November 26, 2018
appeal from the Board of Trustees of the Police and
Firemen's Retirement System, PFRS No. 3-91517.
Catherine M. Elston argued the cause for appellant (C. Elston
& Associates, LLC, attorneys; Catherine M. Elston, of
counsel and on the briefs).
Danielle P. Schimmel, Deputy Attorney General, argued the
cause for respondent (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General,
attorney; Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of
counsel; Jeff S. Ignatowitz, Deputy Attorney General, on the
Judges Sabatino, Sumners and Mitterhoff.
Regina Tasca appeals the final agency decision of the Board
of Trustees (Board), Police and Firemen's Retirement
System (PFRS), denying her twenty-year service (early)
retirement pension benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:16A-5(3),
because she was not a PFRS member at the time of the
statute's January 18, 2000 effective date. Tasca claimed
that her transfer of six years of service credit, which she
earned prior to her PFRS enrollment in February 2001, to her
PFRS account resulted in service credit that exceeded the
twenty-year threshold needed for early retirement.
Alternatively, she argues that, even if she was not a PFRS
member on the statute's effective date, she was entitled
to early retirement pension benefits through the doctrine of
equitable estoppel because she retired based on
representations by the PFRS staff that her purchased service
credit qualified her for the benefits. Tasca also claims that
her early retirement was part of her settlement with her
former employer in a Law Division action, and because public
policy favors settlement of litigation, she should receive
the early retirement pension benefits that she and her former
employer believed in good faith she was eligible to receive.
disagree with appellant, and affirm because the Board
properly interpreted N.J.S.A. 43:16A-5(3) in determining that
since she was not a PFRS member at the critical time of the
statute's effective date, she was ineligible for early
retirement despite her transferred service credit. We also
conclude that equitable estoppel does not afford Tasca relief
against a governmental body, such as the Board, and there was
no misrepresentation by the PFRS staff that she was eligible
for retirement under N.J.S.A. 43:16A-5(3). We further
conclude that public policy favoring settlements against
parties who have entered into them serves no basis for
granting her early retirement benefits in this matter.
was employed as a special police officer with the Borough of
Fairview from January 1, 1995, until she resigned on January
24, 2001. During that period, she was enrolled in the Public
Employees Retirement System (PERS). Upon joining the Bogota
Police Department as a patrol officer on February 1, 2001,
she transferred her service credit from PERS to PFRS, a
different pension program. She thus received a certification
of payroll deductions from PFRS, listing a January 1, 1995
"date of enrollment," encompassing eighty-one
months of prior service.
in May 2011, a little over ten years after joining the Bogota
police force, Tasca became embroiled in a series of
disciplinary actions. This eventually led to her termination
in September 2012, which was effective October 18, 2012.
Approximately five months before her termination, she filed a
federal lawsuit in April 2012, against Bogota and members of
its police department, alleging violations of her rights
under the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42,
the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1
to -14, and the First Amendment. After her termination, she
amended the complaint to add Bogota's mayor and some of
its council members as defendants.
to the parties' litigation, Bogota filed a complaint in
the Law Division in December 2012, seeking a refund of the
salary Tasca received while she was under suspension. Tasca,
in turn, dismissed her federal action and incorporated the
claims asserted therein as counterclaims in the Law
the completion of discovery, Tasca was granted partial
summary judgment in May 2015, invalidating both her
suspension from May 18, 2011, to May 28, 2015, and her
termination in October 2012, on the basis that the
disciplinary actions "were the product of multiple
conflict[s] of interest." Tasca was awarded back pay
and immediate reinstatement to employment, although not on
November 2015, the entire litigation was settled. All claims
and pending disciplinary actions were dismissed, with Tasca
receiving $2.25 million from Bogota. Pertinent to this matter, it
was agreed by the parties to the settlement that Tasca
"shall remain a police officer and employee of Bogota on
its payroll, and shall maintain all seniority and benefits,
until the effective date of her retirement," in good
standing, to take effect on December 31, 2015. In furtherance
of her retirement, Bogota was required to
take whatever steps are necessary and/or required to
effectuate Officer Tasca's PFRS pension with all
reasonable diligence, including but not limited to supporting
Officer Tasca's application for a pension on a service
retirement, submitting any and all information or documents
required by PFRS, and fulfilling any other requirements of or
requests from PFRS.
agreeing to the settlement, Tasca confirmed online that she
had at least twenty years' service time in PFRS, which
led her to believe she was eligible for early retirement
pension benefits. She also claimed that she met with a PFRS
counselor, who advised she was eligible for early retirement
pension benefits and could file an application online.
problem, however, arose prior to finalizing the settlement.
When she was unable to apply for early retirement pension
benefits online, Tasca contacted PFRS on December 14, 2015.
She claimed that a PFRS counselor indicated she should be
able to apply for benefits because she had the necessary
twenty years' service in PFRS. However, after checking
with a supervisor, the counselor advised her - which is
confirmed in a PFRS contact log - that she was ineligible for
early retirement pension benefits because she was not a PFRS
member on January 18, 2000. The service time added to her
account from her Fairview employment was transferred in 2001,
and would not qualify her for early retirement. She was
further advised that she could not receive pension benefits
until she reached fifty-five years of age. See
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-5(1). Tasca then refused to sign the
response to Tasca's desire to back out of the settlement,
the trial court granted Bogota's request for a hearing to
determine if the settlement agreement was enforceable.
Following argument, the court issued an order on December 23,
2015, finding the parties reached a binding agreement,
thereby rejecting Tasca's claim that the settlement was
void because of the parties' "mutual mistake"
that she was eligible for early retirement pension benefits.
Six days later, Tasca signed the ...