Part-time public defender sued for too late pension benefits

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A former deputy public defender in Yazoo County, Mississippi, waited too long to file a lawsuit claiming he was wrongly excluded from the state’s public pension plan, the Court of Appeal ruled of the United States for the fifth circuit.

Michael Rushing knew he was classified as a part-time contractor ineligible for state benefits at least in July 2014, when he complained about this classification in a letter to counsel for the county supervisory board of Yazoo, the court said. Because Rushing was aware of this alleged wrong more than three years before he sued in 2018, his claims for federal civil rights violations and fiduciary violation under Mississippi law are time barred, the court said.

Rushing worked part-time as a Deputy Public Defender for Yazoo County in the 1990s and again from 2009 to 2017, maintaining a private law firm during his tenure. Both of her appointments were made under orders from the county supervisory board, which provided that deputy public defenders were not covered by the Mississippi public employee pension system.

Rushing challenged this exclusion from state benefits, arguing that the deadline for submitting his claims did not begin to run until after he resigned from his post in 2017.

The court disagreed.

“As relevant here, the (allegedly) illegal act is the board’s classification of him as a part-time contractor ineligible for county benefits, including PERS pension,” the court said. “This act was accomplished through the 1997 Ordinance and the 2008 Ordinance, and Rushing had actual knowledge of the existence, content and effect of both ordinances by July 2014 at the latest. . “

The unpublished court opinion, released Thursday, was joined by Chief Justice Priscilla R. Owen and Justices E. Grady Jolly and James L. Dennis.

Joiner Law Firm PLLC represents Rushing. Henry, Barbour, Decell and Bridgforth Ltd. represents the county. The Mississippi attorney general’s office represents the pension system.

The case is Rushing v. Yazoo Cnty., 5th Cir., No. 20-60462, not published 10/6/21.


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