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Prof'l Fire Fighters of New Hampshire v. State

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

December 10, 2014

Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire & a.
v.
State of New Hampshire & a

Argued May 15, 2014

Page 1230

Merrimack.

Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, P.A., of Manchester ( Andru H. Volinsky, Christopher G. Aslin, and Talesha L. Caynon on the brief, and Mr. Volinsky orally), Molan, Milner & Krupski, PLLC, of Concord ( Glenn R. Milner on the brief), Stember Feinstein Doyle Payne & Kravec, LLC, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ( William T. Payne and Stephen M. Pincus on the [167 N.H. 190] brief), and Gottesman & Hollis, PA, of Nashua ( David M. Gottesman on the brief), for the plaintiffs and intervenors.

Joseph A. Foster, attorney general ( Richard W. Head, associate attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.

Getman, Schulthess & Steere, PA, of Manchester ( Andrew R. Schulman on the brief), for New Hampshire Retirement System, as amicus curiae.

Cordell A. Johnston, of Concord, for New Hampshire Municipal Association, Betsy B. Miller, of Concord, for New Hampshire Association of Counties, and Barrett M. Christina, of Concord, for New Hampshire School Boards Association, by brief, as amici curiae.

DALIANIS, C.J. HICKS, CONBOY, LYNN, and BASSETT, JJ., concurred.

OPINION

Page 1231

Dalianis, C.J.

The State appeals the Superior Court's ( McNamara, J.) ruling that legislative changes increasing the contribution rates paid by members of the New Hampshire Retirement System violate the Contract Clauses of the New Hampshire and United States Constitutions. The plaintiffs and the intervenors cross-appeal the court's ruling that members' rights to retirement benefits do not vest until they accrue ten years of creditable service. For reasons set forth below, we reverse the court's Contract Clause ruling and remand. Accordingly, we need not address the issue raised in the cross-appeal.

The following undisputed facts are supported by the record. In 2011, the legislature amended RSA 100-A:16, I(a) by increasing the following contribution rates for New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS) members: for Group I members the rate increased from 5 percent to 7 percent; for Group II permanent fire fighter members the rate increased from 9.3 percent to 11.80 percent; and for Group II permanent police members the rate increased from 9.3 percent to 11.55 percent. Laws 2011, 224:172; see RSA 100-A:16, I(a) (Supp. 2010) (amended 2011). In June 2011, the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Police Association, the National Education Association -- New Hampshire, and the State Employees Association of New Hampshire -- SEIU Local 1984 filed a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the constitutionality of the changes to the statute. The petition was twice amended to add six individual plaintiffs. In addition to claims against the State, the petition included a claim against the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services. However, the plaintiffs subsequently filed a voluntary nonsuit without prejudice with respect to such claim. Accordingly, the only defendant in this appeal is the State.

The petition alleged, among other things, that " [m]embers become vested in their NHRS benefits upon commencement of permanent employee status" and that " upon vesting, their contribution rates may not be [167 N.H. 191] increased without a commensurate benefit." (Quotation omitted.) The plaintiffs argued that the legislative change to RSA 100-A:16, I(a) " substantially impairs the members' rights" and that " [t]he substantial impairment is neither reasonable nor necessary to serve an important public interest," thereby violating the Contract Clauses of the New Hampshire and Federal Constitutions. See N.H. Const. pt. I, art. 23; U.S. Const. art. 1, ยง ...


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