Articles Posted in Public Benefits

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In the underlying litigation to this appeal, claimants were petitioners or represented petitioners who challenged legislation passed in 2013 that changed the pension benefits paid to certain members of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) by limiting the statutory cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and eliminating a PERS income-tax offset for out-of-state retirees. In "Moro v. Oregon," (351 P.3d 1 (2015) (Moro I)), the Oregon Supreme Court largely agreed with petitioners’ argument that modifications to the COLA formula impaired petitioners’ contractual rights, thus violating Article I, section 21, of the Oregon Constitution. But the Court rejected petitioners’ similar challenge to the elimination of the income-tax offset. Petitioners, who were active and retired members of PERS, were the prevailing parties. Following the decision in Moro I, claimants petitioned for attorney fees and costs. State respondents and county/school district respondents filed objections. The Supreme Court referred those petitions to a special master for recommended findings of fact and conclusions of law. The special master reported his recommendations, and the parties subsequently filed objections and responses to those recommendations. The issues raised in those filings included which legal doctrines justified an award of attorney fees in this case; whether self-represented attorneys were eligible to receive an award of attorney fees; whether the fees sought by claimants were reasonable; and how to pay for an award of fees and costs. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that fees should be awarded based on the common-fund and substantial-benefit doctrines; that the self-represented attorneys were eligible to receive a fee award under those doctrines; that a reasonable fee award under the lodestar approach had to be based on reasonable hourly rates and reflect reductions to account for duplicative work and work on unsuccessful claims; and that an award in this case should be paid for as determined by the Public Employees Retirement Board (PERB) in a manner that was consistent with its statutory authority and fiduciary obligations. View "Moro v. Oregon" on Justia Law

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Petitioners were active and retired members of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) who challenged two legislative amendments aimed at reducing the cost of retirement benefits: Senate Bill (SB) 822 (2013), and SB 861 (2013). Petitioners raised numerous challenges to the amendments but primarily argued that the amendments impaired their contractual rights and therefore violated the state Contract Clause, Article I, section 21, of the Oregon Constitution, and the federal Contract Clause, Article I, section 10, clause 1, of the United States Constitution. "Although there is no doubt that the legislature passed SB 822 and SB 861 to address legitimate public policy concerns and with an appropriate sensitivity to the impact that the amendments would have on retirees, those concerns do not establish a defense to the contractual impairment that the amendments effect. The public purpose defense that respondents ask [the Oregon Supreme Court] to recognize imposes a high bar to justify the state’s impairment of a state contract, like PERS, and the record in this case does not meet that standard. We therefore hold that respondents constitutionally may cease the income tax offset payments to nonresidents as set out in SB 822 and that respondents also constitutionally may apply the COLA amendments as set out in SB 822 and SB 861 prospectively to benefits earned on or after the effective dates of those laws, but not retrospectively to benefits earned before those effective dates." View "Moro v. Oregon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs had been firefighters for the city of Portland when they suffered disabling injuries. The city's charger required it to provide disability benefits to its police and fire employees who suffer injuries in the course of their employment that render them “unable to perform [their] required duties,” with a minimum disability benefit of 25 percent of the employee’s base pay, “regardless of the amount of wages earned in other employment.” The city originally determined that plaintiffs’ disabilities made them unable to perform their “required duties” and paid them disability benefits. Years later, however, the city created new job assignments that included some of the duties within the job classifications that plaintiffs had held when they were injured. Because the city gave the new job assignments the same job classifications that plaintiffs had previously held, the city maintained that plaintiffs were no longer disabled. The city therefore required plaintiffs to return to work and discontinued paying them the minimum disability benefit. Plaintiffs sued the city for breach of contract, and the circuit court granted summary judgment for the city. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded the city charter’s use of the term “required duties” meant core duties. Because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the duties of plaintiffs’ new job assignments were the “required duties” for the job classifications that plaintiffs previously held, the Court further concluded that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the city. View "Miller v. City of Portland" on Justia Law

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The issues this case presented for the Supreme Court were whether ORS 243.303(2) (which requires local governments to make available to retired employees, "insofar as and to the extent possible," the health care insurance coverage available to current officers and employees of the local government,) created a private right of action for the enforcement of that duty; or, if not, whether the Court should (under its common-law authority) provide such a right of action. The Court of Appeals held that the statute did not expressly or impliedly create a private right of action, and it considered that conclusion to be dispositive of plaintiffs' claim for relief. The Supreme Court also concluded that the statute did not expressly or impliedly create a private right of action for its enforcement. However, where a statute imposes a legal duty, but there is no indication that the legislature intended to create (or not to create) a private right of action for its enforcement, courts must (if such relief is sought) determine whether the judicial creation of a common-law right of action would be consistent with the legislative provision, appropriate for promoting its policy, and needed to ensure its effectiveness. Analyzing the duty imposed on local governments by ORS 243.303(2) under that standard, the Court declined to create an additional common-law right of action for its enforcement because: (1) plaintiffs failed to identify a cognizable common-law claim for relief whose creation is appropriate and necessary to effectuate the legislature's purpose; (2) a declaratory judgment and supplemental relief were adequate to enforce the statutory duty; and (3) a significant change in existing law would result from judicial creation of a tort claim permitting the recovery of noneconomic damages in the circumstances here, and there is no other need to create a common-law tort claim. View "Doyle v. City of Medford" on Justia Law

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The parties were married for 21 years. At the time of trial, husband was 51 and wife was 53. Husband was a practicing attorney with the Army Corps of Engineers. Wife worked at the Bonneville Power Administration. Both parties were beneficiaries of federal retirement benefits. Because wife was eligible for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) benefits, she was not eligible for Social Security benefits based on her own employment. Husband's civilian federal employment was under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and subject to Social Security taxes. The question presented in this case was whether federal law forbid a division of property by which the value of retirement benefits belonging to the nonparticipating spouse is reduced by the present value of hypothetical Social Security benefits to which that spouse would have been entitled if she had been a Social Security participant. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not violate federal law by "considering" Social Security benefits in that way, it affirmed that court's decision. View "Herald v. Steadman" on Justia Law

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Four cases challenged the constitutionality of Senate Bill (SB) 822, which was passed by the 2013 Legislative Assembly during its regular session, and SB 861, passed during a special session in October 2013. Both bills changed certain statutory provisions of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) and, in doing so, affected the retirement benefits of some current and former public employees. Central Oregon Irrigation District (the District), an intervenor in these proceedings, filed a motion to disqualify the sitting judges of the Oregon Supreme Court from hearing these cases. The District also filed a separate motion to disqualify the circuit judge appointed by the Supreme Court to serve as a special master for purposes of conducting evidentiary proceedings and preparing recommended findings of fact. Because disqualification would leave petitioners without a tribunal to decide their claims, and in light of the legislature's express grant of jurisdiction to the Supreme Court to decide challenges to the 2013 PERS legislation, the Court concluded that the rule of necessity applied and that the members of Court were not disqualified from deciding these cases because of any interest in the proceeding. Further, the application of the rule of necessity in these circumstances was not a denial of due process. Central Oregon Irrigation District's motions to disqualify the members of the Supreme Court and the Special Master on this matter was denied. View "Moro v. Oregon" on Justia Law

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The primary question in this case was whether a workplace injury that Plaintiff Nancy Petock characterized as an aggravation or worsening of an earlier compensable injury can give rise to a new three-year period in which she could demand reinstatement or reemployment. The trial court held that it could not and granted Defendant Asante's (dba Asante Health System) summary judgment motion. Although the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that an aggravation of an earlier injury cannot give rise to new reinstatement rights, it concluded that there was a disputed issue of fact as to whether Plaintiff had sustained a "new and separate injury" in 2005 that would give rise to those rights, and remanded the case. On review, Plaintiff argued that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that an aggravation of an earlier injury cannot give rise to a right to reinstatement under ORS 659A.043 or a right to reemployment under ORS 659A.046. Though the Supreme Court disagreed with some of the appellate court's reasoning, it affirmed the decision to reverse the trial court for further proceedings: "Even if defendant were correct that the same facts cannot give rise to an aggravation claim and a compensable injury claim (a proposition with which [the Court] noted our disagreement), [the Court] fail[ed] to see the relevance of that proposition in the context of defendant's summary judgment motion. On this record, Plaintiff was free to argue that her 2005 injury was a compensable injury." View "Petock v. Asante" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Ursula White, Bruce Reiter and Margaret Retz, one retired member and two active members of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) challenged certain actions of the Public Employees Retirement Board (PERB) alleging that those actions violated PERB's fiduciary duty to manages PERS for the benefit of PERS members. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that PERB breached its duty when it settled "City of Eugene v. Oregon." Respondent PERB argued that it settled that case pursuant to the "PERS Reform and Stabilization Act of 2003" and by court order, and was consistent with it's charged fiduciary duties. The trial court entered judgment in favor of PERB, and Plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals certified the appeal to the Supreme Court, which concluded that there were disputed factual issues with respect to one of the Plaintiffs' claims, and that the trial court erred in granting judgment in PERB's favor. The Court reversed that part of the trial court opinion directed at that Plaintiff, and remanded the case. View "White v. Public Employees Retirement Board" on Justia Law

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This opinion consolidated two cases brought before the Supreme Court on certified appeals from the Court of Appeals. Both cases involved the Public Employees Retirement Board's (PERB or the Board) revision or reduction of benefits with respect to "Window Retirees." These cases involved the Board's efforts to recoup overpayments of benefits to retirees that were predicated on a 20 percent earnings credit for calendar year 1999 that the Board approved by order in 2000. PERB sought to recoup these overpayments to the Window Retirees through an overpayment recovery mechanism set out in ORS 238.715.2. A number of members challenged the statutory mechanism for returning the payments, and the methodology the Board used in making its individualized determinations. Upon review, the Supreme Court determined that the trial court correctly granted summary judgment to the "Arken defendants" on all four of the claims raised by the "Arken plaintiffs." Furthermore, the Court determined that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the "Robinson petitioners" on their claims for relief. Because the Court concluded that PERB correctly applied ORS 238.715 to recoup overpayments that were made to the Window Retirees based on the 20 percent earnings credit for 1999, the Court also determined that the trial court erred in denying PERB's cross-motion for summary judgment. View "Arken v. City of Portland" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought judicial review of a final order of the Public Employees Retirement Board (PERB). They contested the reduction of their retirement benefits as a result of PERB's efforts to recoup benefit overpayments that Petitioners had received because of an erroneous 20 percent earnings credit for 1999. The Court of Appeals certified the matter to the Supreme Court, and upon review of the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court affirmed PERB's final order. View "Goodson v. Public Employees Retirement System" on Justia Law