Florida Record

Friday, April 3, 2020

Appeals court rules Miami city employees can't claim breach of contract against retirement trusts

State Court

By Marian Johns | Oct 1, 2019


MIAMI — Florida's Third District Court of Appeal has ruled the city of Miami, its firefighter and police retirement trust and its board of trustees have sovereign immunity from the breach of contract claims filed by former and current city employees who allege an ordinance passed in 2010, threatened their vested pension benefits.

According to the Sept. 18 ruling, the appeals court reversed a trial court's ruling that the defendants in two separate cases, which the court consolidated for appeal, were not entitled to sovereign immunity. The plaintiffs in the cases are current and former Miami police officers and city of Miami civilian employees. The defendants include the city of Miami Firefighters' and Police Officers' Retirement Trust and Plan, its board of trustees and the City of Miami Civil Employees' and Sanitation Employees' Retirement Trust and Plan and its board of trustees. 

"We reverse because the subject pension ordinances, relied upon by the trial court in determining that the defendants owed contractual duties to the plaintiffs, do not impose the express contractual obligations that the plaintiffs alleged were breached," Judge Edwin Scales wrote in the court's decision. "Thus, the retirement boards and their trustees are sovereignly immune from the alleged breach of contract claims."

The plaintiffs alleged they were given "incorrect advice" regarding entering the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) relating to the city's passage of a "financial urgency" ordinance and told they would get a reduction in their pension benefits if they did not retire or enter DROP, according to the district court filing. 

"The alleged poor advice given by the pension defendants’ employees to the plaintiffs, and the pension defendants’ declining to allow the plaintiffs to revoke their DROP elections made as a result of such advice, do not constitute a breach of any express contractual duty imposed on the pension defendants by the pension ordinances," Scales wrote.  "The plaintiffs, therefore, have not stated causes of action for breach of contract for which the Pension Defendants have waived sovereign immunity."

The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys R. Edward Rosenberg of Sorondo Rosenberg Legal PA, Ira Silverstein of The Silverstein Firm, LLC and James Blecke. 

The defendants were represented by attorneys Robert Klausner and Adam Levinson of Klausner, Kaufman, Jensen & Levinson and Paul Daragjati. 

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Florida Third District Court of Appeal