Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Membership in the New York State Employees’ Retirement System is critical to an employee’s earning member service credit


Membership in the New York State Employees’ Retirement System is critical to an employee’s earning member service credit
2015 NY Slip Op 05532, Appellate Division, Third Department

Retirement and Social Security Law §102 (e) provides that “In the event that a disability retiree is restored to active service of an employer, at a salary less than his [or her] final salary but equal to or in excess of the current minimum salary for the position from which he [or she] was last retired for disability, such person, if he [or she] so elects, shall again become a member of the retirement system and his [or her] retirement allowance shall cease. He [or she] thereafter shall contribute to the retirement system in the same manner as and at the same rate that he [or she] paid prior to his [or her] disability retirement. The total service credit, to which he [or she] was entitled at the time of such retirement, again shall be credited to him [or her]. Upon his [or her] subsequent retirement, he [or she] shall be credited, in addition, with all member service earned by him subsequent to his [or her] last restoration to membership.*

A member of the New York State Employees’ Retirement System [NYSERS] employed by a State agency retired due to illness in 1980 and was receiving an ordinary disability retirement allowance. In 1985 the individual’s [Retiree] health improved and she was reemployed by her former agency. However, upon returning to employment Retiree did not rejoin the Retirement System** and continued to receive her disability pension benefit as authorized Retirement and Social Security Law §102(e) in addition to her receiving her salary.

In 1995 Retiree asked NYSERS to provide her with her service credit in the System and she was informed that she had accumulated 10 years, 7 months and 15 days of service credit between 1969 and 1980. In addition, Retiree was expressly told that she was not "receiv[ing] service credit for time worked after retirement while [she was] also receiving pension benefits."

In 2006 Retiree wrote to NYSERS inquiring as to whether she had in fact applied to be "restored to membership" in the System and, further, whether it was possible to retroactively obtain service credit for her postretirement work.

After being advised that she could not simultaneously collect her disability pension benefit and be an active member of NYSERS earning service credit., the matter proceeded to an administrative hearing. The Hearing Officer found, among other things, that Retiree was not entitled to additional service credit. The Comptroller adopted the Hearing Officer's findings in this regard and Retiree initiated a CPLR Article 78 proceeding challenging the Comptroller's determination.

The Appellate Division sustained the Comptroller decision, noting that “the Comptroller “is charged with the responsibility of determining service credits for retirement purposes and his determination will be upheld if rational and supported by substantial evidence."

Retiree, said the court, as the party seeking additional service credit bore the burden of demonstrating her entitlement to such credit.” In this instance the court said that §102 governs postretirement employment by disability pensioners and dictates, based upon the disability retiree's final salary following his or her return to active service, whether membership in the Retirement System is mandatory or optional. The evidence presented at the hearing showed that Retiree's salary upon returning to active service did not make membership in the System mandatory and while Retiree explored the possibility of becoming, once again, a member of the System, she never actually exercised her option to do so.

In the words of the Appellate Division: “Absent membership in [NYSERS] following her return to service in 1985, and in light of her continued receipt of disability pension benefits, [Retiree] simply was not entitled to earn additional service credit."

The decision also notes that despite Retiree’s arguments to the contrary, “the Comptroller was not under an affirmative duty to either apprise [Retiree] of all available options relating to her retirement benefits or ensure that she selected the most advantageous benefit.”

Accordingly, the Appellate Division found that the Comptroller's determination denying Retiree additional service credit was supported by substantial evidence and dismissed her appeal.

* In contrast, §102 d of the Retirement and Social Security Law provides as follows: In the event that a disability beneficiary is restored to active service of an employer, at a salary equal to or in excess of his [or her] final salary, his retirement allowance shall cease. Such person thereupon again shall become a member of the retirement system. He thereafter shall contribute to the retirement system in the same manner as and at the same rate that he [or she] paid prior to his [or her] disability retirement. The total service credit, to which he [or she] was entitled at the time of such retirement, again shall be credited to him [or her]. Upon his subsequent retirement, he [or she] shall be credited, in addition, with all member service earned by him subsequent to his [or her] last restoration to membership.

**  An individual’s membership in NYSERS ceases upon his or her retirement.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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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