As reported by app.com, a federal lawsuit brought by New Jersey public employee unions, in an attempt to overturn last year’s pension and benefit reforms, has been dismissed. U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson ruled Monday that the issue is not under federal jurisdiction because of the 11th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which courts have held gives the states sovereign immunity over their own matters.
The ruling was widely expected even by lawyers who are representing unions in pension cases around the country. The state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, and a host of other unions and pensioners, had argued that the pension and benefit reforms approved last June represented a violation of their federal contractual and other rights.
As states across the country have enacted pension reforms, a flurry of lawsuits have been pursued. Plaintiffs in New Jersey and Maine are among the very few to seek action in federal court. Plaintiffs in other states, to a greater or lesser degree, have found some initial rulings in their favor.
New Jersey’s reforms forces workers to contribute more toward their pensions and work longer before retirement. However, two-thirds of the savings for the state comes from freezing the annual cost of living raises given to retirees. The question in New Jersey’s case, if it is ultimately heard in the state courts, is whether those changes, and the annual cost of living adjustment in particular, are protected as contractual rights.