Court lets pension change suit proceed

PROVIDENCE – The R.I. Supreme Court has declined to hear the state’s appeal of a Superior Court decision this fall in favor of labor unions challenging changes made to the state pension system in 2009.

The court’s decision not to hear the appeal denies one way the state government, the defendant in the case, had hoped to have the union’s lawsuit thrown out.

The decision means the case will return to Superior Court, where Judge Sarah Taft-Carter in September ruled that benefits the state has promised workers in the retirement system constitute contractual obligations.

In the case, known as Rhode Island Council 94 v. Chafee, the unions have argued that the General Assembly’s amendments to the pension law in 2009 represent a breach of contract.

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The case has been closely watched not only for its potential effect on the 2009 pension changes, but also the implications for expected legal challenges to the sweeping pension reform bill passed this month.

In the announcement Tuesday afternoon that it would not hear the appeal, the Supreme Court did not provide an explanation for why it was returning the case to the lower court.

The announcement noted that its decision “was an intermediate step involving just one question posed in the overall lawsuit.”

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