Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Suspension of retirement allowance upon post-retirement employment


Suspension of retirement allowance upon post-retirement employment
Matter of Grella v Hevesi, 38 AD3d 113

Philip M. Grella retired effective January 1, 2003 after serving as an Assistant District Attorney in Nassau County for 24 years and six years as a Judge of the Nassau County District Court.

Grella was appointed as a Court of Claims Judge effective June 30, 2003 and administratively assigned to Supreme Court. The Retirement System notified Judge Grella that his retirement allowance would be suspended because of his postretirement employment once his earnings reached $25,000. He was also told that because he had been reemployed by the same employer from which he had retired, he could earn up to $36,000 without any diminution of his retirement allowance if he obtained a so-called 211 waiver [see Retirement and Social Security Law § 211].

In addition, the Retirement System decided that the nature of Grella post-retirement employment made him ineligible for the Civil Service Law §150 elective office exception.

The public policy in New York is that in the event a retired member of a public retirement system of this State is employed by State or a political subdivision of the State, his or her retirement allowance is suspended until he or she again retires.* The major exceptions to this policy:

1. Retirement and Social Security Law §212 sets forth limits on annual earnings which a retiree under the age of 65 may earn in public employment without diminution of his or her retirement allowance.

2. Section 150 of the Civil Service Law, which generally provides for the suspension of pension and annuity during a retiree’s post-retirement employment by the state, or of any municipal corporation, or political subdivision of the state, for compensation, does not apply where such compensation is paid in connection with jury duty, or serving as an inspector of election, poll clerk or ballot clerk under the election law, or received compensation for serving as a notary public or commissioner of deeds, or compensation received for serving in an elective public office.

3. The Section 150 exception for election to public officer does not apply in situations where the individual “subsequent to his or her retirement from an elective public office, accepts appointment, is re-elected or takes a new oath of office to the same elective public office from which he or she retired.” In such cases the retiree’s retirement allowance is suspended until the date he or she vacates such elective public office, unless the amount earned for any calendar year for that elective public office does not exceed the earning limitation provided for retired persons in section two hundred twelve of the retirement and social security law.”

When Grella challenged the Retirement System’s determination, State Supreme Court Justice George B. Ceresia, Jr. ruled that Grella “did not accept elective public office within the meaning of Civil Service Law §150 when he was appointed by the Governor to the New York State Court of Claims” [see 10 Misc.3d 519].

Justice Ceresa said that Grella’s was appointed, rather than elected to his Court of Claims position and this was not converted to elective office merely by reason of his assignment to New York State Supreme Court, an elective position. The Appellate Division agreed and dismissed Grella’s appeal.

On another point, Judge Grella had argued that the Retirement System should be “equitably estopped” from suspending his retirement benefits because, he claimed, he relied on” erroneous advice from an Office of Court Administration [OCA] representative regarding his entitlement to receive benefits” if he accepted postretirement employment with OCA.

Although acting on this advise may have proven detrimental to Grella, the Appellate Division said the doctrine estoppel “generally cannot be invoked against the state or its agencies” because erroneous advice provided by a government employee as “this does not constitute the type of unusual circumstance” triggering the application of the doctrine. 

* The retiree’s retirement allowance is typically not affected in the event he or she accepts employment with a private sector employer, with the federal government or with another State or undertakes self-employment.

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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