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Wolfersberger v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach

October 9, 1996

JOSEPH WOLFERSBERGER, JR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BOROUGH OF POINT PLEASANT BEACH, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County.

Approved for Publication October 22, 1997.

Before Judges Havey, Brochin and Kestin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brochin

The opinion of the court was delivered by

BROCHIN, J.A.D.

In order to be eligible to receive a "special retirement" pension pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:16A-11.1, a policeman or fireman employed by a municipality must have "established 25 years of creditable service." Ibid. Plaintiff Joseph Wolfersberger, Jr. was employed as a policeman by defendant Borough of Point Pleasant Beach. He retired on November 1, 1993, after twenty-three years' actual service. *fn1 Because he had served in the United States armed forces for two or more years, he qualified for his retirement pension "by paying into the annuity savings fund [of the Police and Firemen's Retirement System] the amount required" to make up the difference between what he had actually contributed to the annuity fund and what he would have contributed if he had worked the full twenty-five years. N.J.S.A. 43:16A-11.11.

Mr. Wolfersberger was covered by a collective bargaining agreement between the Borough and the local unit of the Police Benevolent Association that included the following provision:

Effective 1/1/92, any officer represented by this unit who has completed twenty-five (25) years of service shall remain within the Borough Medical Plan at husband and wife coverage at no expense to the employee upon retirement from the employ of Point Pleasant Borough. This benefit shall only apply to officers in the Borough's employ as of 1/1/92.

On the date of his retirement, N.J.S.A. 40A:10-23 read as follows:

Retired employees shall be required to pay for the entire cost of coverage for themselves and their dependents at rates which are deemed to be adequate to cover the benefits . . . .

The employer may, in its discretion, assume the entire cost of such coverage and pay all the premiums for employees who have retired on a disability pension or after 25 years' or more service with the employer, or have retired and reached the age of 62 or older with at least 15 years of service with the employer, including the premiums on their dependents, if any, under uniform conditions as the governing body of the local unit shall prescribe.

Mr. wolfersberger contends that by virtue of this statute and his collective bargaining agreement, he is entitled to have his and his wife's health insurance premiums paid by the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach. He argues that the phrases "twenty-five (25) years of service" in the collective bargaining agreement and "25 years' or more service with the employer" in N.J.S.A. 40A:10-23 should both be read to include the two years of service credit which he purchased from the Police and Firemen's Retirement System to qualify for his retirement pension.

The Borough disagrees. It contends that for the purpose of its collective bargaining agreement and N.J.S.A. 40A:10-23, "service" means only actual service. It has therefore declined to pay the premiums for Mr. and Mrs. Wolfersberger's health insurance.

Mr. Wolfersberger commenced this suit to compel payment. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the motion Judge first ruled in his favor and then, following a motion for ...


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