In this appeal, the Borough of Pottstown and the Pottstown Police Pension Fund challenge the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement Board's denial of their claim to "excess interest" upon their withdrawal from participation in the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System.
After participating for eleven years in the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System (the "PMRS") pursuant to Article
The Borough contended that it was entitled to a greater distribution and requested administrative review.
Following a hearing, the hearing examiner issued proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and recommended that the additional reserve funds be awarded in favor of the Borough; however, he recommended against awarding either legal interest on the additional reserve funds or excess interest. On consideration of exceptions filed by the Borough, the Board adopted the hearing examiner's opinion in all relevant
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed the decision to deny legal interest on the additional reserve funds. The Commonwealth Court, however, affirmed the denial of excess interest.
Both the Borough and the Board filed timely petitions for allowance of appeal in this Court. We allowed only the Borough's appeal, limited to the following two issues: (1) did the Commonwealth Court correctly rule that the excess interest policies of the Board are interpretive rules that did not have to be promulgated in accordance with the Commonwealth Documents Law; and (2) assuming, arguendo, the Board's excess interest policies are determined to be interpretive rules, did the Commonwealth Court err in upholding them when these rules are unwise, violated legislative intent, constitute an unfair and unreasonable penalty, and work an unjust forfeiture?
Where an agency, acting pursuant to delegated legislative authority, seeks to establish a substantive rule creating a controlling standard of conduct, it must comply with the provisions of the Commonwealth Documents Law.
Agencies also devise rules and regulations that do not in themselves establish binding standards of conduct. Such pronouncements are valid as "interpretive rules" and need not be promulgated in accordance with the Commonwealth Documents Law to the extent that they merely construe a statute and do not improperly expand upon its terms. To be viable, an interpretive rule must genuinely track the meaning of the underlying statute, rather than establish an extrinsic substantive standard. See Philadelphia Suburban Corp. v. Commonwealth, Bd. of Finance and Revenue, 535 Pa. 298, 301, 635 A.2d 116, 118 (1993) (citations omitted).
In this case, the rule at issue is the Board's determination that excess interest is allowable for a given year only to the accounts of those municipalities that remain participants under Article IV of the PMRS on December 31st of that year. There is no dispute that this rule was not promulgated in accordance with the Commonwealth Documents Law and thus cannot be a legislative rule, nor is there any question that the Board has applied the rule in a manner that is binding upon all participating municipalities.
At the core of the Board's interpretation is its assertion that it is statutorily required to allow excess interest "annually," and after payment of expenses. The Board derives this requirement principally from Sections 412 and 110 of the PMRL. Section 412 provides, in relevant part:
53 P.S. § 881.412 (emphasis added). Section 110 requires, inter alia, that the Board shall, after payment of expenses, annually allow excess interest to the credit of various accounts, including those accounts referenced in Section 412.
We are obliged, however, to construe a statute according to its plain meaning and in such a manner as to give effect to all of its provisions. 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(a), (b). The legislature's use of the term "annually" in the final sentence of Section 110, in context, directs nothing more or less than the yearly crediting of excess interest to the accounts of municipalities and members.
With these precepts in mind, Sections 110 and 412, read in conjunction, support the Board's rule governing the allowance of excess interest to a withdrawing municipality. We have determined that Section 110 directs that the Board annually allow available excess interest to the credit of participating municipalities and members. Section 412 clearly directs that a withdrawing municipality receive only such amounts that are standing to the credit of its member accounts as of the date the Board approves the application for withdrawal. Given the terms used by the legislature, it cannot be fairly said that
Notably, where the legislature specifically intends to require an agency to credit interest more frequently than on a yearly basis, it has not hesitated to so provide. For example, under the Employee Retirement System established by the Second Class County Code,
The Borough contends that the interpretation applied by the Board results in unfair consequences. For example, a municipality that withdraws after the close of business on December 31st of a given year will receive excess interest, whereas a municipality that withdraws one day earlier will be denied excess interest. Additionally, the Board freely acknowledges that a municipality that joins the PMRS at mid-year will receive a pro-rated share of excess interest, so long as it remains a member on December 31st. The Borough contends that there is no logical reason why a municipality that withdraws at mid-year should not be entitled to the same form of prorated distribution for the period of its participation. Centrally, the Borough argues that application of the Board's construction of the PMRL results in an unjust forfeiture.
The Borough's arguments are not so compelling as to require a court to override the plain meaning of the statute. The timing of the withdrawal from the PMRS is a matter over which a withdrawing municipality possesses a degree of control,
The Borough's claim of an unjust forfeiture is also not persuasive. Numerous forms of investment carry a rate of return that is not controlled entirely by the actual appreciation of contributions, but rather, is conditional upon the occurrence of enumerated circumstances.
The Board emphasizes that performing interim calculations of excess interest for the benefit of withdrawing municipalities would result in consequences detrimental to the PMRS. For example, the PMRS would incur actuarial costs for which the PMRL may not provide a mechanism for recoupment.
This case is distinguishable from Lopata v. Commonwealth, Unemployment Compensation Bd. of Review, 507 Pa. 570, 493 A.2d 657 (1985), cited by the Borough, in which this Court held that a formula used by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review to definitively calculate "credit weeks" in determining eligibility for benefits was invalid as an improperly adopted legislative rule. Id. at 579, 493 A.2d at 662. In Lopata, unlike the present case, the rule at issue contained provisions that modified substantive rights by expanding upon the plain meaning of the statute.
The decision of the Commonwealth Court is affirmed.