May 9, 2022

A public retirement system of New York State is required to correct errors made in its administration of retirement benefits

Judgment, Supreme Court, New York County (W. Franc Perry, J.), entered May 11, 2021, denying the petition to annul a determination of respondent Board of Trustees of New York City Employees' Retirement System (NYCERS), which reclassified petitioners from Tier 4 to revised Tier 3/Tier 6 membership, and dismissing the proceeding brought pursuant to CPLR article 78, unanimously affirmed, without costs.

Petitioner in the CPLR Article 78 action were members of various New York State stage and local had left their previous jobs within the various retirement systems and were hired as uniformed sanitation workers by the City of New York after April 1, 2012. These petitioners became sanitation workers and were placed in Tier 4 of the New York City Employees' Retirement System [NYCERS] based on their prior participation in public employee retirement systems.

In 2016, NYCERS determined that it had made an error, and reclassified Petitioners' memberships in NYCERS from the Tier 4 Sanitation 20-Year retirement plan [SA-20] pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law Article 15 to the revised Tier 3/Tier 6 Sanitation 22-Year retirement plan [SA-22] pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law Article 14.

The Appellate Division rejected Petitioners' contention that the doctrine of "equitable estoppel" barred NYCERS placing in SA-22. The court explained that NYCER "is mandated by statute to correct errors in administration of retirement benefits," and held that "estoppel may not be invoked to prevent [NYCERS] from reclassifying Petitioners' memberships in SA-22", noting that reading these provisions together determines whether a sanitation worker is subject to the SA-20 or SA-22 plan, based on the date that he or she becomes a sanitation member.

In the words of the Appellate Division, "The legislative history of the amendment supports the conclusion that "new . . . uniformed sanitation . . . members" such as petitioners, who were not sanitation members before April 1, 2012, would be given the "modified Tier 3 police/fire benefits" provided in SA-22."

Further, said the court, "The Retirement and Social Security Law transfer provision, which applies to two of the five individual petitioners, entitles them to credit for prior service. It does not affect the date that they became uniformed sanitation members...."

Finally, opined the Appellate Division, Petitioners' membership reclassification did not violate Article V, §7 of the New York State Constitution which, in pertinent part, provides that "After July first, nineteen hundred forty, membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired", since "petitioners were never entitled to [SA]-20 benefits to begin with and, thus, did not have a contractual right to those benefits."

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's posted on the Internet.

 

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