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Parris v. State Employees' Retirement Board

November 2, 2009

CLIFFORD J. PARRIS, PETITIONER
v.
STATE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT BOARD, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge Kelley

Argued: September 17, 2009

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Clifford J. Parris (Claimant) petitions for review of an order of the State Employees' Retirement Board (Board) denying Parris' request to be granted age 50 superannuation retirement benefits for his service with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) between December 1, 1983 and July 28, 2006. We affirm.

In this case of first impression, the Court is asked to interpret the definition of "correction officer" found in Section 5102 of the State Employees' Retirement Code (Retirement Code), 71 Pa.C.S. §5102. Claimant argues that the definition should be construed liberally, in accordance with the General Assembly's intent, to include a Therapeutic Activities Worker Manager/Activities Coordinator.

Section 5102 of the Retirement Code defines "CORRECTION OFFICER" as:

Any full-time employee assigned to the Department of Corrections or the Department of Public Welfare whose principal duty is the care, custody and control of inmates or direct therapeutic treatment, care, custody and control of inmates of a penal or correctional institution, community treatment center, forensic unit in a State hospital or secure unit of a youth development center operated by the Department of Corrections or by the Department of Public Welfare.

Section 5102 defines "SUPERANNUATION AGE" as:

Any age upon accrual of 35 eligibility points or age 60, except for a member of the General Assembly, an enforcement officer, a correction officer, a psychiatric security aide, a Delaware River Port Authority policeman or an officer of the Pennsylvania State Police, age 50, and, except for a member with Class G, Class H, Class I, Class J, Class K, Class L, Class M or Class N service, age 55 upon accrual of 20 eligibility points.

Emphasis added.

Herein, Claimant became a member of the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) on February 1, 1974, when he initially became employed by the DOC at SCI-Graterford as a Correction Officer Trainee and Therapeutic Recreational Services Trainee. Later, Claimant was employed as a Therapeutic Recreational Services Worker and Therapeutic Recreational Services Supervisor. He remained employed as such until December 1, 1983, when he was promoted to the DOC Central Office at SCI-Camp Hill into the position of Therapeutic Activities Worker Manager overseeing all of the activities departments at the DOC's institutions. Approximately one year later, Claimant's job title was changed to Activities Coordinator.

Claimant's Central Office position of Activities Coordinator required him to spend sometimes 4 to 5 days each week in various DOC institutions where he: (1) monitored and attended sporting events; (2) assisted the activities staffs in developing activities and programs; (3) evaluated activities and programs; (4) performed auditing functions of the various activities and programs; and (5) sometimes conducted a program. During the time that Claimant spent in the various DOC institutions, he would often have contact with inmates.

During the period from December 1, 1983 through 1989, Claimant often spent anywhere from 3 to 5 days per week, including some weekends, in various DOC institutions performing his oversight and coordination of the activities offices and their programs at each of the institutions. Between 1989 and 1991, Claimant had an assistant to help him perform his oversight and coordination functions. Claimant and/or his assistant were required to be at the DOC Central Office at least 85% of the time. After the assistant was furloughed, Claimant had to staff the office alone and the sporting events that Claimant and his assistant monitored were stopped.

During this time period, Claimant continued to monitor other activities, created new activities to be implemented, and continued to do annual audits of activities at the various DOC institutions. These responsibilities required ...


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