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05/31/83 WILL TERRY ABERNATHY v. TENNESSEE

May 31, 1983

WILL TERRY ABERNATHY, NOEL R. BAGWELL AND HENRY F. SWANN, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE TENNESSEE CONSOLIDATED RETIREMENT SYSTEM AND WILLIAM M. LEECH, JR., ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Brock, Justice wrote the opinion. Cooper, Harbison and Drowota, JJ., and Humphreys, Special Justice, concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brock

BROCK, Justice.

This is a declaratory judgment action brought by retired District Attorneys General to determine certain points of law respecting their retirement benefits. They are dissatisfied with the decree of the Chancellor and have appealed.

In 1953, the Attorneys General Retirement System was enacted by the legislature pursuant to T.C.A. §§ 8-618 through 8-622. *fn1 Under that system, "benefit base" is defined as follows:

"'Benefit base' means a sum equal to the annual salary the retired attorney general would have received had he continued in the position from which he retired." T.C.A., § 8-618(4).

Prior to 1972, the Attorneys General Retirement System was just one of many separate retirement systems created by statute pertaining to state employees and officials. These systems were separate as to membership, benefits and coverage.

In 1972, by Chapter 814 of the Public Acts of 1972, the General Assembly merged the separate retirement systems into the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (hereinafter referred to as TCRS). That enactment not only transferred members and beneficiaries from the previously established separate retirement systems to the TCRS, but, subject to certain limitations, it also repealed the former statutes that had created those systems. One such limitation provides as follows:

"Any prior class member shall be entitled to benefits under the retirement system determined in accordance with the provisions of the superseded system of which he shall have been a member, as in effect on July 1, 1972,...." T.C.A., § 8-3935(4) (presently codified at T.C.A., § 8-34-703).

Therefore, the rights to benefits that had vested prior to implementation of the TCRS were preserved inviolate.

The appellants are former district attorneys general, all of whom retired on or before August 31, 1974. They have elected to have their retirement benefits computed in accordance with the provisions of the superseded Attorneys General Retirement System as it existed prior to July 1, 1972, when the TCRS was established.

When the appellants retired the statute providing compensation for active district attorneys general contained an escalator clause, as follows:

"On July 1, 1975, with respect to the compensations or allowances fixed in Subsections (b), (c) and (e) of Section 3-114, in Sections 3-115, 8-101, 8-705, and in this section, the compensation or allowance provided in each such section or subsection shall be adjusted to reflect the per cent of change in the average consumer price index (all items -- city average) as published by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, between that figure for the calendar year 1974 and the calendar year 1973. Each succeeding July 1, a similar adjustment shall be made, based on the per cent of change in the average consumer price index between the two (2) calendar years preceding July 1 of the year in which the adjustment is made. However, no reduction shall be made by way of adjustment on account of any decrease in the average consumer price index between two (2) successive calendar years. No adjustment based on the per cent of change in the state's per capita personal income from year to year shall be made after July 1, 1974." T.C.A., § 8-23-101(d)(3).

In 1977 the compensation statute for active district attorneys general was amended, to wit:

"No annual adjustment as provided in this subsection shall be made after July 1, 1978, with respect to the base salaries as adjusted fixed for major state officials by subsections (b) and (c) of this section, nor after July 1, 1978, with respect to the base salaries and allowances as adjusted of district ...


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