Picur v. Kerry: Court slaps down FSGB annuity decision as “arbitrary and capricious”

Posted: 1:37 am EDT
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This case is about a USAID/OIG criminal investigator, an annuity calculation, and a Foreign Service Grievance Board decision.

According to court documents, the starting point for computing an annuity payment under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 4041–4069c-1. is section 4046(a)(1), which provides that:

[t]he annuity of a participant shall be equal to 2 percent of his or her average basic salary for the highest 3 consecutive years of service multiplied by the number of years, not exceeding 35, of service credit obtained in accordance with sections 4056 and 4057 of this title[.]

22 U.S.C. § 4046(a)(1). The statute does not define “basic salary” as that term is used in section 4046(a)(1); however, section 4046(a)(8) makes clear that a participant’s “basic pay” for annuity calculation purposes includes the special differential pay that Foreign Service officers are authorized to receive. Id. § 4046(a)(8). Moreover, section 4046(a)(9) provides that, when determining the average basic salary for the highest 3 consecutive years of service—commonly referred to as the participant’s “high three” (see Compl. ¶ 13)—“the basic salary or basic pay of any member of the [Foreign] Service whose official duty station is outside the continental United States shall be considered to be the salary or pay that would have been paid to the member had the member’s official duty station been Washington, D.C., including locality-based comparability payments[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 4046(a)(9).4

Here is a quick summary of the case:

Plaintiff Gregory Picur served as a Foreign Service criminal investigator for the Office of Inspector General of the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID OIG”) from the 1990s until his retirement in May of 2010. The dispute in the instant case concerns the State Department’s calculation of Picur’s retirement annuity, which Picur alleges is incorrect. (See Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 14.)1 Generally speaking, Picur contends that the State Department wrongly based its annuity calculation on what the agency says Picur’s salary should have been at the time of his retirement, rather than on the compensation that Picur actually received. (See id. ¶¶ 9–14.) Picur filed an administrative grievance contesting the agency’s calculation of his retirement annuity, but the State Department denied his grievance (see id. ¶ 4), and on appeal of that denial, the Foreign Service Grievance Board (“FSGB”) upheld the agency’s calculation (see id. ¶¶ 5–8), finding that the State Department had determined Picur’s retirement annuity in accordance with agency policies (see, e.g., id. ¶ 35). Picur has filed the instant action against Secretary of State John Kerry (“Defendant” or “the Secretary”), asking this Court to review and to set aside the FSGB’s conclusion as arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).

[…] Defendant argues that the FSGB’s decision should be upheld because the Board examined the relevant evidence and provided a satisfactory explanation for its conclusion. (See Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. (“Def.’s Br.”), ECF No. 10, at 22–27.) But this Court finds that, when it affirmed the State Department’s annuity calculation, the FSGB did not consider the crucial issue of whether or not the statutory scheme that governs calculation of Picur’s annuity permits the agency to treat the annuity computation process as an opportunity to correct purported prior salary overpayments. In other words, it is clear to this Court that the FSGB ignored a key aspect of the problem that it was deciding in a manner that rendered its decision to uphold the State Department’s annuity calculation arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA. Consequently, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment must be DENIED, the FSGB’s decision must be VACATED, and the matter must be REMANDED for further consideration.

The court’s conclusion:

Whatever the appropriate statutory analysis, the administrative record in this case makes crystal clear that the FSGB failed to consult any of the statutory provisions that specifically prescribe how an annuity is properly calculated in this context, and it appears to have merely assumed that the State Department has the power to decide that an annuitant’s actual high three salary average is too high for the purpose of an annuity calculation. Consequently, this Court concludes that the Board failed to consider an important aspect of the problem with which it was presented, and thus its decision was arbitrary and capricious for the purpose of the APA. See, e.g., Olsen, 990 F. Supp. at 40 (granting summary judgment for plaintiff where the FSGB “did not properly consider the legality of the [agency’s] policies”); see also Quantum Enterm’t, Ltd. v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 597 F. Supp. 2d 146, 153 (D.D.C. 2009) (holding that where an agency’s “decision [i]s incomplete, [it] violates the prohibition against arbitrary or capricious agency decisions” (citation omitted)).

We are posting the Memorandum Opinion for Picur v. Kerry, Civil Action No. 14-cv-1492 (KBJ) in the the member’s only section of Diplopundit’s forum. Check it out in the forum’s document dump.

The redacted FSGB Record of Proceeding (ROP) for this case is available online here (pdf) via fsgb.gov.