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Dekalb County School District v. Gold

Supreme Court of Georgia

October 21, 2019

DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT et al
v.
GOLD et al.

          Melton, Chief Justice.

         In March 2011, Elaine Gold, Amy Shaye, Heather Hunter, and Roderick Benson ("Appellees") sued Appellants, the DeKalb County School District ("the District") and the DeKalb County Board of Education ("the Board") for, inter alia, breaching an agreement to provide two-years advance notice prior to suspending contributions to their DeKalb County Tax-Sheltered Annuity Plan ("TSA Plan") accounts. Finding that Appellees failed to establish the existence of an enforceable contract, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellants, and Appellees appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment on the issue of liability, vacated the remainder of the court's order, and remanded the case with direction. See Gold v. DeKalb Cty. Sch. Dist., 346 Ga.App. 108 (815 S.E.2d 259) (2018) ("Gold III").[1]

         We granted certiorari to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that the two-year notice provision became part of Appellees' employment contracts. Though we disagree with the Court of Appeals' analysis, we agree with the court's ultimate conclusion. Accordingly, we affirm.

         1. Factual Background

         As recounted by the Court of Appeals, in 1979, the Board withdrew from Social Security in favor of an alternative benefits plan, which included a Tax-Sheltered Annuity Plan managed by an outside insurance company.[2] Gold III, supra, at 109-110.

         In September 1980, the Board authorized the DeKalb County Superintendent "to appoint an Employee Trust Fund Advisory Committee to recommend to the Superintendent changes and improvements in the Employees' Alternative Plan to Social Security." In May 1982, the Chairman of the Employee Trust Fund Advisory Committee proposed an amendment to the Board's bylaws and policies concerning the "Social Security/Alternative Plan of Benefits." The proposed amendment stated:

[The Board] shall provide all full-time employees with an alternative program to Social Security. The amount of funds placed annually in the alternative program shall equal the amount that the school system would have paid had the school system remained under Social Security.
The Alternative Plan to Social Security shall include, at a minimum, the following:
1. Improvements to the survivor benefit life insurance plan in existence in September, 1979.
The survivor benefit plan is designed to provide lump sum payments to beneficiaries and monthly income to eligible surviving family members upon the death of an employee.
2. Improvements to the long-term disability plan in existence in September, 1979.
The disability benefits plan provides disabled employees a coordinated benefit for a specified period of time following an established elimination period.
3. Supplemental retirement plan paid for by [the Board].
The supplemental retirement plan provides retirement benefits through legally mandated and/or Board approved contribution and investment strategies.
[The Board] shall give a two-year notice to employees before reducing the funding provisions of the Alternative Plan to Social Security.
Procedure number 7085 defines the method for distributing the Alternative Plan funds.[3]

(Emphasis supplied.). The proposed amendment, including the two- year notice requirement, was then placed on the table until the June 1982 meeting where, with a unanimous vote, the Board amended its bylaws and policies concerning the Alternative Plan to Social Security ("the 1982 Amendment"); this amendment was then published. Gold III, supra, at 110.

         In 1983, the county's Risk Management Director presented the Board with a proposed TSA Plan document that detailed a defined-contribution, employer-funded § 403 (b) plan. Id. at 111. Subsection 3.05 of the document provided that "[a]ll contributions under the Plan shall be made by [the Board]," and explained that "Participant contributions are not required; however, the Employer maintains the right to require contributions from Plan Participants when deemed appropriate." Subsection 6.02 of the TSA Plan provided that "[t]his Plan may be amended or terminated by the Employer at any time. No amendment or termination of the Plan shall reduce or impair the rights of any Participant or Beneficiary that have already accrued." The Board voted to adopt the 1983 TSA Plan during the same meeting at which it was first presented. In 2003, the Board approved a restatement of the TSA Plan, once again adopting the document at the same meeting at which it was presented. Subsection 4.5 of the 2003 TSA Plan stated that "[p]articipant contributions to the Plan are neither required nor permitted," and Subsection 8.3 of the plan document provided for the amendment or termination of the plan "at any time." In both 1983 and 2003, the Board voted to adopt the TSA Plan, but the Board did not vote to amend its bylaws.

         The TSA Plan remained in effect until July 2009, when the Board held an emergency meeting to discuss the reduction of state funding for all of Georgia's school systems due to the economic recession. At this meeting, the Board voted to "temporarily suspend" the TSA Plan and substantially amended the plan's funding provisions, ending all contributions to certain employees' supplemental retirement accounts as of July 31, 2009. Though there was no corresponding amendment to the Board's bylaws at this ...


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