Creditable medical evidence trumps presumption that a disease of the heart was incurred in the performance of police officer duties
Goodacre v Kelly, 2012 NY Slip Op 05096, Appellate Division, First Department
Supreme Court, granted the Article 78 petition filed by a New York City police officer, Charles Goodacre, seeking, among other things, to annul the determination by the Trustees of the Retirement System denying his application for accident disability retirement (ADR) benefits to which he claimed he was entitled pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-k (the Heart Bill)*. Although Supreme Court found that the officer was “entitled to such benefits as a matter of law,” the Appellate Division reversed the lower courts ruling.
§207-k sets out the rebuttable presumption that a police officer or firefighter suffering an impairment of health “caused by diseases of the heart, resulting in total or partial disability or death … who successfully passed a physical examination on entry into the service … which examination failed to reveal any evidence of such condition, shall be presumptive evidence that it was incurred in the performance and discharge of duty….” The presumption may be rebutted by competent evidence to the contrary.
Citing Borenstein v New York City Employees' Retirement System, 88 NY2d 756, the Appellate Division said that Supreme Court “exceeded the scope of its review,” which is to determine “whether ‘some credible evidence’ supported the Medical Board's determination as to disability.”
In this instance Supreme Court concluded, “contrary to findings of the Medical Board,” that although there were conflicting submissions, as a matter of law, Goodacre’s hypertension “… constituted a stress-related condition warranting ADR benefits.”
Such a determination, however, “was the sole province of the Medical Board and the Board of Trustees, not the court.” The Board and the Trustees were to resolve conflicts in the medical evidence. Having reviewed all of the medical reports and, in its most recent decision, recognizing the conflicting evidence, the Medical Board determined that although Goodacre had hypertensive heart disease, he did not have a stress related disability because there was insufficient evidence…. "
Accordingly, the Appellate Division ruled that the statutory presumption of §207-k was overcome by this credible evidence of Goodacre's disabling congenital heart condition.
Contrary to Goodacre's contention, and the Supreme Court's conclusion, the Appellate Division ruled that “it cannot be said as a matter of law that the cause of [Goodacre's] disability is job related stress” and the Medical Board's decision was supported by credible evidence. Further, said the court, the Board sufficiently set forth the reasons for its conclusions.
The Appellate Division then reversed the Supreme Court’s decision and denied Goodacre’s Article 78 petition.
* N.B.There are two “General Municipal Law Section 207-Kaddressing “Disabilities of policemen and firemen in certain cities.” The first sets out an expiration date of July 1, 1973; the second, 207-K*2, set out an expiration date of July 1, 1995. However, Retirement and Social Security Law §480.a extends certain temporary benefits and supplementation programs otherwise “scheduled to expire or terminate at any time” during the period January 1, 1974 through and including December 31, 2011, including the so-called Heart Bill.
The decision is posted on the Internet at:http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_05096.htm
General Municipal Law§§ 207-a and 207-c- a 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder is available from the Public Employment Law Press. Click on http://section207.blogspot.com/for additional information about this electronic reference manual.