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Blind pensions case sent back to circuit court

The state courts already have ruled — Missouri government owes blind pension plan recipients money they should have been paid, but weren’t.

But a three-judge panel of the Kansas City division of the state’s appeals court ruled Tuesday the parties still have not resolved the legal issues connected with making those back payments, in the way the court ordered two years ago.

So they sent the case back to the Cole County circuit court for a fourth hearing, for “the establishment of a process for class members to submit claims and which outlines the disposition of any future surplus.”

The blind pension fund is created by state law, to provide “an annual pension … payable in equal monthly installments” for Missouri citizens who are blind, have lived in the state at least a year and meet specific eligibility requirements.

Some pensioners in February 2006 sued the state’s Family Services Division and the Social Services

Department’s director, arguing they had been underpaid since 1992.

The appeals court agreed in 2009 and sent the case back to the Cole County circuit court for a determination of the damages.

On a second appeal, the appeals court’s Kansas City division agreed with the state that a statute of limitations required the damages payments to be calculated only for a period beginning in 2001 — the five years before the lawsuit was filed.

The court then, in 2010, ordered the Cole County circuit court to recalculate the prejudgment interest the pensioners were owed, to revisit the attorney fees and to develop a claims process so the pensioners could be “credited their claims.”

During the third hearing, the appeals court panel noted in its seven-page opinion Tuesday, the parties gave Patricia Joyce, Cole County’s presiding circuit judge, “a Stipulation of Facts and Statement of Contested Issues, along with spreadsheet exhibits showing their proposed damage calculations.”

But, the appeals court ruled Tuesday, Joyce and the attorneys did not “resolve the issue of the establishment of a process for class members to submit claims, or the disposition of a surplus that may exist after the claims process has been completed.”

Instead, Presiding Judge Mark D. Pfeiffer wrote for the appeals court panel, Joyce on Oct. 12, 2012, “ordered the parties to develop a mutually agreeable claims process; or if the parties were unable to agree, each was to file its own proposed claims process, and the trial court would hold a hearing on the matter to resolve any such dispute over the remedy.”

Even though they resolved some of the issues left in the case following the 2010 appeals court ruling, Pfeiffer wrote, Joyce and the attorneys didn’t comply with the 2010 mandate.

The appeals court heard oral arguments on the most recent appeal during a hearing at Lincoln University on Nov. 13 — just four weeks ago.

During that hearing the appeals court judges asked both sides if the case really was ready to be appealed.

Now they’ve again ordered Joyce and the attorneys to finish it.

“Optimal appellate review is achieved by allowing appeals only after the entire action is resolved in the trial court,” the appeals court said, quoting their ruling from a different 2006 case.

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