Ramsey County Lawsuit says new law violates disability pay for disabled first responders

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An organization that represents police, firefighters, paramedics, corrections workers and other first responders disabled in the line of duty has filed a lawsuit against the state’s public pension system, the Public Employees Retirement Association, or PERA, over a new law that it says will heavily impact its members’ pension benefits and eligibility requirements.

The lawsuit was filed within the past week in Ramsey County District Court by attorney Marshall Tanick of the Minneapolis law firm Meyer Njus Tanick. The state has filed a motion to have the requested injunction dismissed.

The crux of the new law requires disabled first responders to be recertified as occupationally disabled each year by a medical doctor or Ph.D.-level psychologist, rather than a therapist or another mid-level medical provider. Law enforcement in general has seen an uptick in officers claiming post-traumatic stress disorder following racially-tinged riots after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer. The new law takes effect Jan. 1.

In its legal complaint, the Minnesota Duty Disabled Association contends that in an additional provision, disabled first responders under age 55 who resume working in jobs outside of law enforcement and emergency response are being penalized for their new earnings. If their new income is more than their previous income, a formula has long created an offset, or reduction, in their disability pay. That offset is about to increase, in some cases to such a degree that it wipes out their disability pay entirely.

“They’ve moved the goalposts. The offset comes in earlier,” said Tanick, in an interview. “The formula has been changed to effectively mean than for almost everybody earning additional income under age 55, the disability payment will be reduced more than it is now, or eliminated altogether.”

“We’re not maintaining that the state can’t change benefits,” Tanick added. “We’re saying it’s unlawful to retroactively change benefits for people (protected under an existing contract).”

Tanick said while the MNDDA represents some 170 members, hundreds more will be impacted detrimentally by the legal changes to pension payment offsets for re-employment earnings. He’s questioned whether the law is constitutional under the state Constitution, which mirrors language in the federal Constitution against retroactively impairing legal contracts.

A hearing on Tanick’s requested injunction intended to suspend the law from taking effect is scheduled before Judge Timothy Mulrooney on Nov. 16. A motion hearing on the state’s request to dismiss the case entirely is scheduled for Jan. 29.

The law, HF 1234, had 11 Democratic-Farmer-Labor authors in the House and one DFL author in the Senate. It was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz, a DFLer, on May 19.

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