Brock v. Department of Management Services, Division of Retirement

Fourth District Court of Appeals

This case involved the forfeiture of retirement benefits for a member of the Florida Retirement System. The employee in question issued a plea of no contest to a felony charge. The employee challenged the constitutionality of Section 112.3173, Florida statutes, which defined the term “convicted” to include a no contest plea, regardless of whether or not a criminal court had adjudicated the employee guilty. The employee challenged the statute based on the language of Article II, Section 8, of the Florida Constitution, which provides that an employee “who is convicted of a felony involving a breach of public trust shall be subject to forfeiture of rights and privileges under a public retirement system or pension plan in such manner as may be provided by law.” Mr. Brock argued that the term “conviction” in the constitutional provision conflicted with the statutory requirement of this statutory provision requiring only a “no contest” plea, without regard to whether an individual was adjudicated guilty by a court.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected the challenge. Florida has had a history of restricting the definition of conviction to only situations in which individuals actually adjudicated guilty, and not treating no contest pleas to rise to the level of convictions. However, Florida’s appellate courts have been very deferential to attempts to forfeit employee pensions for criminal behavior, and have interpreted the forfeiture provisions fairly broadly. While the Fourth DCA provided a strong reason for its decision, an equally strong argument could have been made for treating forfeiture provisions in a narrow fashion, so that the very serious consequence of pension forfeiture was available only in specific instances covered by the Constitution. Trial courts and administrative agencies within the Florida will be bound by the Fourth District opinion unless another district court decides differently and it challenges ultimately by the Florida Supreme Court. For now, any employee who pleas no contest to a felony which could subject him or her to forfeiture of pension benefits should be aware of this decision.