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Wigton v. Berry

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 7, 2013

SYLVIA WIGTON, AUDREY L. GORGONZOLA, GAIL G. HUDSON, GATHRYN DAANE, DOLORES VASSALLUZZO, MARY JANE THOMAS and THOMAS C. MARCIN, on behalf of themselves and other individuals similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN BERRY, Director of the United States Office of Personnel Management, Defendant

Page 617

For SYLVIA WIGTON, AUDREY L. GORGONZOLA, GAIL G. HUDSON, KATHRYN DAANE, DOLORES VASSALLUZZO, Plaintiffs: Emily E. Town, Jonathan K. Cohn, Maureen Davidson-Welling, Stember Cohn & Davidson-Welling, Pittsburgh, PA; John Stember, Stember Cohn & Davidson-Welling, LLC, Pittsburgh, PA; Timothy P. O'Brien, Pittsburgh, PA.

For MARY JANE THOMAS, THOMAS C. MARCIN, on behalf of themselves and other individuals similarly situated, Plaintiffs: John Stember, LEAD ATTORNEY, Stember Cohn & Davidson-Welling, LLC, Pittsburgh, PA; Maureen Davidson-Welling, Stember Cohn & Davidson-Welling, Pittsburgh, PA.

For JOHN BERRY, Director of the United States Office of Personnel Management, Defendant: Jennifer R. Andrade, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office, Pittsburgh, PA.

OPINION

Page 618

Mark R. Hornak, United States District Judge.

The question before the Court is whether it has subject matter jurisdiction to entertain a lawsuit on behalf of federal retirees who assert that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is deliberately refusing to properly pay them the annuities to which OPM has conceded they are statutorily entitled, or whether their grievance instead must be channeled only through an administrative review scheme created by Congress. In many ways, this question goes to the heart of this Court's judicial power under Article III and the applicable statutes.

I. BACKGROUND

The Department of Veterans Affairs (" VA" ) is one of the nation's largest health

Page 619

care providers, and operates hospitals throughout the United States that provide medical care to veterans. See Am. Compl. ¶ 12, ECF No. 81. Like a number of other federal employees, registered nurses (" RNs" ) who are employees of the VA are entitled by statute to annuity benefits upon retirement, [1] see 5 U.S.C. § 8333; 38 U.S.C. § 7426. Those annuities are operated by the Office of Personnel Management (" OPM" ), a federal administrative agency. 5 U.S.C. § 8347.

As of the 1980s, the annuity a part-time nurse would receive was pro-rated based on the percentage of part-time work she performed over the length of her career. See Pub. L. No. 96-330. On January 23, 2002, Congress passed subsection (c) of Pub. L. No. 107-135, Title I, § 132, 115 Stat. 2454 (2002) (the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs Enhancement Act, " Enhancement Act" or " Act" ), which directed that all part-time work performed by VA RNs prior to April 7, 1986, was to be credited as full-time service rather than part-time service, effectively increasing the annuity for a number of qualifying RNs.

OPM immediately began applying the Enhancement Act to RNs who retired after its effective date, that is, after January 23, 2002. Am. Compl. ¶ 6. However, the Enhancement Act did not explicitly state whether it was to be applied retroactively, that is, whether it applied to all RNs who performed part-time service prior to April 7, 1986, regardless of when they retired. OPM initially took the position that the Enhancement Act was not retroactive, and refused to apply it to RNs who had retired before January 23, 2002 and who sought recalculation of their benefits under the Act. See id.

In 2007, approximately 160 individuals whose requests for an Enhancement Act recalculation had been denied by OPM appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board (" MSPB" ). Id. ¶ ¶ 28-29. The MSPB consolidated those 160 appeals under the lead case of Lippman v. OPM, No. PH-0831-08-0212-I-1. Id. ¶ 31. On May 7, 2008, Administrative Judge Michael Rudisill in the Northeastern Regional Office of the MSPB issued an initial decision determining that Congress intended the Enhancement Act to be applied retroactively, i.e. to individuals who retired after April 7, 1986 and before January 23, 2002, and ordering OPM to recalculate the benefits of each of the claimants at the new Enhancement Act level, both for past and future payments. Id. ¶ ¶ 32-33. OPM requested reconsideration of Administrative Judge Rudisill's decision by a three-member panel of the MSPB, which reconsideration was declined. Id. ¶ 34, Ex. 1, ECF No. 81-1; see 5 C.F.R. § § 1201.113-15; 5 U.S.C. § 7701. As a result, the Lippman ...


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