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Hall employees ask Georgia Supreme Court to hear $75 million pension case
Hall County Government Center

The current and former Hall County employees in an estimated $75 million class-action lawsuit concerning county pension benefits are asking the Georgia Supreme Court to hear their case.

The lawsuit, which was first filed in January 2017, alleged that Hall County improperly froze contributions to the employees’ retirement plans.

In petitioning the Georgia Supreme Court, the employees’ attorney Michael Kramer and his co-counsel said the case “presents matters of great concern, gravity and importance to the public.”

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“Primarily, the issue for which (the) petitioners seek (the court to hear the case) involves an unsettled question under Georgia law on a matter that impacts hundreds of thousands of county employee pensioners whose benefits may have been frozen at some point and styled as an ‘amendment,’ rather than a plan termination triggering due process,” the plaintiffs’ petition says.

The employees got a win in a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling Nov. 3 that voided part of a decision that favored the county.

Bill Buechner, who is one of the lead attorneys representing the county, declined to comment Friday, Dec. 11.

The employees submitted a petition for certiorari Dec. 8, a request for the Georgia Supreme Court to review the case with oral argument and written briefs.

“While the Georgia Court of Appeals did remand the case in favor of (the employees) back to Hall County Superior Court for trial proceedings, we believe the Georgia Supreme Court should decide the entire case as a matter of law in favor of the plaintiff employees of Hall County,” Kramer wrote in an email.

Both sides have filed motions in the past for summary judgment, which asks a judge to decide on the merits of the case rather than let the case go to a jury.

Judge Martha Christian, who heard the case in Hall County Superior Court in May 2019, after all of the other judges recused themselves, granted summary judgment to the county government and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

The appellate court sent the case back to Hall County in light of an October 2019 Georgia Supreme Court decision concerning DeKalb County employees suing the school district and county board of education about their tax-sheltered annuity plan.

According to the Georgia Supreme Court, the DeKalb employees held that there needed to be two years advance notice prior to suspending contributions, and the court agreed the notice was part of the employees’ contracts.

In their petition, the Hall County employees claim the appellate court did not decide “whether or not a permanent freeze constituted a termination.”

The Hall County employees’ petition argues that allowing counties to call it a “plan freeze by amendment,” instead of a plan termination “would be a blank check for counties to deny due process when they eliminate benefits and adopt new, fundamentally different plans with no county contribution, by just calling the entirely new, truncated plan an ‘amendment.’”

There is no strict timeline for the Georgia Supreme Court justices to decide if they will hear the case.