Sheetz v. Town of Windham
When the phrase "normal retirement date" in a collective bargaining contract is susceptible to differing interpretations, summary judgment may not be appropriate. In 2006, a municipal worker, John Sheetz, allegedly consulted with a municipal controller, Robert Buden, about his eligibility for pension benefits, if he retired at age 42, after 20 years of service. Buden allegedly informed Sheetz that if Sheetz retired he would be eligible for pension benefits in 2011, which was the 25th anniversary of his date of hire. Sheetz retired and moved to Maine. After he retired, the municipality allegedly informed Sheetz he would not be eligible for pension benefits until 2024, when he reaches 60 years old. Sheetz sued the municipality, alleging breach of contract. The municipality offered the affidavit of a former controller, Katherine Maxwell, who denied that the union negotiated to provide pension benefits to firefighters on the 25th anniversaries of their dates of hire. Maxwell indicated that if the union had negotiated this provision, the municipality would have requested that actuaries compute the costs, and that the municipality rejected a 1989 proposal to permit elective retirement after 20 years of service. The 1989 proposal went to arbitration, and arbitrators ruled in favor of the municipality. The collective bargaining contract provides, "Any permanent member of the Fire Department, upon having reached the age of sixty years, shall automatically be retired." The contract adds, "Any permanent member of the fire department, regardless of age, who has completed twenty-five (25) or more years of continuous permanent service shall, upon receipt of his/her written application by the Board of Trustees, be retired." There was a genuine issue of material fact concerning the definition of "normal retirement date" in the collective bargaining contract. The court denied Sheetz's motion for summary judgment on his breach-of-contract count. Sheetz also alleged the municipality was estopped, because Sheetz consulted with Buden about his eligibility for pension benefits, before retiring. The court found that Buden lacked authority to either bind the municipality or to modify the collective bargaining contract. The court granted the municipality's motion for summary judgment on Sheetz's promissory estoppel count.