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Vliet v. Board of Trustees of Public Employees'' Retirement System

Decided: January 31, 1978.

EUGENE O. VLIET, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, RESPONDENT



Fritz, Botter and Ard. The opinion of the court was delivered by Botter, J.A.D.

Botter

[156 NJSuper Page 84] Eugene O. Vliet had been employed by the Township of Chester since 1933 and was enrolled in the Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) on July 1, 1964. In 1970 he held the municipal positions of township clerk, treasurer, clerk of the board of adjustment and clerk of the Planning Board at $7,500, $1,500, $800 and $800 a year respectively. He reached age 70 on November 21, 1969. He was advised that his employment would be terminated as of December 31, 1970 as township clerk and treasurer. He was asked if he would continue on as clerk of the planning board and of the board of adjustment. He agreed to do so, provided his pension would not be affected.

In October 1970 the deputy township clerk wrote to the Division of Pensions asking: if appellant takes a "part-time" job with the township would he still receive full pension benefits? On December 2 PERS responded that appellant may accept "temporary" employment without adversely affecting his pension, but "if he accepts employment which will require him to re-enroll in [PERS], his retirement allowance would be reduced while he was reemployed."

Vliet then asked PERS if he earned more than "the allowable $500" in "temporary employment", would his pension be reduced by the excess? PERS replied that there was no limit on the amount of earnings in temporary public employment, "the important fact being that this employment must definitely be termed temporary employment and as such does not require that the person re-enroll in the Public Employees' Retirement System."

Vliet applied for retirement effective January 1, 1971. Later, in January 1971, the two municipal boards appointed him "temporary clerk." His retirement was approved by respondent in February 1971, effective January 1, 1971, and benefits were paid to Vliet until March 1975 based upon the combined salaries paid him for the four positions he held before retirement. His employment as "temporary clerk" of the boards was renewed from year to year in 1972, 1973 and 1974.

In 1974 a survey of Chester Township employees not enrolled in PERS revealed that Vliet was semi-retired and was classified as a regularly budgeted employee as distinguished from a temporary employee. This opened the inquiry into Vliet's pension status. The Division of Pensions was advised that his employment since January 1971 was on a temporary basis and that a replacement could not be found because the salary for the positions was too low. In September 1974 Vliet resigned his positions with the two boards.

Thereafter, in March 1975 respondent rescinded its approval of Vliet's retirement application and demanded repayment

of all sums paid him since January 1, 1971. The total sum was $19,886.85. Respondent also demanded contributions of $633.75 which were due based upon Vliet's continued employment with the township. Vliet was invited to file a new retirement application effective October 1, 1974, and he was told that his reimbursement could be made by an actuarial reduction of the allowance for his remaining lifetime. Vliet filed a second retirement application without prejudice to his rights. He also challenged the action proposed by the Division of Pensions, and a hearing was held.

No witnesses were offered by Vliet at the hearing. The submission on his behalf was in writing. Affidavits were submitted stating generally that no replacements could be found for the positions of clerk to the two boards, although inquiries were made and people were interviewed for those positions.

John A. McGarrity, Assistant Director of the Division of Pensions, testified at the hearing. His responsibility included monitoring pension allowances to individuals after retirement. He stated that a roster received from Chester Township in the summer of 1974 showed that Vliet, a retired employee, was reemployed and had been since January 1971 without reenrollment in the retirement system and suspension of his retired status. Promptly thereafter McGarrity advised Chester Township in writing that Vliet was not entitled to maintain his dual status. He also testified than an employee in a non-Civil Service unit may be classified as a "temporary" for no more than one year for pension purposes. At the beginning of the second continuous year of employment he is deemed a permanent employee for pension purposes. See N.J.A.C. 17:2-2.4(c) which provides that an employee whose compulsory enrollment date is not fixed by sections (a) and (b)

The agency below, the Board of Trustees of PERS (Board), found that Vliet was not a "temporary employee" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7(b) and that he was required to continue membership in PERS pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:15A-57.2. Vliet was found to have all the indicia of a permanent employee in the two municipal positions. Contrary to the recommendation of the hearing examiner (who also found that Vliet was not a temporary employee), the board concluded that Vliet must repay all pension payments received between 1971 and 1974, plus normal ...


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