Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
March 6, 1997
John R. Shears, Secretary
State Teachers' Retirement Board
21 Grand Street
Hartford, CT 06106
Dear Mr. Shears:
You requested an opinion of this office as to whether the State Teachers' Retirement Board [hereinafter Board] can pay increased benefits, resulting from an election of recalculated benefits under Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-183aa(g), retroactively to a date earlier than the date of the member's election. Our response is that up to three months of retroactive benefits can be paid based on the language 10-183aa(g) and that of Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-183g(g).
Section 10-183aa(g)1 permits a member of the Teachers' Retirement System to elect a recomputation of his or her disability retirement benefits to receive the benefits enacted by the General Assembly in Connecticut Public Act No. 79-541 (codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-183aa and 10-183bb). It applies to all members who were receiving disability benefits when Public Act No. 79-541 was passed.
The context of your inquiry concerns a member who elected recalculated benefits in 1994 and requested that this election be made retroactive to 1984. The basis for this request was financial hardship and the member's claim that she had suffered from a number of nervous problems since 1976. In response to this request, the Board applied Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-183g(g) and granted the member increased benefits for three months before the date of her election. However, the Board refused to make the election retroactive to 1984.
It is axiomatic that the goal of statutory interpretation is to determine the intent of the General Assembly in adopting the statute in question. Office of Consumer Counsel v. Department of Public Utility Control, 234 Conn. 624, 642 (1995). We first seek to determine that intent with reference to the actual language used in the legislation. Id.; State v. Cain, 223 Conn. 731, 744 (1992).
The language of Section 10-183aa(g), which creates the right to the election of recalculated benefits that is at issue here, is silent with regard to when that recalculation is effective. Therefore, we must look elsewhere, to other related statutes, to answer your inquiry.
You have stated that the Board applied Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-183g(g) regarding the recalculation request at issue here. That section reads, in full, as follows:
(g) Commencing date for payment. A member's complete formal application for retirement, if sent by mail, shall be deemed to have been filed with the board on the date such application is postmarked. No benefit computed under subsections (a) to (d), inclusive, of this section and under subsections (a) to (g), inclusive, of section 10-183aa shall become effective until the end of the calendar month of the filing by the member with the board of a complete formal application for retirement. Such benefit shall accrue from the first day of the month following such calendar month and payment of such benefit in equal monthly installments shall commence on the last day of the month in which such benefit begins to accrue. Upon a finding that extenuating circumstances relating to the health of a member caused a delay in the filing of the member's complete formal application, and such application is filed on or after July 1, 1986, the board may deem such application to have been filed up to three months earlier than the actual date of the filing.
Section 10-183g(g) specifically refers to Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-183aa(g), and provides that benefits under that section become effective at the end of the calendar month during which a member files an application.2 There is one exception to this requirement, however, when the Board finds that "extenuating circumstances relating to the health of a member caused a delay in filing." Under these circumstances, the Board may deem the application to have been filed up to three months earlier.
In the instant case, the Board made the finding required by section 10-183g(g) to award three months of retroactive payments. Therefore, these benefits were authorized by statute, and were the only retroactive payments permitted.
To summarize, the Teachers' Retirement Board may, when it finds "extenuating circumstances relating to the health of member" caused a delay in that member's filing of a request for recalculated benefits under section 10-183aa(g), award up to three months of retroactive recalculated benefits. However, there is no authority in the Teachers' Retirement Act for other retroactive payments.
Very truly yours,
Assistant Attorney General
1 Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-183aa(g) reads, in full, as follows:
(g) All members of the teachers' retirement system who are receiving disability payments under subsection (e) of section 10-183g of the general statutes, revision of 1958, revised to 1979, may, using a form provided by the board, elect to have their disability payments recomputed with regard to the percentage basis and pursuant to the provisions of this section and section 10-183bb. Such election shall not be revocable.
2 Section 10-183(g) refers to a "formal application for retirement." Although this is defined in section 10-183(b)(16) in a manner that might indicate it does not include the form required to effectuate an election of benefits pursuant to 10-183aa(g), this does not preclude our application of section 10-183g(g) to a section 10-183aa(g) recalculation of benefits. Section 10-183(b) does not mandate application of the definitions contained therein if "the context otherwise requires." Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-183b. Here the context does require that another definition of "formal application for retirement" apply in order to comply with rules of statutory construction. These rules dictate that "we presume that there is a purpose behind every sentence, clause, or phrase used in an act and that no part of a statute is superfluous." Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission v. Freedom of Information Commission, 233 Conn. 28, 42 (1995). If we were to interpret "formal application for retirement" to exclude the form referenced in Section 10-183aa(g), this would render the reference in section 10-183g(g) to that statute meaningless, because every provision of section 10-183g(g) references a "formal application for retirement." Therefore, "formal application for retirement" must be construed to include the section 10-183aa(g) election form.