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State v. Public Employees Retirement Board

November 22, 1995

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, EX REL., ATTORNEY GENERAL TOM UDALL, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT BOARD, AND EACH MEMBER OF THE BOARD IN HIS OR HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY, BEN D. ALTAMIRANO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-PETITIONERS.



ORIGINAL PROCEEDING ON CERTIORARI. Joe Cruz Castellano, District Judge.

Released for Publication December 8, 1995.

Stanley F. Frost, Justice. Joseph F. Baca, Chief Justice, Richard E. Ransom, Justice, Gene E. Franchini, Justice, concur. Pamela B. Minzner, Justice, not participating.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frost

FROST, Justice.

Defendants-Petitioners appeal from the Court of Appeals decision finding the Legislative Retirement Plan, NMSA 1978, §§ 10-11-39 to -43 (Repl. Pamp. 1992), unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals held that legislative retirement benefits constituted compensation in violation of Article IV, Section 10 of the New Mexico Constitution, which proscribes payment of any other compensation to legislators beyond their per diem and mileage allowance. State ex rel. Udall v. Public Employees Retirement Bd., 118 N.M. 507, 511, 882 P.2d 548, 552 (Ct. App. 1994). Weissueda writ of certiorari, see NMSA 1978, § 34-5-14(B)(3) (Repl. Pamp. 1990) (significant question of constitutional law), and we now reverse.

I. FACTS

In 1963 the Legislature enacted the Legislative Retirement Plan (Plan). 1963 N.M. Laws, ch. 101, § 1 (codified as amended NMSA 1978, §§ 10-11-39 to -43 (Repl. Pamp. 1992)). The current version of the Plan requires that a legislator contribute $100 per year in order to earn service credits and receive benefits. Section 10-11-42. Participation in the Plan is voluntary. Section 10-11-3(B)(1), (2). Upon retirement, a legislator is entitled to receive an annual retirement benefit of $250 multiplied by the number of years of acquired earned-service credits, if the legislator served after December 31, 1959. *fn1 Section 10-11-41(A). A legislator must acquire at least five years of earned service credits in order to be eligible for the benefits and must meet specific age requirements based on the number of years served. Section 10-11-40. Therefore, a legislator who serves only a single term is not eligible to receive retirement benefits under the Plan. *fn2

The New Mexico Constitution provides:

Each member of the legislature shall receive:

A. as per diem expense the sum of not more than seventy-five dollars ($75.00) for each day's attendance during each session, as provided by law, and twenty-five cents ($.25) for each mile traveled in going to and returning from the seat of government by the usual traveled route, once each session as defined by Article 4, Section 5 of this constitution;

B. per diem expense and mileage at the same rates as provided in Subsection A of this section for service at meetings required by legislative committees established by the legislature to meet in the interim between sessions; and

C. no other compensation, perquisite or allowance.

N.M. Const. art. IV, § 10. Although the per diem and mileage allowances have periodically been increased, the prohibition against receiving other compensation has remained unchanged since its initial adoption by the framers of our Constitution in 1911.

The constitutionality of the Plan was first challenged by a group of taxpayers in 1976. However, the suit was dismissed for lack of standing. Eastham v. Public Employees' Retirement Ass'n Bd., 89 N.M. 399, 406, 553 P.2d 679, 686 (1976). In 1987 the Attorney General commenced this action against the Public Employees Retirement Board (PERB) and various current and former members of the Legislature who participated in the Plan. The Attorney General argued that the Plan violated Article IV, Section 10 of the New Mexico Constitution and sought injunctive relief both barring future payments by PERB under the Plan and requiring repayment of disbursements already made to retired legislators.

In 1988 the district court held the Plan unconstitutional and ordered PERB to stop making payments to retired legislators under the Plan. Several defendants appealed from the order. The Court of Appeals, however, dismissed the appeal on the ground that the trial court's order was not a final, appealable order because it did not resolve the Attorney General's claim for restitution of payments already made and the Court remanded the case. Prior to the remand, however, a new district Judge had succeeded the Judge who originally issued the order. On remand, the successor district Judge vacated the original order because the Attorney General had failed to join certain indispensable parties. The Judge allowed the joinder of the additional parties and, in 1993, issued a new order ruling that the Plan was constitutional.

The Attorney General appealed both the decision to vacate the 1988 order and the subsequent ruling that the Plan was constitutional. The Court of Appeals upheld the district court's authority to vacate the 1988 order but reversed the court's holding on the constitutionality of the Plan. Udall, 118 N.M. at 511, 882 P.2d at 552. The legislators participating in the Plan then filed a petition for writ of certiorari challenging the Court of Appeals' Conclusion that the Plan was unconstitutional. We granted the petition and issued the writ of certiorari to review the constitutional issue. State ex rel. Udall v. Public Employees Retirement Bd., 118 N.M. 695, 884 P.2d 1174 (1994).

II. DISCUSSION

As we noted in Espanola Housing Authority v. Atencio, 90 N.M. 787, 788, 568 P.2d 1233, 1234 (1977), "It is well settled that there is a presumption of the validity and regularity of legislative enactments." Indeed, we must uphold such enactments unless we are satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the Legislature went outside the bounds fixed by the Constitution in enacting the challenged legislation. Id.; State v. Ball, 104 N.M. 176, 178, 718 P.2d 686, 688 (1986); State v. Trivitt, 89 N.M. 162, 167, 548 P.2d 442, 447, (1976); City of Raton v. Sproule, 78 N.M. 138, 142, 429 P.2d 336, 340 (1967). *fn3 It is not the province of this Court to inquire into the wisdom or ...


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