Does the Two Year Statute of Limitations In the Public School Employees Retirement Code Violate An Individual's Right to Equal Protection ?
In Burns v. Public School Employees' Retirement Board, 853 A.2d 1146 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2004), Mr. Burns, a teacher who had multiple sclerosis, retired in 1999.
A few months before he retired, Mr. Burns met with a disability counselor and he partially filled out a disability annuity application.
However, for some reason Mr. Burns never completed the application and never returned it to Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS).
After more than two years had passed, Mr. Burns returned to the retirement counselor and was informed that he was not eligible for a disability annuity because he did not return his application within two years of his last contribution to PSERS as required by the Public School Employees Retirement Code.
On appeal, Mr. Burns argued that the two-year statute of limitations violated his right to equal protection.
The Court stated that:
To be sustained on equal protection grounds, a limitation period must be both: 1) sufficiently long in duration to present a reasonable opportunity for those with an interest to assert the claim; and 2) be substantially related to the Commonwealth's interest in avoiding litigating stale or fraudulent claims. Astemborski v. Susmarski, 502 Pa. 409, 466 A.2d 1018 (1983).
Statutes of limitation pertain to remedies and do not impair fundamental rights. Noetzel v. Glasgow, Inc., 338 Pa.Super. 458, 487 A.2d 1372 (1985). Id. 853 A.2d at 1153.
The Court rejected Mr. Burns' argument that the two-year limitation in the Retirement Code violated his right to equal protection because he was presented with a reasonable length of time in which to assert his claim for a disability annuity.
In addition, the Court held that the time limitation was substantially related to the Commonwealth's interest in avoiding stale or fraudulent claims and that "if members were permitted to apply for disability annuities more than two years after their last contribution to PSERS, difficulties could arise in proving the disability due to loss of evidence, death or disappearance of witnesses, or fading memories." Id.