PORTIONS OF 2011 AMENDMENTS TO FLORIDA
RETIREMENT SYSTEM UNCONSTITUTIONAL
Circuit Judge Jackie L. Fulford, Circuit Judge in Leon County, Florida, has entered an order on summary judgment in the case challenging the Florida Legislature’s 2011 changes to Florida Retirement System.
Both parties made motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 1.510 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. On consideration of the motions, responses, legal memoranda, notices of adoption and other materials filed by the parties, having heard argument of counsel, and being otherwise duly advised in the premises, the Court found, as the parties had stipulated, that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact.
Here is a summary of the ruling:
At the outset let me state clearly, the role of the Judiciary is to interpret the law before it; not to make new law. This Court has to determine the meaning of section 121.011(3)(d), Florida Statutes, in light of the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion in Florida Sheriffs Association v. Department of Administration, 408 So.2d 1033 (Fla. 1981). Defendants urge this Court to ignore the plain language of the law as set forth in section 121.011(3)(d), Florida Statutes and the unambiguous opinion of the Florida Supreme Court in the Sheriffscase. This Court cannot set aside its constitutional obligations because a budget crisis exists in the State of Florida. To do so would be in direct contravention of this Court’s oath to follow the law. This is one of the fundamental principles of our system of justice.
In 1974, the Florida Legislature created a mandatory pension plan for state employees, in which the employees were required to make no contribution and which provided for a cost-of-living adjustment. The 1974 Legislature declared that the rights to the members in the noncontributory pension plan were of a “contractual nature” and that “such rights shall be legally enforceable as valid contract rightsand shall not be abridged in any way.” Ch. 74-302, § 1, Laws of Fla. (emphasis added). In 1981, in its opinion in the Sheriffs case, the Florida Supreme Court said that section 121.011(3)(d) did not preclude the legislature from “altering benefits which accrue for future state service.” Id. At 1037. The Florida Supreme Court did not, however, say it was acceptable for the legislature to completely gut and create a new form of pension plan. This Court is not permitted to re-write Chapter 121, Florida Statutes. Moreover this Court is bound to follow a decision of the Florida Supreme Court. Only the Florida Supreme Court is at liberty to reconsider its prior holding. In this order, this Court upholds the work of the 1974 Legislature and follows the law as set forth in the Sheriffs case. (The Court would note that it passes no judgment on what the 2011 Legislature tried to accomplish. There was certainly a lawful means within which they could have achieved the same result. But it is not the function of this Court to choose the means by which the Legislature does its work. This Court’s sole function is to determine, if a challenge is brought, that the law has been followed.)
The 2011 Legislature, when faced with a budget shortfall, turned to the employees of the State of Florida and ignored the contractual rights given to them by the Legislature in 1974. Considering the entire record before it, this Court finds that certain provisions of Senate Bill 2100 constitute an unconstitutional impairment of plaintiffs’ contract with the State of Florida, an unconstitutional taking of private property without full compensation, and an abridgment of the rights of public employees to collectively bargain over conditions of employment. For these reasons, Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
To find otherwise would mean that a contract with our state government has no meaning, and that the citizens of our state can place no trust in the work of our Legislature. Those are findings this Court refuses to make.
The Court thereupon granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and denied Defendants’ motion:
The portions of Senate Bill 2100 imposing a 3% mandatory employee contribution and eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment for future service (Ch. 2011-68, §§ 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 24, 26, 29, 32, 33, 39, 40, Laws of Fla.) are unconstitutional as applied to individuals who were members of the FRS prior to July 1, 2011, and defendants are permanently enjoined from implementing these provisions as to such individuals.
Defendants are further ordered to reimburse with interest the funds deducted or withheld, pursuant to the challenged provisions of Senate Bill 2100, from the compensation or cost-of-living adjustments of employees who were members of the FRS prior to July 1, 2011.
Williams v. Scott, Case No. 2011 CA 1584 (Fla. 2d Cir., March 6, 2012). The entire decision can be accessed athttp://www.meyerbrookslaw.com/documents/Williams%20vs%20Scott/Order%20on%20Motions%20for%20Summary%20Judgment.pdf.
Defendants have already filed a notice of appeal to the First District Court of Appeal.