In one of the most closely watched cases of 2013, the Florida Supreme Court upheld legislation requiring state workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the state’s pension system and eliminating cost-of-living adjustments on their retirement accounts.
The Miami office of White & Case represented the state on appeal. The court’s 4-3 decision in the pension case garnered significant attention because it affected more than 600,000 state workers, including teachers, firefighters and police who bitterly opposed the changes to the Florida Retirement System.
Adding to the controversy, the legislation was not enacted to make the retirement system actuarially sound but to help fill a state budget shortfall.
Raoul Cantero, a former justice who now is a commercial litigation partner in White & Case’s Miami office, argued the case before his former colleagues.
State workers and their unions sued the Florida State Board of Administration—consisting of Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater—in 2011, claiming the legislation violated Florida’s Constitution. A Leon circuit court judge granted summary judgment to the workers in 2012 and ordered the state to halt the practice and reimburse workers with interest.
In upholding the first-time pension contributions Jan. 17, 2013, the Supreme Court agreed with White & Case’s arguments that the changes were within the Legislature’s authority to make. The justices also agreed the legislation did not impair employees’ collective bargaining rights and did not take private property without compensation because it did not reduce benefits already earned by employees.
“If we had lost, the Florida Legislature would have had to go into special session and appropriate more than $1 billion to cover the costs imposed by the circuit court decision,” White & Case said in a statement.
The Supreme Court handed White & Case another victory last May when it unanimously upheld a state law which allows firm client Florida Power & Light to recover from customers preconstruction costs for planned nuclear power plants even if the utility has not made a final decision to build the plants.
The decision allowed FPL to recover $196 million.
White & Case has 12 litigation partners and 19 associates in its Miami office.