A former president of Utah Valley State College has been ordered to repay nearly $14,000 in retirement benefits that he admits he mistakenly received but sued to keep anyway.
J. Marvin Higbee, 65, Orem, filed a lawsuit against the New York-based annuities company that handles his retirement benefits after the company asked him to return the additional money it mistakenly gave him in 1996.But 4th District Judge Donald J. Eyre has tossed out the claim made by Higbee that he should keep the money because the company's computer made an error. Higbee resigned from then-Utah
Valley Community College in 1987 amid controversy about his handling of public monies there.
"Mr. Higbee knew or should have known that the amounts he received in (retirement transition benefit) payment far exceeded the amount he was entitled to and it was not reasonable for him to spend the excess," Eyre wrote last week in a memorandum decision.
Higbee's attorney, Charles Abbott, refused to comment on the decision. But during a trial in July, Higbee testified that repaying the money would be a hardship.
"If I have to repay the money, it's going to be devastating," Higbee told Eyre during the trial. "It will be very, very difficult for us."
The $14,000 that Higbee must repay was given him as part of a lump-sum disbursement. Eyre found that Higbee himself had calculated the correct amount he should have received and therefore he knew the $14,000 was extra.
"I'm not denying they made a mistake," Higbee said on the witness stand last month. "All I know is they made certain commitments to me, and I made decisions based on that."
Eyre also rejected Higbee's claim that he should continue to receive monthly retirement benefits at a level higher than that to which he is entitled, based on the amount he paid into the plan as a public university educator and administrator from 1971 to 1988.
Higbee testified at the trial that he should continue to receive the additional monthly amounts because he based his retirement decisions on the higher figures he was originally given. If he doesn't receive the enhanced benefits, Higbee said, he might have to look for a job again.
"I may be able to go back to work at 7-Eleven as a clerk," said Higbee, who holds a Ph.D. and is a former president of Snow College as well as UVSC.
However, Higbee won't have to repay all the money that Teachers Insurance and Annuity Asso-ci-a-tion/College Retirement Equities Fund mistakenly gave him. Eyre ruled that Higbee could keep approximately $11,000 the company mistakenly paid as part of Higbee's retirement package from January to November 1996.
If he were forced to repay that money, ". . . injury to Mr. Higbee would obviously result," Eyre ruled. The judge found that because the company had made several representations to Higbee that he would receive the additional monthly amounts - even though it later discovered the amounts to be too high - the former college president could have reasonably believed that portion of the money was his.
A retirement fund employee testified that when Higbee decided to retire, a portion of his benefits were calculated by hand and a portion by computer. Later, the portion previously calculated by hand was added once again by the computer, resulting in double payments.
Higbee received approximately $48,000 in a lump-sum distribution, but the amount should have been only about $34,000. And from January to November 1996, he received $3,200 per month, when it should have been only about $2,100.
In October 1987, Higbee resigned from UVSC after disclosures that he spent school money for personal phone bills and family country club use.