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Mass SJC Ruling on Ronald Garney v. Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System.

Mass SJC Ruling on Ronald Garney v. Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System.

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Published by Patrick Johnson
The state's highest court on Monday ruled Garney is still eligible for a state pension despite a 2008 conviction for possession of child pornography.
The state's highest court on Monday ruled Garney is still eligible for a state pension despite a 2008 conviction for possession of child pornography.

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Published by: Patrick Johnson on Aug 18, 2014
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 NOTICE: All slip opinions and orders are subject to formal revision and are superseded by the advance sheets and bound volumes of the Official Reports. If you find a typographical error or other formal error, please notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, 1 Pemberton Square, Suite 2500, Boston, MA, 02108-1750; (617) 557-1030; SJCReporter@sjc.state.ma.us SJC-11493 RONALD T. GARNEY vs. MASSACHUSETTS TEACHERS' RETIREMENT SYSTEM. Worcester. April 10, 2014. - August 18, 2014. Present: Ireland, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Gants, Duffly, & Lenk, JJ.
 Retirement. Public Employment, Forfeiture of retirement benefits. School and School Committee, Retirement benefits. Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on January 14, 2010. The case was heard by John S. McCann, J., on motions for judgment on the pleadings. The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court. Robert G. Fabino (James H. Salvie, Special Assistant Attorney General, with him) for the defendant. Michael C. Donahue for the plaintiff.
 Chief Justice Ireland participated in the deliberation on this case prior to his retirement.
2 CORDY, J. This case concerns the scope of the pension forfeiture requirement of G. L. c. 32, § 15 (4), and specifically whether forfeiture is warranted where a teacher has engaged in criminal activity that endangers children generally, but does not involve the students whom he taught, the school district for which he worked, or the use of his status as a teacher. The plaintiff, Ronald T. Garney, a ninth grade science teacher, was arrested in 2006 for the purchase and possession of child pornography. Shortly after his arrest, he received notice that he would be dismissed from his position for conduct unbecoming a teacher and resigned prior to his dismissal. He subsequently pleaded guilty to purchasing and possessing child pornography. In August, 2007, when he reached retirement age, Garney filed a retirement application with the defendant, the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System (MTRS), and received retirement benefits until 2009, when the MTRS board (board) issued a decision concluding that Garney's benefits were forfeited by operation of G. L. c. 32, § 15 (4), due to his convictions.
 A District Court judge affirmed the board's decision, and Garney petitioned for certiorari review in the Superior Court pursuant to G. L. c. 249, § 4. A Superior Court
 The board also concluded that Ronald T. Garney did not have a right to a superannuation retirement allowance under G. L. c. 32, § 10 (1), because of his convictions. This issue was disposed of during the Superior Court proceedings and is not before us. See note 6, infra.
3 judge reversed the decision of the District Court and vacated the decision of the board. MTRS appealed, and we transferred its appeal to this court on our own motion. Although cognizant of the severity of the offenses of which Garney was convicted, we conclude that on the specific facts of this case, those offenses neither directly involved his position as a teacher nor contravened a particular law applicable to that position, and therefore did not come within the forfeiture provision of G. L. c. 32, § 15 (4). Consequently, we affirm the decision of the Superior Court judge allowing Garney's motion for judgment on the pleadings and vacating the board's decision otherwise. Background. For over twenty years, Garney worked as a ninth grade science teacher and served as a coach and referee at sporting events for the Amherst-Pelham regional school district (district).
 In November, 2004, the office of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement identified Garney as a purchaser of child pornography in the course of an investigation into Web sites that sold such illicit material.
 It informed the
 Garney taught in the Amherst-Pelham regional school district from 1984 until his resignation in 2006. In the early 1970s, he worked briefly for the Hingham and Bridgewater public schools.
 Garney had been identified through the electronic mail (e-mail) address and credit card numbers he submitted to the Web

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