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Sep. 21, 2022

Ashley K. Dunning

See more on Ashley K. Dunning

Nossaman LLP

SAN FRANCISCO - Ashley K. Dunning has provided fiduciary and governance counsel services to public retirement systems since 1998. Current clients include the California Public Employees' Retirement System, the New York State Teachers' Retirement System, the majority of the 20 California retirement systems governed by the County Employees Retirement Law of 1937, and the city retirement systems in Fresno, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. Collectively, the retirement systems she serves hold over $1 trillion in trust assets.

"I am fortunate to have developed a unique expertise in this important industry, in which I am able to serve our public retirement system clients with the same zeal that they serve the members and beneficiaries of their systems," she said.

In May, Dunning won a five-year legal battle on behalf of her clients, Alameda County Employees' Retirement Association (ACERA), its board of retirement and its chief executive officer. Alameda Health System et al. v. Alameda County Employees' Retirement Association et al., CPF-19-516795 (San. Fran. Sup. Ct, filed Aug. 7, 2019).

In the case, Alameda Health Systems (AHS) claimed that ACERA systematically overcharged for its actual pension liabilities by millions of dollars annually. AHS demanded a comprehensive study of what its contributions might have been under a different funding methodology and that the board change ACERA's actuarial funding methodology. AHS claimed this change would result in retroactive and prospective adjustments totaling $100 million, which would then be paid by ACERA's other participating employers.

Dunning won a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the current way contribution rates are calculated is a common and well-accepted methodology for funding multiple employer-defined benefits plans nationally and in California. The court concluded that there was no basis in law for AHS' demand to reassign $100 million in pension liabilities to the county of Alameda, nor was there any basis for the court to order the ACERA board to do another actuarial study. The case has been appealed and may be decided in the next year or two, Dunning said.

"One of the most important responsibilities of a public retirement system is to make sure that they timely collect the amount of money needed to pay for the retirement benefits due to people when they retire," she said. "So it's a very high-stakes and important issue for a retirement board to be able to prudently manage the funding of its plan, and not be dictated to by the employers about how that should work."


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