OAKLAND, CA — The California Court of Appeal has ruled in favor of the City in a case involving millions of dollars in potential overpayments to certain retired police officers.
Retired Oakland Police Officers Association et al. v. Oakland Police and Fire Retirement System and City of Oakland, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG14753080; Court of Appeal, First Appellate District Case No. A148987
On February 25th the Court of Appeal reversed a 2016 decision by the Alameda County Superior Court in favor of the plaintiff – Retired Oakland Police Officers Association (“ROPOA”), a police officers’ retiree organization, and several retirees who receive retirement benefits through the Oakland Police and Fire Retirement System (“PFRS”), the City’s pension system for police officers and firefighters who were hired prior to July 1, 1976.
PFRS is a “fluctuating” pension in which retirement benefits are not fixed upon retirement, but fluctuate with active officers’ pay, to the extent the pay attaches to rank. Thus, how current officers’ pay is classified affects whether PFRS retirees are entitled to such pay.
The plaintiffs claimed that they and similarly situated retired officers were entitled to additional retirement compensation based on premium pay that the City had been paying active officers who qualified for “Master Police Officer – Terrorism Advisor” pay.
The December 2014 lawsuit against the City of Oakland and PFRS argued that hundreds of retired officers in the Police and Fire Retirement System were entitled to additional pension income because they too qualified as “Terrorism Advisors,” pursuant to the criteria used for active officers under the then-current labor agreement between the City and the Oakland Police Officers’ Association (“OPOA” – the union representing Oakland police officers).
Under the labor agreement, the Terrorism Advisor classification applies to officers who (1) completed 20 years of service in the Oakland Police Department, (2) maintained a “fully effective overall performance appraisal,” (3) completed an approved eight-hour anti-terrorism/law enforcement response course, and (4) were assigned to the Police Department’s Patrol Division.
The plaintiffs argued that they satisfied these four criteria (or would have satisfied all four criteria by completing the training course) and thus were entitled to additional retirement compensation. Based on their own estimate, the retired officers stood to gain additional pension income of at least $1.68 to $6.55 million.
In 2016, the Alameda County Superior Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs that PFRS must pay the “Terrorism Advisor” pension income to all similarly situated officers – potentially hundreds of additional officers.
The City appealed the trial court’s decision, and in February, the Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the City and PFRS. The Court of Appeal held that the City Charter prohibited the payment of additional compensation because Terrorism Advisor pay does not attach to rank. Rather, it only applied to active officers who satisfied all four criteria, including assigned to patrol—which is an assignment, not a rank.
“It is critical that the City honor its agreements with retirees which provide them pensions that allow them the wherewithal to provide for themselves in retirement,” City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said. “However, given the significant pension and other costs for which the City is responsible, we cannot overpay these retirees based on a misreading of the contract.”