Pub. Order 2/13/14
Santa Clara County Superior Court No. 1-11-PR169420 Hon. Thomas W. Cain,
Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant: William Meyers Gates Eisenhart Dawson Nicholas G. Emanuel.
Counsel for Defendant/Respondent: The Retirement Fund of the Federated City Employees Office of the City Attorney Richard Doyle, City Attorney Nora Frimann, Assistant City Attorney Margo Laskowska, Sr. Deputy City Attorney Elisa T. Tolentino, Deputy City Attorney
Plaintiff William Meyers, a former City of San Jose employee, petitioned under Probate Code sections 15642 and 17200 for an order removing certain trustees of defendant The Retirement Fund of the Federated City Employees (Retirement Fund), the retirement system for the City of San Jose. The superior court dismissed the petition on the grounds the Retirement Fund is expressly excluded from the definition of a “trust” under section 82, and thus a petition to remove trustees under the Probate Code may not be maintained against it.
On appeal, Meyers argues the judgment must be reversed, despite the exclusionary language of section 82, because: (1) the California Constitution mandates that “[t]he assets of a public pension or retirement system are trust funds” (Cal. Const., art. XVI, § 17, subd. (a) (section 17)); and (2) section 15003, subdivision (c) (section 15003(c)) specifically allows for the application of trust law to public pension funds.
We disagree and shall affirm the judgment.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
A. Verified petition to remove trustees
In August 2011, Meyers filed his verified petition to remove trustees (Sup. Ct. Santa Clara County, 2011, No. 1-11-PR-169420). In that petition, Meyers alleged he began working for the City of San Jose as an associate construction inspector in 2001, remaining in that position for approximately four years. In February 2003, he was injured in the course and scope of his employment and underwent cervical fusion surgery.
In September 2009 and April 2010, Meyers applied to the Retirement Fund for service-connected disability retirement benefits, submitting the opinions of “at least eighteen (18) different medical professionals, all of whom were in agreement” that Meyers was disabled as a consequence of the injury he suffered in 2003. The physician paid by the City of San Jose to evaluate disability claims, however, did not agree and the Retirement Fund denied Meyers’ applications.
In his petition, Meyers claimed the Retirement Fund trustees have breached their fiduciary duties to him and other beneficiaries “by unreasonably delaying the beneficiary claim process, by refusing to consider relevant medical evidence, by withholding information from beneficiaries, and by essentially ‘rubber-stamping’ the opinion of the City [of San Jose] physician and disregarding all other competent evidence regarding the service-connected disabilities of beneficiaries.” Meyers alleged the trustees are refusing to disburse benefits to disabled City of San Jose employees “because the City’s current budget crisis has made it politically unpopular to award disability pensions.” Meyers further alleged, on information and belief, that in 2000, the Retirement Fund trustees approved six out of seven disability retirement applications, but in 2010 and 2011, only two out of 14 applicants were approved for disability retirement.
In his prayer for relief, Meyers sought: (1) an order removing certain named Retirement Fund trustees, specifically Matt Loesch, Edward F. Overton, Arn Andrews, Michael Armstrong, Lara Druyan, Stuart Odell and Martin Dirks; (2) an order appointing a receiver or temporary trustee to administer the trust until new trustees are appointed; and (3) attorney fees and costs.
B. Ex parte application and opposition
In November 2011, in connection with the petition to remove trustees, Meyers brought an ex parte application for an order requiring the Retirement Fund to provide notice of hearing to all the beneficiaries. In that application, Meyers stated he is not aware of the names and addresses of the beneficiaries to the Retirement Fund, each of whom is entitled to notice of hearing on his petition to remove the trustees. Accordingly, the Retirement Fund, which has the necessary contact information, should be ordered to provide the required notice.
The Retirement Fund opposed the ex parte application, and in that opposition further argued Meyers’ petition should be dismissed because, among other reasons, the Retirement Fund is not a trust under section 82, subdivision (b)(13) (section 82(b)(13)),  thus the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. The trial court set a ...