The Oregon Supreme Court delivered its final body blow to any semblance of contract law in Oregon today. It ruled in favor of PERS and the employers in the Arken case, and it ruled in favor of PERS in the Robinson case, overturning the lower court's ruling in the latter. Basically the court gave window retirees the middle finger when it wrote that, in effect, we were stupid if we believed our Notices of Entitlement since the City of Eugene case was so public, so prominent that we couldn't possibly have not known that the 1999 earnings were not final. While this might have been true for anyone retiring after the early part of 2003, those who retired prior to the City of Eugene case ruling coming (i.e. before October 8, 2002) wouldn't have had any reason to expect that the 20% earnings crediting in 2000, for 1999, was in jeopardy. Based on my lengthy experience with PERS retirees, very few people paid (or pay) attention to the minutiae of PERS court cases or the minor changes that affect people in a myriad of different ways. If nothing else, the rulings in these cases should tell people that their PERS benefits are subject to the whims of the legislature and the courts.
People may wonder about the ruling in the White case - the PERS Coalition challenge to the settlement agreement between PERS and the 8 employers in the City of Eugene case. The arguments in the White case took place some time after the arguments in Arken/Robinson, and the ruling will probably be handed down next month if the spread holds. However, anyone holding out the slimmest of hopes for an affirmative ruling in White need only read today's decisions to realize that there is no possible way that this court will overturn the settlement agreement. Today's decisions relied almost entirely on the fact of that agreement.
I am not going to bother to summarize the rulings today. They are 71 pages long, and the ruling in Robinson is so infuriating that my blood boils just thinking about it. The court essentially agrees with the plaintiffs legal arguments, but dismisses them in favor of an argument that wasn't actually made, and uses that reasoning to overturn the trial court's ruling (Kantor). Both cases have been remanded back to Kantor for final implementation.
What does this all mean. Arken was a long shot. Losing it doesn't do anything to change the status quo. Robinson, on the other hand, is the case that argued PERS had no authority to try to collect the "overpayments" we received before the Strunk decision was finally implemented in 2006. If you can scrape your memory banks and go back to 2006, you will recall that you received a bill from PERS telling you that you owed them money - in my case, about $14,000 -which could be paid in either a lump sum or via a method called actuarial reduction at zero interest. Assuming that offer remains, anyone who received one of those bills will now be obligated upon notification by PERS to begin the repayment process, either by writing PERS a check, or by accepting a small reduction in your monthly benefit. Of course, we are all about 6 years older since those bills came out so that the actuarial reduction payments will be larger than they would have been had they started in 2006.
It is clear that the days of the PERS Coalition's success in fighting against changes in the PERS system are over. It is clear that the Court is no longer persuaded by the stunning logic of the legal argument, but instead seems to bend over backwards further and further to rule in favor of PERS and the employers. The more you read the Court's arguments, the more convoluted they appear, and the hidden forces behind them all are politics and economics. Contracts aren't worth the paper they are printed on. To me, this says that PERS and the employers are no different today than are the bankers and Wall Street firms who have skated by. The new motto is "No PERS retiree gets ahead", or "No Banker Left Behind".
P.S. If I weren't feeling crappy enough about the erosion of contract rights in these rulings, Steve Jobs' death hasn't left me in a better frame of mind.