* Olick’s monthly gross retirement allowance was reduced by almost $1,000 from $5,264.44 to $4,333.12.
In his New York Public Personnel Law blog, Harvey Randall reviews a case involving one kind of administrative law issue that often darkens an attorney's door: The government has given your client something by mistake and now intends to take it back. But your client, ignorant of the error, has spent the money or made plans or persuaded investors or otherwise reasonably relied on the erroneous decision and doesn't want to pay it back, change plans, return investments, or otherwise reverse course. In the case discussed by Mr. Randall in "Doctrine of Estoppel not available to bar an administrative action to correct an error notwithstanding its adverse impact on the individual", a retired city government lawyer finds out seven years after retirement that she has been overpaid almost $1000 per month, and the New York City Employees' Retirement System is going to deduct 25% of her (reduced) pension until it is repaid. She has spent the money and made all sorts of plans that depend on the original monthly payment. Sounds like a job for Equitable Estoppel!
Not. The opinion from the reviewing court cites to a lot of state precedent, but doesn't really get to the meat of the law here. The City is relying on a N.Y. statute:
Should any change or error in records result in any member or beneficiary receiving from the retirement system more or less than he or she would have been entitled to receive otherwise, on the discovery of any such error such Board shall correct such error, and as far as practicable, shall adjust the payments in such a manner that the actuarial equivalent of the benefit to which he or she was entitled shall be paid.New York City Administrative Code §13-182 (emphasis added).
According to Mr. Randall,
Accordingly, in the event an overpayment is made, the agency has authority to recoup the overpayment by withholding or reducing the current pension benefits to which the retiree would otherwise be entitled. As to applying the doctrine of estoppel in this case, Judge Mendez ruled that the doctrine could only be applied against a governmental entity if failure to apply the doctrine would defeat a right legally and rightfully obtained.Not just the authority to recoup the overpayment, but the obligation to recoup the overpayment. The court's opinion does not explain the law behind why estoppel fails in this case, but we can look at what is sometimes termed the first maxim of equity: "Aequitas sequiture legem" - "equity follows the law". 30A C.J.S. Equity § 128 (updated March 2011); Story, Joseph. Commentaries on equity jurisprudence : as administered in England and America (Boston, 1836), §64. This maxim means different things in different contexts. For our purposes in this case, equity will not contradict a statute or common law rule on point (subject to a bunch of exceptions that rarely apply against governments and that don't apply here). Here we have a statutory - a legal - requirement that the City get the money back.
I'm sorry but your client is, ummmm, going to be disappointed.