Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County in case of Valentine J. Woznicki v. The City of Erie v. Officers and Employees Retirement Board in the City of Erie, Pennsylvania, No. 1669-A-1979.
Robert D. Hain, for appellants.
George M. Schroeck, with him, Howard L. Rubenfield, for appellee.
Judges Rogers, MacPhail and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Rogers.
The appellants, the City of Erie and the Officers and Employees Retirement Board in the City of Erie (retirement board) appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County granting the motion of the appellee, Valentine Woznicki, for summary judgment in his mandamus action against the appellants.
Woznicki was employed by the City of Erie for twenty-one years. In May, 1977, he retired due to cardiovascular problems. In November, 1977, he applied to the retirement board for a disability pension. Normally, the retirement board would have promptly appointed three physicians to examine Woznicki and to certify whether he was totally and permanently disabled. Because of the Christmas holiday and a lack of a quorum at the January, 1978 retirement board meeting, the retirement board did not consider Woznicki's application until February, 1978. By that time, Woznicki had reached age sixty-five, the mandatory retirement age for City of Erie employees, and on the basis of his then age the retirement board found him ineligible for a disability pension. Instead, it awarded him a retirement pension which was in a lesser amount than the disability pension because the retirement pension is reduced by forty percent of Woznicki's estimated social security benefits. The retirement board later provided Woznicki disability benefits from November, 1977 to February, 1978, but insisted that as of Woznicki's sixty-fifth birthday, his disability pension converted to the lesser retirement pension. Woznicki
sued in mandamus for an order to compel the retirement board to pay him the disability pension. The trial court concluded that the retirement board's action was contrary to law and granted Woznicki's motion for summary judgment.
The issue is whether Woznicki remained entitled to receive disability benefits after reaching the mandatory retirement age or whether after that time he may receive only the lesser retirement benefits.*fn1 Erie's Retirement System is described in its Ordinances 52-1963 and 24-1974. The enabling legislation is Article XLIII-A of the Third Class City Code, Act of May 23, 1945, as amended, 53 P.S. §§ 39371-39384 (Article XLIII-A).
The retirement board contends that its policy is to construe the Retirement Ordinance as providing that a disability pension converts to a retirement pension upon the pensioner's reaching mandatory retirement age, that this policy is properly based upon the presumed (but unstated) intention of the drafters of the Code to provide disability compensation to a disabled employee only for so long as he would, if not disabled, have been working and that the drafters of the ordinance
did not intend that a disabled employee should, after reaching retirement age, receive a pension undiminished by forty percent of social security benefits as are the pensions of other superannuated employees. But neither Article XLIII-A nor Erie's ordinance so ...