Hold onto your paperwork: Uncle Sam plays by the book

A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals underscores the importance of retaining documentation if you are involved in a dispute with Uncle Sam.

The case involved Esmeraldo Reydanas who applied for a retirement annuity based on various positions he held with the Navy at Subic Bay Philippines from 1945 to 1982. The Office of Personnel Management rejected his application finding that Reydanas did not meet the requirements for a retirement annuity because he had not separated from a position covered by the Civil Service Retirement Act (CSRA) after completing five years of creditable service. Reydanas appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

In an initial decision an administrative judge agreed with OPM's assessment. The judge found that during Reydanas' service from 1952 to 1982 he held "temporary" and "excepted indefinite" appointments. Jobs such as those are specifically excluded from CSRA coverage.

Reydanas argued that his service during those years was covered by the CSRA under the "continuity-of-service rule."

According to Reydanas the position he held from 1945 to 1949 was covered by the act even though his subsequent position was not. He said he transferred from the earlier job without a break in service of three days or more. That would entitle him to coverage for all his service he said.

The administrative judge did not agree finding that there was a break in service of more than two years between Reydanas' service from 1945 to 1949 and his service from 1952 to 1982. The judge also found by a preponderance of evidence that any federal position Reydanas might have held in 1951 was not covered by the CSRA. The administrative judge's initial decision became the final decision when the full MSPB denied Reydanas' petition for review.

Reydanas then took his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. OPM argued the case on behalf of the government responding that the MSPB did not err when it determined that Reydanas did not hold a position in the federal service in 1951. And even if he did OPM argued substantial evidence supports the MSPB's finding that such a position would not have been covered under the CSRA.

The court sided with OPM. It noted that Reydanas had submitted a letter from the commanding officer of the U.S. Regional Medical Center at Subic Bay stating that Reydanas was employed "in 1951 to 1953 as a heavy-laborer operating jackhammers." However the letter did not address the issue of whether Reydanas' job was covered by the CSRA.

The court found no direct evidence in the record such as a personnel notice to back up Reydanas' claim that his job as a jackhammer operator was covered by the CSRA. That meant the MSPB was being asked to rely upon circumstantial evidence - such as the SF-50 Notices of Personnel Action for Reydanas' other positions - to determine whether the jackhammer operator position was covered by the CSRA. Because the SF-50s consistently indicated that his jobs from 1952 to 1982 were not covered by the act the court ruled it was reasonable for the MSPB judge to infer that Reydanas' alleged position in 1951 also was not covered.

Reydanas also argued that a position he held in 1969 was converted from a job not covered by the CSRA to one that was covered. OPM responded that the change in status was a promotion and according to the applicable SF-50 he was still not covered by the CSRA after the promotion. The court agreed with OPM. There was no evidence that Reydanas worked in a position that was covered by the CSRA.

Although this would seem an open-and-shut case I find it interesting that nobody checked Reydanas' Social Security records to see whether contributions were made on his behalf to the Social Security system. When you hold a job in this country payroll taxes are withheld from your salary and paid into the Social Security system. If Reydanas worked in positions that were not covered by the CSRA they should have been covered under Social Security. If Reydanas was not covered by the CSRA he should be covered under Social Security and entitled to an annuity.

Why did the court allow the MSPB and OPM to ignore this issue? Your guess is as good as mine.

-- Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who contributes regularly to Federal Computer Week.

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