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State ex rel. O'Grady v. Griffing

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District

June 24, 2013

STATE OF OHIO ex rel. LOUISE O'GRADY, Relator,
v.
DAVID GRIFFING, AUDITOR, Respondent.

Original Action for Writ of Mandamus.

John B. Juhasz, (For Relator).

Thomas J. Wilson, Comstock, Springer & Wilson Co., L.P.A., (For Respondent).

OPINION

PER CURIAM

{¶1} This original action is before the court for final disposition based on the parties' stipulations, exhibits, submitted testimony, and written arguments. Relator, Louise O'Grady, n.k.a. Rowland, is employed as a bailiff/deputy bailiff at the Warren Municipal Court. She made application with the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System ("OPERS") to commence receiving her vested statutory retirement benefits effective December 31, 2010. This process required certification by the fiscal officer of the city of Warren of Ms. O'Grady's final payroll as of that date. We are faced with the narrow question of whether respondent, David Griffing, auditor for the city of Warren, may refuse to complete the task of certifying Ms. O'Grady's final payroll based on the fact that there was no break in her service at the court. We answer the question in the negative and hold that Ms. O'Grady is entitled to a writ of mandamus ordering Mr. Griffing to certify her final payroll with the final earnable salary date as requested (Form SRF-85) and to submit the form to OPERS.

{¶2} The amended arguments before this court indicate Mr. Griffing previously refused to certify Ms. O'Grady's final payroll because she maintained her employment without break in service following her submitted final earnable salary date. However, Ms. O'Grady, based on her age and years of service, has certain vested statutory benefits to which she is entitled. She is permitted to exercise her right to receive those benefits at any time following the qualifying events based on age and duration of service. How those benefits will be received, when those benefits will commence, and in what amount, are matters between Ms. O'Grady and OPERS. Mr. Griffing, as the city auditor, has provided no authority that would allow him to independently assess Ms. O'Grady's eligibility to receive her retirement and, similarly, no authority to determine when Ms. O'Grady's vested statutory retirement benefits will commence. In failing to certify Ms. O'Grady's final payroll, Mr. Griffing essentially made a determination as to when Ms. O'Grady could redeem her vested benefits. As fully set forth below, respondent's motion to dismiss is denied, and relator is entitled to the entry of final judgment in her favor.

{¶3} The submitted stipulations of fact indicate the relevant factual foundation of this action is fairly straightforward. Ms. O'Grady serves as bailiff/deputy bailiff to Judge Thomas P. Gysegem in the Warren Municipal Court. Mr. Griffing serves as Auditor and Chief Fiscal Officer for the city of Warren. On November 29, 2010, Judge Gysegem notified Warren Municipal Court Clerk of Court Margaret M. Scott that Ms. O'Grady intended to take her retirement and remain in her current position:

Please be advised as of December 31, 2010, Louise L. O'Grady, who has thirty-one (31) years in the PERS system is going to take her PERS Retirement. Louise will remain as a court employee in her present position as my Secretary/Deputy Bailiff indefinitely from that point on. She will not be taking any time off during this changeover. Please make any necessary personnel record adjustments reflecting that fact.

{¶4} Following this correspondence, Judge Gysegem issued two judgment entries: a December 8, 2010 entry appointing Ms. O'Grady as a bailiff/deputy bailiff, effective December 8, 2010; and a December 21, 2010 entry again appointing Ms. O'Grady to the bailiff/deputy bailiff position, with the new effective date of January 1, 2011. During this same period of time, Ms. O'Grady made application with OPERS to commence receipt of her vested statutory benefits.

{¶5} In order for an employee's benefit amount to be properly calculated, OPERS must receive certification of that employee's final payroll from the appropriate fiscal officer: in this case, the city of Warren Auditor (Form SRF-85). If that employee continues employment after her final earnable salary date with a qualifying public employer, as in the case sub judice, she must also complete a "Notice of Reemployment of an OPERS Benefit Recipient" (Form SR-6).

{¶6} Thus, Ms. O'Grady submitted the date of December 31, 2010, as her final earnable salary date and January 31, 2011, as her final reporting period end date. She prepared a traditional pension plan retirement application, and in anticipation of continuing employment following commencement of the benefits receipt period, she completed the "Notice of Re-employment of an OPERS Benefit Recipient." However, Mr. Griffing ultimately refused to certify Ms. O'Grady's final payroll, deleting the submitted dates while noting the certification was "premature."

{¶7} On March 1, 2011, OPERS sent Mr. Griffing the following correspondence, stating in part:

We received the above member's electronic Certification of Employee's Final Payrolls (Form [SR]F-85) on February 22, 2011. However, this certification is invalid because you did not provide a service termination date and your comment stated that it is premature in submitting certification.
Please void this certification and re-submit a new electronic [SR]F-85 form as soon as possible with Ms. O'Grady's Final Earnable ...

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