Was His FERS Annuity Lost Due to Forged Signature?

A retired USPS employee tried to win a FERS annuity from OPM, claiming his ex-wife had forged his signature on a crucial document that led to denial of the annuity.

The case is Lemon v Office of Personnel Management, CAFC No. 2022-2200 (nonprecedential), 12/11/23. Following are the pertinent facts as spelled out in the appeals court opinion.

Mr. Lemon worked for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for around 13 years and was covered by FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System). In accordance with 5 U.S.C sec 8413, Mr. Lemon applied for a deferred annuity under FERS, certifying that he had never previously applied for a refund or for retirement under FERS. OPM denied his annuity application, finding that he was not eligible since he had about two years previously applied for and received a refund of his retirement contributions. As a result of his previous application, OPM paid out to Lemon a refund of just over $4000, which made him not entitled to an annuity. (Opinion pp. 2-3)

Mr. Lemon took his appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). He contended that he had not submitted a Refund Application. He testified before the administrative judge that he believed his former wife had submitted it and forged his signature. When asked to compare his handwriting and signature on the two forms—the previously submitted refund application and the recently submitted deferred annuity application—Mr. Lemon testified under oath that he could tell they were different and that the handwriting and signature on the refund application were not his. (p. 3)

The AJ concluded that Mr. Lemon had forgotten that he had submitted the refund application some 20 years before trying to obtain a deferred annuity. She thoroughly reviewed the two documents, comparing in detail the writing and signatures, and found enough similarities between them to conclude that Mr. Lemon had in fact applied for and received a refund of his retirement contributions. (p. 4)

The AJ also pointed to Lemon’s testimony that he had officially changed his address after he and his wife separated. She concluded from this that the former wife would not have been in a position to receive the refund check. She therefore found that Mr. Lemon had indeed received a refund of his retirement contributions and OPM was correct in its determination that he was not entitled to receive an annuity. (p. 5)

Mr. Lemon took his case to the appeals court, arguing that the AJ’s factual findings were incorrect. Unhappily for him, the appeals court declined to overturn the decision of OPM and the MSPB, seeing no error in those findings: “While Mr. Lemon vigorously disputes the AJ’s findings of fact, we cannot say that those findings are not supported by such evidence ‘as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” (p. 6)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.