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2 N.J.A.R. 248

Teachers' Pension & Annuity Fund, Board of Trustees; Stuermer, Susan v
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Citation: 2 N.J.A.R. 248
Decision Date: 1980
Synopsis: Petitioner, Susan Stuermer, appealed from a decision of the Board of Trustees of the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund denying her application to purchase prior membership credit and out-of-state service pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:66-9 and 18A:66-13. The Board's position was based on N.J.A.C. 17:3-5.1 which states that only active contributing members of the Fund may apply to purchase pension credits. The administrative law judge found that in January 1976, while employed as a teacher by the Bergen County Special Services School District,. petitioner applied to purchase pension credits for a total of seven and one- half years of former teaching service. By June 1976, the Division of Pensions informed her of her eligibility for back purchases and the cost involved; she was told to make her purchase within 30 days. In the meantime, however, petitioner had been informed by her school district that her services were to be terminated as a teacher at the end of June 1976. The petitioner filed an action with the Commissioner of Education contesting her dismissal. In 1977, the petitioner contacted the Division of Pensions informing it of her employment status and again asking to buy her pension credits. The Division informed her that since she was not then a contributing member of the system, she could not purchase credit for prior service but could do so if she again became employed. In 1978, the Commissioner of Education rendered a decision in which he determined that the petitioner's termination was improper and ordered her restored to her position with mitigated back pay. Although the petitioner decided not to return to her former position, she did again apply for the purchase of service credits, but her application was denied because she was found not to be a contributing member of the State of New Jersey 249 pension system. The administrative law judge noted that since pensions for public employees serve a public purpose, the statutes and regulations governing them should be liberally construed to accomplish their purpose. The judge observed that the Board's position would prevent the petitioner from purchasing enough service credit to allow her to vest her pension. Under the facts of this case, the administrative law judge concluded that the petitioner should be considered to have been an active, contributing member of the system through June 1978, when the Commissioner of Education made his determination that she had been wrongfully terminated and ordered her reinstated. The judge observed that it was neither fair nor reasonable to deprive her of her right to make this purchase simply because she decided not to return to her former position, nor would any harm be done to the pension fund. Philip Feintuch, Esq., for Petitioner Prudence H. Bisbee, Deputy Attorney General for Respondent (John J. Degnan, Attorney General of New Jersey, Attorney)
Rule(s) Cited: 17:3-5.1