The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Fahey, reversing the Appellate Division, determined certain increases in pay to executive employees of the Port Authority, aimed at retaining those employees in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, should not be treated as salary in the calculation of those employees’ retirement benefits. ” … Retirement and Social Security Law § 431 provides that “[i]n any retirement or pension plan to which the state or municipality thereof contributes, the salary base for the computation of retirement benefits shall in no event include . . . any additional compensation paid in anticipation of retirement” (Retirement and Social Security Law § 431  [emphasis added]):”
… [W]e must … ask whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Comptroller’s determination that the Port Authority’s compensation adjustment program constituted “additional compensation paid in anticipation of retirement” (Retirement and Social Security Law § 431 ). Under this standard, where substantial evidence exists to support the administrative agency’s determination, a court may not substitute its judgment for that of the agency, even if there is evidence supporting a contrary conclusion … . In order to determine whether the purpose of the compensation was “to circumvent the provisions of Retirement and Social Security Law § 431,” courts ” must look to the substance of the transaction and not to what the parties may label it’ ” … .
Here, the record contains substantial evidence supporting the Comptroller’s determination that the Port Authority provided the compensation adjustments to artificially increase the executive employees’ final average salaries so that, upon retirement, they would receive pension increases roughly equivalent to those they would have received under the retirement incentive program. Indeed, the letter agreements signed by petitioner employees directly referred to a program “designed to provide a limited number of staff members with a parity’ benefit” to make their “pension calculation[s] . . . roughly equivalent to the calculation[s] if [they] had been eligible to retire with the incentive.” Plainly, substantial evidence supports the conclusion that the compensation, by design, was made in anticipation of petitioner employees’ retirement within the meaning of the statute. Matter of Bohlen v DiNapoli, 2020 NY Slip Op 00997, CtApp 2-13-20