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Coffey v. N.H. Judicial Retirement Plan

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

August 14, 2019

Patricia C. Coffey
v.
N.H. Judicial Retirement Plan et al.

         Opinion No. 2019 DNH 126

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Paul J. Barbadoro United States District Judge

         The New Hampshire Judicial Retirement Plan permits a judge in active service to retire with a pension if she has at least 15 years of creditable service and is at least 60 years of age. The issue this case presents is whether a former judge with sufficient creditable service has a right to a pension even though she resigned before she reached the minimum retirement age.

         Patricia Coffey served as a full-time New Hampshire Superior Court judge for 16 years. She resigned in 2008, at the age of 54. Several years after Coffey turned 60, she applied for a pension. The Plan's Board of Trustees denied her request because it determined that a judge must be in active service when she attempts to claim a pension. Coffey disagreed and filed this action. The matter is before me on cross-motions for summary judgment.

         I. THE NEW HAMPSHIRE JUDICIAL RETIREMENT PLAN

         The Judicial Retirement Plan (“Plan”) is codified as Chapter 100-C of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes. It is “a defined benefit plan providing disability, death, and retirement protection to [its] members and their families.” N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 100-C:2, I. The benefits available under the Plan vary depending upon whether a judge leaves service by retirement, by death, or “for reasons other than retirement or death.” See Id. §§ 100-C:5, 100-C:6 (retirement), 100-C:7 (death), 100-C:8 (reasons other than retirement or death).

         The Plan lays out three different paths to retirement. First, § 100-C:5, I authorizes a judge to retire and claim a “service retirement allowance” at designated ages with sufficient creditable service. Id. § 100-C:5, I. The earliest date at which a judge may retire and claim a service retirement allowance is age 60.[1] Id. Second, § 100-C:5, VII permits a judge who is not eligible for a service retirement allowance to retire at any time if she has at least five years of creditable service. Id. § 100-C:5, VII. A judge who retires under this provision is entitled only to have her contributions to the Plan returned with interest. Id. Third, § 100-C:6 authorizes a judge to retire on a “disability retirement allowance” at any time and claim a 70% annual allowance if she becomes “permanently and totally disabled.” Id. § 100-C:6.

         If a judge dies while in office or after becoming eligible either for a service retirement allowance or a disability retirement allowance, § 100-C:7 authorizes the judge's spouse (while unmarried) or her minor children (if the judge leaves no spouse) to receive an annual payment of ½ of the judge's salary. Id. § 100-C:7.

         Finally, § 100-C:8 provides that a judge who “ceases to be a judge for reasons other than retirement or death” is entitled only to repayment of the judge's contributions to the Plan. Id. § 100-C:8, I. Once contributions are refunded, the judge's rights under the Plan are terminated. Id.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Tang v. Citizens Bank, N.A., 821 F.3d 206, 215 (1st Cir. 2016). In this context, a “material fact” is one that has the “potential to affect the outcome of the suit.” Cherkaoui v. City of Quincy, 877 F.3d 14, 23 (1st Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). A “genuine dispute” exists if a jury could resolve the disputed fact in the nonmovant's favor. Ellis v. Fidelity Mgmt. Tr. Co., 883 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2018).

         On cross-motions for summary judgment, the standard of review is applied to each motion separately. See Am. Home Assurance Co. v. AGM Marine Contractors, Inc., 467 F.3d 810, 812 (1st Cir. 2006); see also Mandel v. Boston Phoenix, Inc., 456 F.3d 198, 205 (1st Cir. 2006) (“The presence of cross-motions for summary judgment neither dilutes nor distorts this standard of review.”). Thus, I must “determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not disputed.” Adria Int'l Grp., Inc. v. Ferré Dev., Inc., 241 F.3d 103, 107 (1st Cir. 2001).

         The parties agree that no material facts are in dispute and that I may resolve ...


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