City of Miami Firefighters' and Police Officers' Retirement Trust & Plan, et al., Appellants,
Lieutenant Jorge Castro, et al., Appellees.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Appeals from a non-final order from the Circuit Court for
Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal Nos. 14-7987 & 14-7997
Michael A. Hanzman, Judge.
Klausner, Kaufman, Jensen & Levinson, and Robert D.
Klausner, Adam P. Levinson and Paul A. Daragjati
(Plantation), for appellants.
Sorondo Rosenberg Legal, PA, and R. Edward Rosenberg; The
Silverstein Firm, LLC, and Ira B. Silverstein (Philadelphia,
PA); James C. Blecke, for appellees.
LOGUE,  SCALES and LINDSEY, JJ.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court determined, as a matter of law, that
the two City of Miami retirement boards and their respective
boards of trustees were not protected by sovereign immunity
from the breach of contract claims brought by certain City
employees. 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. Thus, the retirement boards
and their trustees are sovereignly immune from the alleged
breach of contract claims.
consolidated appeal is from an amended order on a motion to
dismiss entered by the trial court on June 22, 2018. The
order was entered in two cases below which, for ease of
reference, we call the Castro case and the
Rodriguez case. The plaintiffs in the Castro
case (appellees here) are Lieutenant Jorge Castro and fellow
former and current City of Miami Police officers. The three
named defendants in the Castro case are: the City of
Miami Firefighters' and Police Officers' Retirement
Trust and Plan; the Board of Trustees of the City of Miami
Firefighters' and Police Officers' Retirement Trust;
and the City of Miami. The plaintiffs in the
Rodriguez case (also appellees here) are Jose
Rodriguez and fellow former and current City of Miami
civilian employees. The three named defendants in the
Rodriguez case are: the City of Miami Civil
Employees' and Sanitation Employees' Retirement Trust
and Plan; the Board of Trustees of the City of Miami Civil
Employees' and Sanitation Employees' Retirement
Trust; and the City of Miami. For the purposes of this
opinion, the retirement boards and trustee defendants in both
cases will be referred to collectively as "the Pension
Defendants," and the City of Miami will be referred to
as the "City."
Relevant Background Procedure and
plaintiffs in each case were eligible to receive retirement
benefits in accordance with the terms and conditions of their
retirement plans administered, managed and operated by the
Pension Defendants. Both retirement plans were created
pursuant to, and are memorialized within, city
retirement plan employed a pension administrator charged with
assisting his or her board in the performance of its duties.
Each retirement plan also offered participants a Deferred
Retirement Option Program ("DROP"). Once an
employee becomes eligible, he or she may enter DROP and, in
exchange for certain guaranteed lump sum and future payments,
the employee: (i) commits to retire within a specified time
period; and (ii) agrees that his or her contributions (and
the City's contributions) to the retirement plan will
cease and he or she will no longer earn creditable service
for pension purposes. So, upon entering DROP (an election
binding once made), the employee effectively retires for
pension purposes and each employee is obligated to cease work
on or before a specified future date.
28, 2010, the City declared "financial urgency" and
proposed adopting an ordinance that - as alleged by the
plaintiffs - threatened to adversely affect their vested
pension benefits. Ordinance No. 10-010-91 (hereinafter the
"Financial Urgency Ordinance") declaring the
financial urgency - which was to become effective September
30, 2010 - was passed on first reading on September 14, 2010,
and on second reading on September 27, 2010. In their
operative amended complaints, the plaintiffs alleged that, in
the months leading up to the Financial Urgency
Ordinance's effective date, rumors circulated concerning
the ordinance's impact on their future pensions, and it
became "common knowledge" that the only way an
employee could avoid a substantial diminution of benefits was
to retire or enter DROP prior to such effective date.
plaintiffs also alleged that: (i) the language of the
Financial Urgency Ordinance (and of certain disclosure
bulletins released by the City) was confusing; (ii) the
unions, Pension Defendants and the City all issued differing
and confusing interpretations of the Financial Urgency
Ordinance; and (iii) a state of "confusion, panic and
chaos" set in among the pension participants regarding
the effect of the Financial Urgency Ordinances on their
benefits. The plaintiffs alleged that they sought