Former Judge Can Sue Individual Pension Board Members

May 22, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal district court has determined that an impeached Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice can sue individual state retirement board members for allegedly causing him to miss out on pension benefits he could have earned.

The Legal Intelligencer reports that U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissed most of Rolf Larsen’s claims, but allowed him to proceed on several federal civil rights claims against individual State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) board members. Jones determined that Larsen’s claims against the administrative office of the Pennsylvania Courts and its former director of human resources as well as his federal claims against SERS and its board are time-barred and barred by 11th Amendment immunity.

The court did not permit Larsen to proceed with his claims against the individual board members in their official capacities, but said he could sue them in their individual capacities. Larsen alleges that the board members violated his federal constitutional rights by impairing his contractual right to his retirement benefits; that they violated his substantive and procedural due process rights by failing to provide information about a conditional appeal and by failing to act on his administrative appeal for five years; and that they denied him equal protection by failing to include “unvouchered expenses” in his final average salary despite doing so for other state employees, The Legal Intelligencer said.

Larsen was convicted in Allegheny County in June 1994 on charges of conspiring to use the names of court employees for his own prescription drug purchases, and was impeached by the state Senate in October 1994. He did not apply for pension benefits until 2001 because he began a legal challenge of his removal from the bench.

The lawsuit claims that in 1989 the SERS board enacted a “secret” management directive that enabled terminated state employees to file for conditional retirement status while challenging their firings, and if an employee lost the challenge, pension benefits would be awarded retroactive to the filing of the conditional application. According to the news report, Larsen said he did not learn of the directive until 2002.

Larsen claims that since he was not informed of this directive, he did not receive pension benefits from his 1994 removal date through 2001, and that his pension calculation did not include unvouchered expenses that would have been part of his final average salary in 1994.

The opinion in Larsen v. State Employees’ Retirement System is here .

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