PERA Retirees Appeal Dismissal of COLA Class Action Lawsuit
The plaintiffs in the civil suit Gary R. Justus et al vs. State of Colorado and Public Employees’ Retirement Association of Colorado et al (Case No.: 2010CV1589) have announced that they will appeal today the June 29th dismissal of their case by Denver District Chief Judge Robert S. Hyatt. The plaintiffs are PERA retirees Gary R. Justus, Kathleen Hopkins, Eugene Halaas and Robert P. Laird. The suit challenged the 2010 action by the Colorado Legislature (Senate Bill 10-001) that eliminated for 2010 the annual benefit increases for retirees (and those eligible to retire) which had been fixed at 3.5% per year (3.25% for Denver School Division), and reduced the increases in future years so that they could be as little as 0% and no more than 2.0%.
In his decision granting defendants their Motion for Summary Judgment, Judge Hyatt distinguished between “a retiree’s contractual right to the base PERA retirement plan benefits” and “a contractual right to a specific or particular COLA.” Hyatt wrote that “there is no contract right to a specific COLA formula frozen at retirement for life.” Hyatt’s ruling effectively permits the legislature to make changes in the COLA at anytime, even reducing it to zero.
Plaintiffs will appeal based on their original claims that settled law by the Colorado Supreme Court clearly determined that COLA is part of a retiree’s contractual right and cannot be reduced. The two major cases plaintiffs cited in this case are:
Police Pension and Relief Bd. of City and County of Denver v. Bills, 148 Colo. 383 (1961)
Police Pension and Relief Bd. of City and County of Denver v. McPhail, 139 Colo. 330 (1959)
Justus explained why this case must go forward. “SB10-001 endangers the economic well being of close to 100,000 retirees.. If this decision stands, then whenever Colorado wants to renege on a contract again, it can now just pass a law changing the terms of that contract. Yet, we can’t renege on our retirements and go back to work for our public employers to make up the difference. Anyone who believes that PERA has secured our vested pension rights is sadly mistaken. PERA is just an instrumentality of the state. If we don’t stop it here, it’s open season on public employees,” he said.
Plaintiffs are represented by Richard Rosenblatt & Associates of Greenwood Village and the Pittsburgh, PA law firm of Stember Feinstein Doyle & Payne.
For more information, visit the website http://www.SavePERACOLA.com where the court filings and numerous comments by retirees may be found. Save PERA COLA is a non-profit Colorado 501(c)4 corporation that supports the lawsuit. Richard H. Allen is president.