In James Meyers v. State Health Benefits Commission, (New Jersey Supreme Court Slip Opinion A-27-22) (087633) the New Jersey Supreme Court examined a New Jersey public employee’s right to “free” retiree health benefits under the legal doctrine of Equitable Estoppel.  In this matter, James Meyers, was a New Jersey State Trooper that had since retired from employment.  On the date that he retired from employment (October 1, 2015), the Division of Pensions and Benefits (the Division) offered him retiree health benefits at “no premium cost” based on the Division’s interpretation of the law (Chapter 78 of Public Law 2011) and the number of years of service that Trooper Meyers had in the New Jersey State Police Retirement System.  Unfortunately for Trooper Meyers, the Division misinterpreted the law in providing answers to his questions and informed him that he was entitled to free healthcare benefits when he truly was not.  Thereafter, Trooper Meyers built his retired life around the premise that he would not be paying for healthcare in retirement and collected the free benefits for two (2) years.  Notwhttsanding the foregoing, the Division recognized their error and as a result of their error, they discontinued the “free” healthcare benefits for Trooper Meyers in June of 2017.  Thereafter, the State of New Jersey began deducting premium-sharing contributions from Trooper Meyer’s pension payments.

Trooper Meyers appealed this decision to the New Jersey State Health Benefits Commissions who referred the matter to the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law for a plenary hearing where the Judge would issue findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Administrative Law Judge assigned to the case concluded that an injustice had taken place based on the legal doctrine of equitable estoppel and issued an order barring the State Health Benefits Commission from deducting healthcare premium cost sharing contributions from Trooper Meyer’s pension payments.

The State Health Benefits Plan rejected the decision of the Administrative Law Judge and as a result, Trooper Meyer appealed their decision to the Appellate Division who affirmed the State Health Benefits Commission’s decision.  Trooper Meyer then appealed the Appellate Division’s decision to the Supreme Court of New Jersey who agreed to hear the case.

Meyers argued to the Supreme Court that the legal doctrine of equitable estoppel should prevent the State of New Jersey from backing away from the decision that they originally made that he was entitled to “free” healthcare under the current state of the law. In simple terms, the legal principle of equitable estoppel is intended to prevent unfair outcomes. Thus, if a person (Meyer in this instance) relies on assertions or promises made by someone whom one should be able to trust (the Division of Pensions and Benefits in this instance), it would be an unfair outcome if the person or company upon which one relied upon could act as if those assertions or promises were never made (or in this instance provided one with an incorrect statement of the law).

Unfortunately for Trooper Meyers, the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s ruling and stated that equitable estoppel could not be applicable in this instance because a governmental entity cannot be estopped from refusing to take an action that it was never authorized to take under the law — even if it had mistakenly agreed to that action.  In other words, because the law that is relevant to this situation (Chapter 78 of Public Law 2011) never permitted Meyer to be entitled to free healthcare, the Division’s statement to the contrary could not be considered in applying the legal principle of equitable estoppel.  As a result, Meyer was unsuccessful in reversing the Appellate Division’s decision in this matter and he was forced to make premium sharing contributions if he wanted to continue receiving healthcare benefits in retirement.

We bring this case to your attention for the simple reason that many public employees in the State of New Jersey have questions and concerns regarding pension benefits, retiree healthcare benefits, accidental and ordinary disability retiree benefits and re-employment in the public sector after retirement.  Often times, an employee will call on the Division of Pensions and Benefits to seek answers to their questions and regretfully, the information that they sometimes receive is incorrect.  When such a situation occurs, the employee/retiree may have a false belief that they will be entitled to continue receiving benefits or perhaps continue their post-retirement employment because they relied on the information that was provided to them by the Division of Pensions and Benefits.  What you as the reader must understand is that when the Division provides one with a benefit or a right that is contrary to the law, or advice that is contrary to the law that one acts on, an individual very well may be forced to forfeit that benefit if he or she is receiving the benefit or privilege that they may not be entitled to under the law. 

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Photo of Frank M. Crivelli Frank M. Crivelli

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state…

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state, county and local law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS workers.

Mr. Crivelli specializes his individual practice in collective negotiations.  Over the past twenty (20) years, Mr. Crivelli has negotiated well over one hundred (100) collective bargaining agreements for various state, county, municipal and private organizations and has resolved over thirty-five (35) labor agreements that have reached impasse through compulsory interest arbitration.  Mr. Crivelli routinely litigates matters in front of the New Jersey State Public Employment Relations Commission, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, third party neutrals for mediation, grievance and interest arbitration, the Superior Court of New Jersey and the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Mr. Crivelli founded and created the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog ( approximately fifteen (15) years ago where he and members of his firm routinely publish blog posts regarding legal issues related to the employment of New Jersey Public Safety Officers.  The blog now contains over six hundred (600) articles and is reviewed and relied upon by thousands of public employees.  Mr. Crivelli has also published books and manuals pertaining to New Jersey Public Employee Disability Pension Appeals and the New Jersey Worker’s Compensation System. Currently, he is drafting a publication on how to Prepare and Negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement.  He lectures annually at the New Jersey State PBA Collective Bargaining Seminar, the National Association of Police Organization’s Legal Seminar, the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission Seminar on Public Employment Labor Law, the United States Marine Corps’ Commander’s Media Training Symposium and to Union Executive Boards and General Membership bodies on various labor related topics.

Prior to entering private practice, Mr. Crivelli joined the United States Marine Corps where he served as a Judge Advocate with the Legal Services Support Section of the First Force Services Support Group in Camp Pendleton, California.  While serving in the Marine Corps, Mr. Crivelli defended and prosecuted hundreds of Special and General Court Martial cases and administrative separation matters.  In addition to his trial duties, Mr. Crivelli was also charged with the responsibility of training various Marine and Naval combat command elements on the interpretation and implementation of the rules of engagement for various military conflicts that were ongoing throughout the world at that time. After leaving active duty, Mr. Crivelli remained in the Marine Corps Reserves where he was promoted to the rank of Major before leaving the service.

For the past fifteen (15) years, Mr. Crivelli has been certified as a Civil Trial Attorney by the Supreme Court for the State of New Jersey, a certification which less than two percent (2%) of the attorneys in New Jersey have achieved.  He is a graduate of Washington College (B.A.), the City University of New York School of Law (J.D.), the United States Naval Justice School, and the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.