- The state Court of Appeals has ruled that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools must contribute money to a state retirement fund for its campus police.
- CMS officers filed suit against the school system in 2019. Its court filings argued that Charlotte-Mecklenburg school officers are the only local police in North Carolina who do not receive the benefits.
- The unanimous Appeals Court panel rejected a separate argument that CMS needed to fund an officer's "special separation allowance." That allowance is set up in another part of state law not applicable to CMS police.
The state Court of Appeals has ruled that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools must pay into a state retirement fund for officers working for its campus police agency. The decision Tuesday reversed part of a lower court’s ruling against officers who filed suit against CMS in 2019.
The decision means the school system must pay 5% of the plaintiffs’ monthly compensation to the Supplemental Retirement Income Plan established in state law. But the unanimous appellate panel rejected a separate argument that a retired officer was entitled to a “special separation allowance” set up in another section of state law.
A 2009 state law allowed Charlotte-Mecklenburg to establish its own “campus police agency.”
“Plaintiffs contend the trial court erred in declaring they are not entitled to the Supplemental Retirement Income Plan under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-166.50(e),” wrote Judge Toby Hampson. “Defendant contends Plaintiffs are not entitled to this benefit because, consistent with the trial court’s conclusions, it is not an employer as contemplated by the statute as Plaintiffs should not be deemed law-enforcement employees of ‘a county, city, town or other political subdivision of the State.’”
But “our Courts have historically recognized local Boards of Education to be political subdivisions of the State,” Hampson added. “Thus, Defendant — a county board of education — is a political subdivision of the State. Therefore, Defendant falls under the definition of employer provided in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-166.50(a)(2). Consequently, the trial court erred in concluding Plaintiffs were not law-enforcement officers employed by a local government employer under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-166.50(e).”
Appellate judges also rejected the school board’s argument that its officers were ineligible for the retirement funding because they were not enrolled in the Local Government Employees Retirement System.
“[T]he plain language of subsection (e) contains no language limiting the supplemental benefits to only LGERS members,” Hampson wrote. “To the contrary, its plain language unequivocally provides: ‘As of January 1, 1986, all law-enforcement officers employed by a local government employer, are participating members of the Supplemental Retirement Income Plan as provided by Article 5 of Chapter 135 of the General Statutes.’ As such, Plaintiffs — law-enforcement officers — employed by Defendant — a local government employer — are participating members in the Supplemental Retirement Income Plan provided for by Article 5 of Chapter 135 of the General Statutes.”
“Plaintiffs are eligible for the Supplemental Retirement Income Plan provided for under Section 143-166.50(e), and Defendant is required to pay the 5% contribution under the statute,” Hampson added.
Appellate judges rejected the officers’ arguments in favor of the “special separation allowance.” “Here, unlike the Supplemental Retirement Income Plan, the Special Separation Allowance is expressly premised on membership in — and upon retirement from — LGERS.”
Officers involved in the suit are enrolled instead in a different retirement system, the Teachers and State Employees Retirement System.
Charlotte-based lawyer John Gresham explained the officers’ complaint in a February 2023 brief filed at the Appeals Court.
“After the Plaintiffs, experienced law enforcement officers, were employed on the CMS police force, they learned that CMS was not making the required contributions to the Supplemental Retirement Income Plan,” Gresham wrote. “Since 2015 the officers had sought this benefit to no avail.”
“In February of 2019 the Plaintiffs retained the undersigned counsel,” Gresham added. “Counsel then wrote to the school system’s general counsel and set out the statutory basis for the officers’ entitlement to the Supplemental Retirement Income Plan and for the retired officers the Special Separation Allowance. The general counsel failed to respond and, after a second letter to the general counsel which enclosed a draft complaint also failed to elicit a response, this lawsuit was filed.”
“CMS is the only police force in … North Carolina where the officers do not receive these benefits,” Gresham argued.
Judges Hunter Murphy and April Wood joined Hampson’s decision.