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RI Supremes decline state pension case dismissal

November 22, 2011

No surprise here as the public employee unions win another round in the endless pension legal wrangling.

The state had asked the RI  Supreme Court to decide on an expedited basis whether state pensions and cost of living allowances constitute a property right that cannot easily be taken away.

The unions, for obvious reasons, wanted to issue to go to a full trial on the merits of the issue so that union lawyers can bring full arguments.

At issue is whether and to what extent is a retired state worker is entitled to a pension. A Superior Court decision in September stated that there is an implied contractual relationship between the state retirement system and the employees it covers.

Pension benefits, stated Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, are “not gratuities that may be taken away at the whim of the state.’’

Lawyers for the state had argued that Rhode Island legal precedent provides no basis for requiring that workers have a contract right to their pensions.

The case at bar stems from the 2010 lawsuit by eight public employee unions challenging General Assembly pension benefit reductions enacted in 2009 and 2010. The case does not affect the recent pension overhaul approved last week by the Assembly and signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee. Get ready for yet several more rounds of pension legal jousts.

But the Supreme Court essentially said that they were not going to rule on such an important matter without giving the unions their right to due process.

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