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Ortelere v. Teachers’ Retirement Board of the City of New York

Court of Appeals of New York
250 N.E.2d 460 (1969)

Ortelere v. Teachers' Retirement Board of the City of New York


Mrs. Ortelere worked as a teacher for many years and participated in the Teachers’ Retirement System of the City of New York (the System), administered by the Teachers’ Retirement Board of the City of New York (the Board) (defendant). At one point, she had elected a retirement payout that would provide a small amount of monthly income and a reserve that would be paid to her husband, Mr. Ortelere (plaintiff) upon her death. When Mrs. Ortelere was 60, she suffered a “nervous breakdown” and took a leave of absence. She began treatment with a psychiatrist employed by the Board of Education. The psychiatrist diagnosed her with “involutional psychosis, melancholia type” and administered tranquilizer and shock therapy. Her psychiatrist never felt she was well enough to return to work. She also deteriorated to the point that her husband quit his job to take care of her. On February 11, several months after her breakdown, but just before the expiration of her leave of absence, Mrs. Ortelere executed an application to the Board whereby she elected to change her retirement payout. She changed her payout to provide larger monthly income and no reserve to be paid out upon her death. She also borrowed against the account. At this time she had been happily married to her husband for 38 years. Three days prior to the February election, Mrs. Ortelere informed the Board she intended to retire and asked specific questions that reflected understanding of the retirement system. Two months after the February election, Mrs. Ortelere died from a condition unrelated to her mental condition. Her husband and executor of her estate brought suit seeking to revoke the February election to have it declared void for lack of mental capacity. The trial court held that Mrs. Ortelere was mentally incompetent and, therefore, her February election was null and void. The Appellate Division reversed and dismissed Mr. Ortelere's complaint, holding there was insufficient evidence of incapacity. Mr. Ortelere appealed to the Court of Appeals of New York.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Breitel, J.)

Dissent (Jasen, J.)

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