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Lewis v. Board of Trustees

February 09, 2004

G. PHILIP LEWIS, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES, PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System, Department of the Treasury.

Before Judges Coburn, Wells and Fisher.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 28, 2003

The various subsections of N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7 delineate the conditions which render a person eligible or ineligible for membership in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). One subsection renders eligible every public employee who is a"veteran... including a temporary employee with at least one year's continuous service." N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7(b). Another excludes"temporary employee[s]... employed under the federal Job Training Partnership Act." N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7(h). In interpreting the interplay of these provisions, we conclude that a period of time during which a veteran was employed as a temporary Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) employee may not be included for PERS purposes and, thus, affirm the decision of the Board of Trustees, Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS Board) rejecting appellant's application to purchase service credit for his time as a JTPA employee from the date subsection (h) was enacted to the date his position was made permanent. After his honorable discharge from the United States Navy in 1974, and until 1993, appellant was continually employed by Salem County in various temporary positions pursuant to either the Comprehensive Employment Training Act*fn1 or the JTPA.*fn2 The Salem County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a resolution in 1993 making appellant's position permanent, at which time he was enrolled in PERS as a full-time employee. He retired on June 30, 2000 on a PERS pension.

Once retired, appellant sought to purchase prior service credit to augment his pension. The PERS Board prohibited the purchase of additional service credit for the period between September 19, 1986 and April 1, 1993.*fn3 This determination was based upon the fact that on September 19, 1986 the Legislature enacted N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7h, thereby declaring that

A temporary employee who is employed under the federal Job Training Partnership Act... shall not be eligible for membership in the system. Membership for temporary employees employed under the federal Job Training Partnership Act... who are in the system on September 19, 1986 shall be terminated,....

[N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7(h) (emphasis added).]

Notwithstanding, appellant claimed the right to purchase the prior service credit in question, even though he was then a temporary JTPA employee, relying upon subsection (b) of the same statute:

Any person becoming an employee of the State or other employer after January 2, 1955 and every veteran, other than a retired member who returns to service pursuant to [N.J.S.A. 43:15A-57.2] and other than those whose appointments are seasonal, becoming an employee of the State or other employer after such date, including a temporary employee with at least one year's continuous service [is entitled to membership in PERS]. [N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7(b) (emphasis added).]

We observe that the relationship between subsection (b) and subsection (h) of N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7 has gone unexamined since subsection (h)'s enactment in 1986. After having carefully considered the language and purposes of these subsections, we reject appellant's contention and conclude that subsection (h) excludes any rights which might, on the surface, appear to have been created by subsection (b).

Our immediate approach in ascertaining the meaning of a statute is to first look to the language employed by the Legislature. Hubbard v. Reed, 168 N.J. 387, 392 (2001). If the statute is clear and unambiguous on its face and allows for only one interpretation, we should"delve no deeper than the act's literal terms," State v. Butler, 89 N.J. 220, 226 (1982), and"infer the Legislature's intent from the statute's plain meaning," O'Connell v. State, 171 N.J. 484, 488 (2002). An examination of the language of subsections (b) and (h) does not immediately provide a clear or unambiguous answer to the issue raised. Subsection (b) refers to the temporary employment of a veteran but makes no mention of JTPA temporary employment, whereas subsection (h) specifically excludes JTPA temporary employees without mentioning veterans. In short, both subsections express clear parameters when standing alone but uncertainty is generated when they are read together in an attempt to understand whether an employee, who fits both categories, is either eligible or ineligible.

In light of the ambiguity created by the conflict of these otherwise clear provisions, we must determine which provision the Legislature intended to be superior when their scope overlaps. This problem may be resolved through the consideration of intrinsic and extrinsic evidence of their intended meaning.

Intrinsic evidence includes the information and understanding which may be gathered from the internal structure of the statute and the conventional meanings of its words and phrases. Certain time-honored guides to statutory interpretation can serve to illuminate the most likely intention which the Legislature meant to convey in the words actually employed. These canons of construction are not binding but are utilized as an aid in ...


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