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How can changes in the law affect retirement eligibility?



The legislature wanted to address the issues of steeply mounting pension costs and budget constraints. Thus, in 1976, it created tier 3, a program which aimed to provide uniform benefits to all public employees and to eliminate the former program’s costly special treatment of selected groups.

In 2016, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the City of New York, Inc. and its president filed a lawsuit on behalf of its members. The association alleged that certain parties – including the pension fund and the City of New York as a public employer – refused to allow tier 3 officers to obtain credit toward retirement eligibility for prior non-police service.

This refusal violated certain provisions of the Retirement and Social Security Law and of the New York City Administrative Code, the association said. The denials of credit breached a 2002 settlement agreement that resolved past litigation over the issue of what prior service counted toward police officers’ retirement eligibility, the association added.

The New York Supreme Court ruled in the association’s favor. It made the following findings:

  • Section 513(c)(2) of the Retirement and Social Security Law had the effect of creating equivalence between tiers 2 and 3 for the purpose of obtaining credit for prior service, but this was “frozen in time” so that tier 3 members could get the same creditable service benefits as tier 2 members did in 1976
  • The post-1976 provisions upon which the association relied were inapplicable to tier 3 officers
  • However, a pre-1976 provision of the Administrative Code required the city to allow tier 3 officers to credit non-police service toward their retirement eligibility
  • The 2002 agreement did not extend any benefits to tier 3 officers because there were no such officers when the agreement was made

The Appellate Division modified the Supreme Court’s decision. It held that:

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