement Systems

Court of Appeals of Utah

May 23, 2019

Reed Scott Waterfall, Petitioner,
v.
Retirement Board and Utah Retirement Systems, Respondents.

          Original Proceeding in this Court

          Michael V. Houtz and Keith M. Backman, Attorneys for Petitioner

          David B. Hansen and Erin G. Christensen, Attorneys for Respondents

          Judge Kate Appleby authored this Opinion, in which Judges Ryan M. Harris and Diana Hagen concurred.

          APPLEBY, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Reed Scott Waterfall seeks judicial review of Utah Retirement Systems' (URS) calculation of his benefits as a justice court judge for South Ogden City (City) from 1992 to 2012. We approve Utah State Retirement Board's (Board) determination that Waterfall was a part-time employee during the relevant period.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Waterfall was employed as a justice court judge in the City from 1992 to 2012.[1] In April 2012, the city director of finance reported to URS that "Judge Waterfall has always been part-time" while working for the City (2012 Report). Based on this representation, URS planned on calculating Waterfall's retirement benefits based on his part-time employment status with the City.

         ¶3 Waterfall disputed the calculation of his benefits by filing a request for board action in 2013. He argued that the part-time determination was incorrect and he should have been considered a full-time employee for the City. A hearing on the issue was held in 2015. At the hearing, the hearing officer considered the 2012 Report indicating Waterfall was part-time, as well as a subsequent letter dated March 2015 (2015 Letter) from the city manager (City Manager) indicating that Waterfall actually worked full-time for the City. The hearing officer also heard testimony from Waterfall on the issue. Based on the evidence presented, the hearing officer issued findings of fact and conclusions of law denying Waterfall's request to be considered a full-time employee for the City. The Board approved the findings of fact and conclusions of law entered by the hearing officer and denied Waterfall's petition for reconsideration.

         ¶4 In November 2016, Waterfall notified URS that he retired.[2] Throughout 2016 and the beginning of 2017, Waterfall communicated with URS regarding the calculation of his retirement benefits. In 2017, Waterfall filed his retirement application and attached the 2015 Letter, which stated he was a full-time employee for the City. In response URS told Waterfall that his benefit would be calculated based on the Board's determination that he was a part-time employee. Waterfall then provided URS with a second letter dated January 2017 (2017 Letter), again signed by City Manager, "reaffirming" Waterfall was a full-time employee for the City during the relevant period.

         ¶5 URS was unsure how to interpret the conflicting information regarding Waterfall's employment status and asked the city attorney (City Attorney) for a response. City Attorney notified URS that the City's position was that the 2015 and 2017 letters from City Manager "should be withdrawn" and the 2012 Report should "be deemed the official response as to Mr. Waterfall's employment status." Based on City Attorney's response and its own previous determination after a hearing that Waterfall worked part-time for the City, URS calculated Waterfall's retirement benefits based on part-time employment.

         ¶6 In October 2017, Waterfall filed a second request for board action challenging URS's calculation of his benefits based on this part-time employment certification. URS filed a motion to dismiss arguing that res judicata barred Waterfall's claim and that he failed to establish he was a full-time employee. URS argued Waterfall could not be considered full-time because City Attorney's letter indicated he was part-time and withdrew prior letters indicating he was full-time. The hearing officer granted the motion to dismiss. The Board affirmed the dismissal of Waterfall's petition.

         ¶7 Waterfall seeks judicial review of the Board's ...


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