Russo v. City of Waterbury
If there is a conflict between a provision of the city charter and the bargaining agreement, the terms of the bargaining agreement controls. Citing §2761 of the 1967 city charter, the city of Waterbury offset the pension benefits of various police officers and firefighters and their surviving spouses by the heart and hypertension benefits they received pursuant to C.G.S. §7-433c. The plaintiffs, including Eugene Coyle and Nicholas Russo, filed this action against the city, its retirement board and other personnel, alleging breach of contract, a due process violation and that the offset was barred by the doctrine of equitable estoppel due to the defendants' historic failure to apply it. Following a court trial, the court found for the plaintiffs on their breach of contract claims alone. The defendants appealed and certain plaintiffs cross-appealed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment in part, directed judgment for the defendants on all claims except Russo's claim for breach of contract. The collective bargaining agreement applicable to Russo expressly allowed an offset if the combined total of pension and heart and hypertension benefits exceeded the maximum amount of the pension awardable under the bargaining agreement. Without making any such finding on whether the combined total exceeded the maximum amount, the trial court concluded that the offset constituted a breach of contract. That judgment was reversed and the case remanded for a new trial on Russo's claim to make such findings. Otherwise, no conflict existed between the offset provisions in §2761 of the city charter and the bargaining agreements governing the pensions of the plaintiffs, Coyle, Delores Acas, Paul Salvatore and Cecile Lynch. The city did not breach those bargaining agreements by applying the city charter offset to the pensions provided in those bargaining agreements. A comparison of the pension formula provisions in the bargaining agreements with those in the pre-existing city charter revealed that the charter uses the same mandatory language to characterize the pension formulas, language that, when read consistently with §2761 of the city charter could not reasonably be interpreted to preclude a pension offset. Instead, a comparison of the provisions revealed that the bargaining agreements simply superseded the charter's pension formula provisions by providing more favorable formulas. Nothing in the bargaining agreement's language precluded the application of the offset provision.