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11 N.J.A.R. 611

Public Employees' Retirement System, Board of Trustees; Hagel, Elaine v
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Citation: 11 N.J.A.R. 611
Decision Date: 1987
Agency: PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM
Synopsis: Petitioner appealed a decision of the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System denying her application for life insurance benefits provided by N.J.S.A. 43:15A-41(c) and N.J.S.A. 43:15A-57(g). The matter was transmitted to the Office of Adminis- trative Law for a hearing. Petitioner's husband had been a part-time adjunct college professor enrolled in PERS. When he became ill and died he was not on an official leave of absence because adjunct faculty were not eligible for leaves of absence. However, when he became ill he was told that his classes would be held open for him to teach when he returned. In order for a member's beneficiary to be eligible for insurance benefits, the PERS member must have been an 'active' member at the time of death. N.J.S.A. 43:15A-108(a) provides that a member shall be deemed 'active' for up to two years of 'official leave' due to personal illness. The administrative law judge assigned to the case concluded that petitioner's application for insurance benefits should be approved. The judge noted that pension laws, as remedial social legislation, -are meant to be liberally construed and administered. Courts have held that specific limitations in pension laws may be relaxed when strict application would be unfair. In this case, a liberal reading of the statute would work an inequitable result. It would deprive a widow of insurance benefits only because the employer made no provision for 'official' leaves of absence. Moreover, the judge found that dece- dent had been given a de facto leave, having been promised that his classes would be held for him to teach. Upon review, this initial decision was rejected by the Board of Trustees of PERS. The Board affirmed the denial of petitioner's application. The Appellate Division reversed the decision of the Board and remanded. John W. Wopat, III, Esq., for petitioner (Falvo, Bonello, Moriarty & Steiger, P.C., attorneys) Patrice M. Cormell, Deputy Attorney General, for respondent (W. Cary Edwards, Attorney General of New Jersey, attorney)
Citation Tracker rejected-Bd. of Trustees; reversed -226 N.J. Super. 182 (App. Div. 1988) [Updated through 1991]