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Chausmer v. Commissioners

Decided: June 3, 1977.

MINNA K. CHAUSMER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
COMMISSIONERS OF THE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF THE CITY OF NEWARK, AND THE PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF SOL KERWIN, DECEASED, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Bischoff, Morgan and King.

Per Curiam

Plaintiff appeals from a judgment of the Law Division denying her application to revive her pension benefits. Her first husband, Dr. Aaron Chausmer, was a City of Newark employee and a member of its Employees' Retirement System.

Plaintiff attacks the constitutionality of the provisions of N.J.S.A. 43:13-22.3 et seq. establishing pensions for employees of cities of first class, which require that a widow or widower remain unmarried to retain eligibility for a pension. Plaintiff further contends she revived her compliance with this requirement when her second husband died.

N.J.S.A. 43:13-22.23, N.J.S.A. 43:13-22.25 and N.J.S.A. 43:13-22.28(i) require that a widow or widower of a city employee or pensioner remain unmarried in order to continue eligibility for pension benefits. This requirement applies to both men and women and it does not discriminate on the basis of sex. There is no denial of equal protection of the law inherent in this statutory scheme.

Plaintiff also contends this requirement violates her right to marriage. We note a similar provision in the Worker's Compensation Law has been interpreted without question as to its validity. Blumenfeld v. Rust Craft Greeting Cards , 51 N.J. 1 (1967). See N.J.S.A. 34:15-13. The federal Social Security Act contains identical provisions requiring a widow, a surviving divorced wife, a widower, or a surviving divorced mother to remain unmarried in order to retain eligibility for benefits. 42 U.S.C.A. ยง 402(e)(1)(A), (f)(1)(A) and (g)(1)(A). These provisions have also been interpreted without question as to their validity. See Cairns v. Richardson , 457 F.2d 1145 (10 Cir. 1972); Annotation, "Effect of divorce, remarriage, or annulment, on widow's pension or bonus rights or social security benefits," 85 A.L.R. 2d 242 (1962). We find the legislative

classification based on remarriage to be rationally related to a legitimate public purpose, the protection of city employees' widows or widowers.

In Reiser v. Pension Comm'n of Passaic Cty. Employees Retirem. System , 147 N.J. Super. 168 (Law Div. 1976), plaintiff, a county detective, challenged the provision of his pension plan that a surviving spouse would be eligible only if the marriage occurred before the employee reached age 50 and only if the surviving spouse was less than 15 years younger than the employee. N.J.S.A. 43:10-18.64(h). The court rejected plaintiff's argument that this provision violated his "fundamental right to marry." The court said:

N.J.S.A. 43:10-18.50 et seq. does not directly restrict [the] plaintiff's right to marry but simply regulates a pension plan which, as applied to the plaintiff, operates as to make his marriage to his present wife financially more burdensome. The statute only imposes an indirect economic burden on his right to marry whomever he chooses. Therefore, N.J.S.A. 43:10-18.50 et seq. does not violate plaintiff's fundamental right to marry. [at 193-194]

This reasoning is applicable to the present case. Here, also, no right to marry is infringed. The statute under challenge simply terminates plaintiff's pension benefits on her remarriage, thereby imposing an indirect economic burden on her.

Plaintiff contends the provisions terminating pension rights on remarriage violates the policies set forth in the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-3. This statute however clearly provides that "Nothing contained in this act * * * shall be construed to * * * interfere with the operation of the terms or conditions and administration of any bona fide retirement, pension, employee benefit or insurance plan or program." N.J.S.A. 10:5-2.1. We further find no merit in plaintiff's argument that the condition she remain unmarried in order to receive the pension "den[ies] the economic partnership during coverture

now recognized in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 and case law." N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 provides for equitable distribution upon divorce of assets acquired during a marriage. This ...


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