Goodheart v. Casey

Decision Date23 October 1989
Citation523 Pa. 188,565 A.2d 757
Parties, 11 Employee Benefits Cas. 2007 Bernard J. GOODHEART, et al. v. The Honorable Robert P. CASEY, in his capacity as Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The State Employees' Retirement Board, and G. Davis Greene, Jr., in his capacity as Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Appeal of The STATE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT BOARD. Francis J. CATANIA, et al. v. COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, STATE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT BOARD and Robert L. Cusma, in his capacity as Secretary of the State Employees' Retirement System and R. Budd Dwyer, in his capacity as Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. and Richard B. KLEIN v. COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, STATE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT BOARD. Appeal of Richard B. KLEIN. 33 M.D. 1988 111 E.D. 1987 . Re
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Henry T. Reath, Judith N. Renzulli, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Richard B. Klein, pro se.

LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Atty. Gen., Susan J. Forney, John G. Knorr, III, Sr. Deputy Attys. Gen., Andrew S. Gordon, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen., for appellee.

Before NIX, C.J., and FLAHERTY and McDERMOTT, JJ.

OPINION OF THE COURT

NIX, Chief Justice.

On March 3, 1989, this Court handed down opinions announcing the judgment of the Court in the above captioned appeals granting the relief requested by the appellants therein 1 with one Justice dissenting in both matters. 2 This writer, joined by Justices Flaherty and Stout, 3 premised their result upon a breach of the constitutionally mandated requirement for adequate compensation to be paid to judges. Goodheart v. Casey, et al., 521 Pa. 316, 555 A.2d 1210 (1989). Mr. Justices Larsen, Zappala and Papadakos concurred in the result in Goodheart. In the second appeal, Mr. Justice Larsen authored an opinion joined by Mr. Justices Zappala and Papadakos premising the grant of relief upon a finding of a violation of the equal protection provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Klein v. Employees Retirement System, 521 Pa. 330, 344-349, 555 A.2d 1216 1223-26 (1989). In that appeal, this writer, joined by Justices Flaherty and Stout, filed a concurring opinion rejecting the equal protection theory as a valid basis for the grant of the requested relief and reaffirming the grounds relied upon in Goodheart. Klein, et al. v. Employees' Retirement System, supra, at 348-349, 555 A.2d at 1226-27 (1989).

The instant opinion is written to address the issues that have been raised in the applications for reconsideration filed herein. This Court, after receiving the applications entered an order on May 9, 1989, granting them, in part, by directing the parties to brief the specific issues set forth in the applications for reconsideration. The Court denied the request for oral argument. After consideration of the briefs, for the reasons herein stated, we reaffirm our prior judgment entered in these matters.

As stated, the six Justices in the judgment entered were not in agreement on the theory supporting the result reached. The opinion announcing the judgment of the Court in Klein relied in part upon an equal protection theory concluding that the scheme creating a two-tiered class of judges based solely upon the date of entry into the system was arbitrary and unreasonable and thus offensive to the protection sought to be afforded under Article 1, § 1, Article 1, § 26 and Article 3, § 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. 4 Klein, et al. v. Employees' Retirement System, supra. The concurring Justices expressly agreed that the appellants therein were entitled to receive the same compensation as their colleagues serving on the same bench with them, notwithstanding their rejection of the equal protection argument. The arguments now being raised challenging the equal protection analysis merely rehash the disagreement fully considered by the Court prior to reaching its decision; and, thus, do not provide a persuasive basis for altering the judgment that has been entered.

The attack upon the rationale employed in the opinion announcing the judgment of the Court in Goodheart, in essence, challenges the implicit acceptance in that opinion that retirement benefits were a part of judicial compensation. The attempt to extract from Article 5, § 16(b), a distinction between salary and retirement compensation, cannot obscure the obvious fact that public retirement benefits are part of compensation for present services. Whether the compensation is received during the judge's years of actual service or during his retirement, Pennsylvania's case law is clear that all of the compensation is for present services. Catania v. Commonwealth, State Employees' Retirement Board, 498 Pa. 684, 690, 450 A.2d 1342, 1345 (1982); McKenna v. SERB, 495 Pa. 324, 333-34, 433 A.2d 871, 876 (1981).

We have said, and now reaffirm, that a public employe has a contract right to continued membership in a retirement fund, under the same rules and regulations prevailing at the time of his employment, which may not be qualified or altered by subsequent legislative enactment, Baker v. Retirement Board of Allegheny Co., 374 Pa. 165, 169, 97 A.2d 231 (1953).

The reason for this pension rule in Pennsylvania is that a public employe's compensation includes pension credits as well as salary. Accordingly, one who has rendered service for this agreed compensation has earned both his salary and his pension rights.

Wright v. Retirement Board of Allegheny County, 390 Pa. 75, 79, 134 A.2d 231, 233 (1957) (footnotes omitted).

In framing this argument, SERB has been reluctant to admit that it is contending retirement benefits constitute a gratuity in contrast to earned deferred compensation. To rely upon the separate salary references in section 16(a) and section 16(b) to support a thesis that retirement benefits have been transformed into a gratuity separate and apart from the compensation package of the active judge, is at best, disingenuous. To ascribe to the drafters of the 1968 amendment to the judiciary article the intent to change a firmly established principle in our law in such a cryptic and obscure fashion is totally unwarranted. We, therefore, dismiss this challenge as being devoid of merit.

We also dismiss in summary fashion the applicability of the "popular sovereignty" arguments in the instant matters. Here SERB focuses upon section 16(b) and argues that by the adoption of section 16(b) "the people" intended for the legislature to have flexibility in regard to retirement benefits for judges and that the Court may not "straight jacket" the legislature by precluding prospective reduction of retirement benefits.

The proponents of this argument attempt to blur the distinction between a constitutional declaration of right vested in the citizen and a delineation of powers conferred upon the various branches of government. The essence of their specious argument is that only the legislature could determine the dimensions and manner of exercise of a right given it by the people. Clearly this is not in accordance with our constitutional structure. It is the sole function of the judiciary to interpret the constitutional mandate, including the intended use of powers conferred upon the legislature. Stander v. Kelley, 433 Pa. 406, 250 A.2d 474, appeal dismissed, sub. nom, Lindsay v. Kelley, 395 U.S. 827, 89 S.Ct. 2130, 23 L.Ed.2d 738 (1969); Beauty Hall, Inc. v. State Board of Cosmetology, 418 Pa. 225, 210 A.2d 495 (1965); Bargain City U.S.A., Inc. v. Dilworth, 407 Pa. 129, 179 A.2d 439 (1962); Costello v. Rice, 397 Pa. 198, 153 A.2d 888 (1959); In Re Marshall, 363 Pa. 326, 69 A.2d 619 (1949); Willcox v. Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co., 357 Pa. 581, 55 A.2d 521 (1947); Commonwealth v. Zasloff, 338 Pa. 457, 13 A.2d 67 (1940); See also 174 A.L.R. 220; 128 A.L.R. 1120. The issue raised in this case was not whether the legislature had the power to set judicial compensation; undoubtedly they do possess that power. Pa. Const. art V, § 16(a); See, e.g., In Re Marshall, supra. The question is whether the legislature can perform that function in a manner inconsistent with constitutional mandate. It is equally clear that they cannot. Pittsburgh Railways Co. v. Port of Allegheny County, 415 Pa. 177, 202 A.2d 816 (1964); Miller v. City of Beaver Falls, 368 Pa. 189, 82 A.2d 34 (1951).

The "popular sovereignty" argument, which supported our finding in Gondelman v. Commonwealth, supra, is totally inapplicable to the issues presented in the instant appeals. In Gondelman, we were concerned with allegations of an alleged conflict between two provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In that context, it was appropriate to center our analysis on the inherent power of the people to structure their government as they see fit. In contrast, we are here called upon to scrutinize the constitutionality of a legislative enactment. The instant appeals being reargued involve situations where there is a challenge to the constitutionality of a legislative act. This act would deprive judges who commence their judicial service, after March 1, 1974, from having the same retirement benefits as other members of the same court. In Gondelman, we stated that the Constitution of this Commonwealth places no restraints on the power of the people, "but rather upon the government in the discharging of its functions under the direction of that Constitution." Gondelman v. Commonwealth, 520 Pa. 451 at 469, 554 A.2d 896 at 905 (1989). Simply put, Gondelman concerned a constitutional provision that had been adopted by the people of this Commonwealth; the appeals here involve a statute (the State Employees Retirement Code) adopted by the legislative branch of government, not the people. Clearly then, the question presently before the Court falls within the latter category.

The serious challenge raised herein, which occasioned the grant of the petitions for reargument, is...

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