Pension Board's ignoring a long-standing interpretation of law addressing eligibility for certain retirement benefits ruled arbitrary and capricious
Richter v Kelly, 2013 NY Slip Op 07803, Appellate Division, First Department
The New York City Police Pension Fund's Medical Board examined an applicant for Accidental Disability Retirement [ADR], a police surgeon, and certified that this disability was the result of an accidental injury received in the performance of police duty, pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-k, the so-called Heart Bill.
§207-k provides that in the event of an impairment of health is caused by a diseases of the heart that results “in total or partial disability or death to a paid member of the uniformed force of a paid police department or fire department who successfully passed a physical examination on entry into the service of such respective department, 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, unless the contrary be proved by competent evidence.”
The Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund, however, reversing a policy established by years of practice and internal memoranda, denied the police surgeon’s application on the ground that the Heart Bill did not apply to a police surgeon.
The Appellate Division, however, annulled the Board's decision and affirmed a Supreme Court decision granting the police surgeon’s application for ADR benefits pursuant to.§207-k.
The court noted that in 1993 the City’s Assistant Corporation Counsel had written to the Pensions Section that the Corporation Counsel’s office “has interpreted the Heart Bill to apply to police surgeons.”
Rejecting Board's arguments is support of its claim that the Heart Bill did not apply to police surgeons, the Appellate Division said that “neither the title of General Municipal Law §207-k ("Disabilities of policemen and firemen in certain cities") nor the reference in the statute to ‘police officers’ creates ambiguity as to whether the statute applies to police surgeons.” Further, said the court, the Board did not show that a literal reading of the statute would frustrate its purpose.
Accordingly, the Appellate Division ruled that the Board was bound by the Medical Board's determination of regarding the police surgeon’s disability and cannot now seek "clarification" of the Medical Board's determination, explaining that in the absence of credible medical evidence that police surgeons disabling heart condition was not related to her service as a police surgeon, the Board’s determination to deny her ADR benefits under the Heart Bill lacks a rational basis and is arbitrary and capricious.
The decision is posted on the Internet at:http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_07803.htm