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Judge rules retired police, fire employees due damages for pension changes

A Baltimore judge ruled that retired and retirement-eligible police and firefighters are entitled to damages for the changes the city made to their pension system that eliminated a benefit.

The local unions announced the decision Monday, saying in summary that the retirees “won” while the active members “lost” but adding that their attorneys were still reviewing the 150-page opinion issued by Baltimore City Circuit Judge Julie R. Rubin.

A copy of the opinion was not immediately available.

Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said that he was still reviewing the opinion Monday afternoon but that the city was pleased Rubin ruled in its favor on active employees, calling that part of the opinion “a very big win for the city.”

The case has been in litigation since 2010, when the city revised the Fire and Police Employees’ Retirement System to do away with a variable benefit that increased as the market thrived but made no provision for reduction when the market struggled. The city claimed eliminating the benefit was necessary for the plan to survive and replaced the variable benefit with a tiered cost-of-living adjustment.

Rubin ruled last year that the city breached its contract with retired police and fire employees because it “retrospectively diminished” their benefits. She did not find at that time that the changes breached the city’s contract with active members not eligible to retire.

Final arguments in the litigation were presented in January and, according to the unions’ statement, Rubin certified a class of affected members and will use the city’s formula to calculate damages.

Davis said earlier this year that the city would appeal the judge’s decision that found the change was a breach of contract unless she reconsidered that determination. On Monday, Davis said his position on appealing the earlier ruling stands.

A federal case challenging the city’s actions as constitutional violations has been on hold while Rubin ruled on the state law claims, but a judge reopened the case in January as it appeared the state litigation was winding down.

A spokeswoman for Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP in Baltimore, attorneys for the plaintiffs, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The case is Robert F. Cherry Jr. et al. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore City, 24C16004670.

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