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Blake v. St. Johns River Power Park System Employees' Retirement Plan
Florida Court of Appeals, First District
July 9, 2019
Randall Blake, James Bradford, Robert Bunn, Mark Carroll, Donald Cheatham, Kyle E. Doran, Roger Emery, Robert Gher, Larry Gochnour, Mark S. Gray, Larry Green, James Jackson, George Jarnutowski, Lyndon Johnson, Kevin Scott Lagow, Roy Lawrence, Thomas Gary Lee, Robert Lemay, Mason Logan, Clyde Lowe, James T. McDaniel, Penny McGuire, Barry Form Morgan, Alyson Cobb Morgan, Charles Newton, Francis Robert Neyer, Bruce Nicewander, Beverly Oakes, William Alan Page, Sharon Patterson, Robert Recker, Joe Rouse, Lloyd Sanders, Marvin Tom Scarborough, Paul Smith, Robert Spittler, Jerry Stapleton, Carol Stevens, Art Wallace, Winston Wayne Walters, Barbara Whitaker, and Mark Wright, Petitioners,
St. Johns River Power Park System Employees' Retirement Plan, Respondent.
final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion
under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.
Petition for Writ of Certiorari-Original Jurisdiction.
A. "Tad" Delegal, III, and James C. Poindexter of
Delegal Law Offices, P.A., Jacksonville, for Petitioners
A. Laquidara and Allison M. Stocker of Akerman LLP,
Jacksonville, for Respondent.
seek review of an order of the circuit court, which while
sitting as an appellate court exercising certiorari review,
denied Petitioners relief from a local administrative action
impacting their retirement benefits. Constrained by the
narrow standard of review applicable to second-tier
certiorari, we deny the petition.
and Procedural History
are retirees who were employed by the St. Johns River Power
Park and are members of the St. Johns River Power Park
Employees' Retirement Plan ("Respondent" or the
"Plan"). Petitioners retired on various dates over
a thirteen-year period beginning in 2003 and began receiving
pension benefits from Respondent. In 2015, during a required
Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") review of the
Plan, Respondent determined that its actuaries had
miscalculated some retirees' benefits on an ongoing basis
for thirteen years. Respondent concluded that the
miscalculation resulted in Petitioners' being paid more
benefits than they were entitled to under the Plan. Upon
discovering the error, Respondent provided a submission
("Corrective Action") to the IRS Voluntary
Correction Program indicating that it planned to take
corrective action by recouping the overpayments, including
five percent interest, and adjusting Petitioners' future
benefits accordingly. Through its application to the IRS,
Respondent requested that the IRS issue a compliance
statement approving its proposed Corrective Action. The IRS
approved the Corrective Action and issued a signed compliance
statement. Respondent then sent letters to Petitioners
notifying them of its error and outlining their options for
repaying the overpayment.
requested and received a hearing before the committee charged
with managing and administering the Plan (the
"Committee") to contest the Corrective Action.
Petitioners argued that Respondent was barred from taking the
Corrective Action under the doctrine of equitable estoppel.
Through sworn affidavits, Petitioners contended that they
relied on Respondent's representations in deciding to
retire on the dates elected, rather than later dates when
they would have received higher benefits. Counsel
representing the Committee's initial decision to recoup
the overpayments argued that Petitioners were not entitled to
the money and that the IRS requires recoupment in such
circumstances for the Plan to keep its tax-qualified status.
Committee issued its final decision denying Petitioners'
appeal and requiring repayment of the overpayments, plus
interest. In rendering its unanimous decision, the
Committee's order stated that it considered the
"affidavits and retirement files on the part of
[Petitioners] and written and oral legal submissions and
argument with regard to [their] position." The Committee
provided the following reasons for the denial of
1. [Petitioners] have been overpaid and have received
benefits not authorized or contemplated by the Plan.
Accordingly, they must return those benefits. There is
neither a hardship exception, nor, the Committee determined,
evidence of such a hardship even if there were such an
exception for any of the Members . . . .
2. Plan section 10.15 provides that any overpayment due to
the Plan's trust fund shall be subject to five (5%)
3. Plan section 7.06(2) requires all actions of the Committee
to be uniform and nondiscriminatory, and other Plan
participants have been assessed the interest charge.
4. A failure to follow the governing Plan document's
terms would not comply with federal tax requirements and
therefore would jeopardize the tax-qualified status of the
Plan, with adverse tax consequences to ...