Chester H. Bass and a number of others, hereinafter called the plaintiffs, brought suit against Marvin Griffin, Governor of Georgia, and others, composing the Board of Commissioners of the Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Georgia, hereinafter referred to collectively as the defendants. The petition, asking for a declaratory judgment, alleges in paragraph 2 that the plaintiffs are members of the State penal system, some of them being employees of the State Board of Corrections and others being employees of the various county prisons and public works camps of the State of Georgia.
Paragraph 3 reads as follows: "That on February 1, 1950, there was passed all act known as 'Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund', said act being by its terms for the benefit of 'peace officers who are employed by the State of Georgia, or any subdivision, or municipality thereof', the material portion of said act (section 8), being as follows: 'The term peace officer, as used in this act, shall mean all peace officers who are employed by the State of Georgia, or any subdivision, or municipality thereof, who are required by the term of their employment, whether by election or appointment, to give their full time to the preservation of public order, or the protection of life and property, or the detection of crime in the State of Georgia, or any political subdivision or municipality thereof, and shall include all convict guards and wardens of county or state camps shall be entitled to all the benefits, privileges and responsibilities provided under this act. Provided that any person coming within the meaning of the word peace officer as herein defined shall be eligible to membership in the Peace Officers' Association of Georgia.' (Ga. L. 1950, p. 53).
"Said act was amended on February 28, 1956, to read as follows: 'The term peace officer, as used in this act, shall mean any peace officer who is employed by the State of Georgia or any political subdivision thereof, who is required by the terms of his employment as such peace officer, whether such employment exists by virtue of election or appointment, to give his full time to his job as such peace officer. Such term shall also include any warden or guard of State or county public works camps and any warden or guard of municipal public works camps of a municipality having a population of 70,000 or more according to the last or any future United States census, who is required by the terms of his employment as such warden or guard to give his full time to his job as such warden or guard.' (Ga. L. 1956, p. 285.)"
Paragraph 4 alleges that by amendment of February 21, 1951, (Ga. L. 1951, p. 472) a provision was made that "those persons who are now serving as such peace officers shall make application for membership in said fund on or before March 1, 1951." Paragraph 5 alleges that the plaintiffs made application for membership in the Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Georgia and were accepted as members therein, membership to begin March 1, 1951; that since that time the plaintiffs have remitted to the defendants all sums due and payable covering membership, on a monthly basis as required. Paragraph 6 alleges that on May 8, 1957, the defendants refunded to the plaintiffs all funds paid in by the plaintiffs and notified each of them that they were no longer members of the said fund and no longer entitled to the rights and privileges accorded to members under such act. Paragraph 7 alleges that the plaintiffs made tender of the funds back to the defendants, contending that the return of the funds to the plaintiffs was illegal, and that the defendants refused such tender. Paragraph 8 alleges that the defendants had a right to make certain rules and regulations concerning the eligibility of employees to receive funds and annuities under the provisions of the act; but that (paragraph 9 of the petition) no rules and regulations had been made for determining such eligibility, although the plaintiffs in each instance had been declared not police officers and refunded funds referred to hereinabove without a hearing. Paragraph 10 alleges that the plaintiffs are entitled to retirement pay, when eligible, but that they are not yet eligible because none of them has served the required number of years to be entitled to such benefits. Paragraph 11 alleges disability benefits, when eligible, but alleges that the plaintiffs are not eligible at the present time because of lack of required service time. Paragraph 12 alleges death benefits, when eligible, but alleges that the plaintiffs obviously are not eligible at the present time. Paragraph 13 alleges that payments have been made and tendered for all these benefits. Paragraph 14 alleges the desire of the plaintiffs to continue as members of the fund in order to receive benefits at ta later time; compliance with all requirements with benefits to the fund is alleged. Paragraph 15 alleges that the plaintiffs are police officers and guards within the meaning of the act and then sets out the details describing the work of each of them. This description shows that each of the plaintiffs carries a gun and guards prisoners each work day (except two plaintiffs who work so closely with prisoners that carrying a gun would be unsafe for all concerned because the prisoners could obtain and use the gun). Paragraph 16 alleges facts common to all the plaintiffs. Paragraph 17 alleges that the facts of the plaintiffs' employment have been known to the defendants and petitioners from March 1, 1951, until May 8, 1957, and they are now estopped to deny membership to the plaintiffs. Paragraph 18 alleges that by agreement monthly tender of dues has been waived. Paragraphs 19 and 20 allege facts previously alleged. Paragraph 21 alleges that a declaratory judgment is necessary to determine the rights of the plaintiffs. We shall set out the questions presented and the answers thereto hereinafter.
The defendants filed general and special demurrers to the petition. The court overruled the general demurrers, did not pass on the special demurrers, and the case is here assigning error on the court's judgment overruling the general demurrers.
Counsel for the plaintiffs in oral argument admit that the question of estoppel has been determined correctly against the plaintiffs, so we will not deal with this point in this opinion. See McCallum v. Almand, 213 Ga. 701
(100 S. E. 2d 924), and cases cited therein.
As is pointed out by counsel for the defendants, it is elementary and a fundamental principle of law that a petition must be construed most strongly against the plaintiffs. See Rome Furnace Co. v. Patterson, 120 Ga. 521 (48 S. E. 166); Babcock Bros. Lumber Co. v. Johnson, 120 Ga. 1030 (48 S. E. 438); and James v. Maddox, 153 Ga. 208 (111 S. E. 731). See also Krueger v. McDougald, 148 Ga. 429 (96 S. E. 867)
It is also true that where any of several averments alleged in the alternative is insufficient, the entire pleading is rendered bad. See Doyal v. Russell, 183 Ga. 518, 534 (189 S. E. 32). However, in the instant case we find no pleading in the alternative and no pleading in the disjunctive. The petition set out two reasons why the court should decree that the plaintiffs are police officers, convict guards, or wardens within the meaning of the act. Such does not show pleadings in the alternative or disjunctive.
As to whether or not the plaintiffs are eligible as members of the Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund, we refer to the definition of peace officers found in Ga. L. 1950, p. 53 and Ga. L. 1956, p. 285, quoted hereinabove.
In construing a beneficent statute such as the one here considered, we must look to the general scheme and purpose of the legislation. See Carroll v. Ragsdale, 192 Ga. 118
(15 S. E. 2d 210); Drost v. Robinson, 194 Ga. 703
, 708 (22 S. E. 2d 475). Funds such as involved here are set up to provide adjusted compensation for services rendered, and are not gratuitous. See Cole v. Foster, 207 Ga. 416
, 420 (61 S. E. 2d 814). Such benefits aid in securing more efficient and desirable public employees, resulting in greatly enhanced public security and peace. This is the day and age when fringe benefits, such as sick benefits, retirement, etc., are extremely important to the working public, and many people take and hold onto jobs because of such benefits.
His subordinates, on whom various duties devolve, are guards. In the instant case the plaintiffs and each of them guarded prisoners during the entire day's work. It is doubtful that prisoners would work without direction. Guards can and do direct and still hold a gun over prisoners. It is sound economics to have the prisoners do something. It is desirable from a standpoint of health for prisoners, and those outside the confines of prison, to have something to do, and while doing things, particularly outside the limits of prison walls, it is necessary for guarding restraint to be used. Even so, frequent attempts to obtain freedom are made, making guard duty a hazardous occupation.
The court did not err in overruling the general demurrers to the petition.
Judgment affirmed. Townsend and Carlisle, JJ., concur.