IDAHO RETIRED FIREFIGHTERS ASSOCIATION, SHARON KOELLING, and JOHN ANDERSON, Claimants-Appellants,
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT BOARD, Defendant-Respondent.
from the Industrial Commission of the State of Idaho.
Chairman Thomas E. Limbaugh, presiding.
decision of the Industrial Commission is vacated for lack of
Herzfeld & Piotrowski, PLLC, Boise, for appellant. James
Attorney General's office, Boise, for respondent. Steven
L. Olsen argued.
case involves a dispute over how the Idaho Public Employee
Retirement Board (the Board) calculates the annual cost of
living adjustment (COLA) for retirees who are participants in
the Firemen's Retirement Fund (FRF). The Idaho Industrial
Commission (the Commission) held that the definition of paid
firefighter includes part-time firefighters. The effect of the
Commission's decision results in a smaller annual COLA
for retired firefighters. On appeal, the Idaho Retired
Firefighters Association (the Association), and Sharon
Koelling and John Anderson (Koelling and Anderson will be
collectively referred to as the "Individual
Claimants"), allege that the Board's inclusion of
part-time firefighters violates statutory and constitutional
provisions. The Association and the Individual Claimants seek
a ruling from this Court reversing the Commission's
decision. In its place, they seek a ruling that would exclude
part-time firefighters from the Board's annual COLA
calculations, the effect of which would be an increase in the
annual COLA applicable to retired firefighters. For the
reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the
Commission's decision because we conclude it lacked the
necessary jurisdiction to decide the question presented to
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The FRF system and the annual COLA calculations.
1945, the Idaho Legislature created the FRF to provide
pension and disability benefits to Idaho firefighters. The
Legislature codified the FRF in Title 72, Chapter 14. From
1945 until 1980, the State Insurance Fund administered the
1976, the Legislature passed Idaho Code section 72-1432B (now
Idaho Code section 72-1471) to provide for an annual COLA for
FRF beneficiaries. Idaho Code section 72-1471 states that the
annual COLA is to be "calculated on the percentage
increase or decrease in the average paid
firefighter's salary or wage." (Italics added.)
during the 1976 Session, the Legislature amended the
definition of "paid firefighter." 1976 Idaho Sess.
Laws 922. The definition was changed to the following:
The words "paid fireman" are synonymous with
"paid firefighter," and mean any individual, male
or female, excluding office secretaries employed after July
1, 1967, who is on the payroll of any city or fire district
in the state of Idaho prior to October 1, 1980, and who
devotes his or her principal time of employment to the care,
operation, maintenance or the requirements of a regularly
constituted fire department of such city or fire district in
the state of Idaho.
Id. This definition has not changed since 1980. 1980
Idaho Sess. Laws 82 (codified at I.C. § 72-1403(A)).
1979, the Legislature transferred all of the assets and
administration of the FRF to the Public Employee Retirement
System of Idaho (PERSI), which is administered by the Board.
I.C. § 59-1305 ("The board shall have the power and
duty . . . of managing the system."). The transfer was
effective October 1, 1980. The Legislature adopted Idaho Code
sections 59-1351 to 59-1392 (the legislation governing the
FRF now extends to Idaho Code section 59-1399) to implement
the transfer of the administration of the FRF to the Board.
In 1984, the Legislature amended the definition of "paid
fireman" in section 59-1391(f) to match much of the
definition in section 72-1403(A) but omitted any kind of date
restriction and the clarification that "paid
fireman" was synonymous with firefighter. 1984 Idaho
Sess. Laws 319. The Board has set the FRF's annual COLA
Association is a nonprofit entity, which was formed to
monitor pension and retirement benefits for retired
firefighters in Idaho. The Association meets with the Board
regularly, tracks the annual COLA, and advocates (and now
litigates) on behalf of its members.
fall of 2009, at the annual meeting of the Board and the
Association, the Association's representative voiced
concerns about the hiring of more reserve or part-time
firefighters by the Lewiston Fire Department. The
Association's concern was that inclusion of these reserve
firefighters in the annual COLA calculation would reduce the
calculation to the detriment of the Association's
members. Based on the Association's concerns, PERSI's
executive director, ordered an audit of the City of
Lewiston's contributions to PERSI as it related to the
FRF. The PERSI audit determined that there were inaccuracies
in Lewiston's monthly reports. As a result, the Board
made corrections based on its determination that Lewiston had
not been correctly reporting its contributions to PERSI.