Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Employer may not discontinue a firefighter’s GML §207-a(1) benefits without first providing the firefighter with an administrative hearing


Employer may not discontinue a firefighter’s GML §207-a(1) benefits without first providing the firefighter with an administrative hearing
2014 NY Slip Op 00408, Appellate Division, Third Department

A firefighter (Firefighter) injured his lower and about one and one-half years later he stopped working due to his injury. His employer (Village) then granted him disability benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a (1).

About six moths later Village told Firefighter that it was discontinuing his disability benefits. Firefighter appealed that decision, eventually resulting in a determination that he was entitled to General Municipal Law §207-a(1) benefits. While his administrative appeal was pending*Firefighter was granted performance-of-duty disability retirement benefits pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law §363-c and retired.

The Village stopped paying Firefighter any benefits. Including “supplemental benefits” equal to the difference between his retirement allowance and his “full salary” as a firefighter. Firefighter asked Village pay him such supplemental disability benefits as authorized by General Municipal Law §207-a(2).

Ultimately the Appellate Division was presented with the issue: Does General Municipal Law §207-a provides one unified set of benefits, or are different and separate benefits are provided for under the different subdivisions of that statute.

The Appellate Division ruled that although the subdivisions provide for benefits that are different based on the qualifications, amounts and standards or requirements to obtain or retain them, the statute intends to provide for one unified set of benefits for the payment of salary to firefighters injured in the performance of duty.

In the words of the court: “Despite the differences between the subdivisions, the end result under their respective different scenarios is for the injured firefighter to receive his or her full regular salary.” Payment of the individual’s full regular salary is the benefit regardless of whether the firefighter is temporarily unable to work (General Municipal Law §207-a(1)], permanently unable to work and retired on that basis (General Municipal Law §207-a(2)], or unable to perform his or her regular duties but able to perform specified types of light duty (General Municipal Law §207-a(3)].”**

However, the Appellate Division said that although the benefits provided for in General Municipal Law §207-a are one unified benefit, an employer is not collaterally estopped from denying or considering if the firefighter is qualified to receive permanent supplemental benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a(2) based on the prior determination that he or she was entitled to temporary benefits under General Municipal Law §207-a(1).

The court explained that the standards and requirements to qualify for the benefits provided for under these two subdivisions are different. Subdivision (1) sets out the benefits to be paid to firefighters injured in the performance of duty until the municipality's health authorities certify that he or she is recovered and able to perform regular duties of his or her position.

In contrast, General Municipal Law §207-a(2) provides that in the event the firefighter is granted a specified type of disability retirement allowance as a result of an injury incurred in the performance of duties his or her employer no longer is required to pay the firefighter the full amount of his or her regular salary or wages but is required to pay the firefighter the difference between “the amounts received under such allowance or pension and the amount of his or her regular salary or wages until such time as he or she shall have attained the [relevant] mandatory service retirement age.”***

However, said the Appellate Division, as the benefits under General Municipal Law §207-a are one unified benefit, Supreme Court properly determined that Village could not terminate Firefighter’s benefits without a hearing, citing Park v Kapica, 8 NY3 302.

As the Court of Appeals held in Park, such disabled firefighters have a property interest in disability payments pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a, giving rise to procedural due process protection before those payments may be terminated.

Here, said the Appellate Division, Firefighter submitted evidence of permanent disability related to his work-related injury, raising "a genuine dispute on operative facts" such that he is entitled to a hearing on the deprivation of his benefits by the Village and since Firefighter was already receiving benefits under the statute, he is entitled to due process "before those payments are terminated," he is entitled to a continuation of benefits pending the hearing.

* The decision notes that “It appears that (Village) later appointed a hearing officer and a hearing has been held, but no decision has yet been rendered.”

** Such benefits, however, may also be discontinued in the event the firefighter refuses to perform light duty work after the employer's health authorities determine that the firefighter is capable of performing such light duty.

*** N.B. GML 207-a(4-a) provides that “ Any benefit payable pursuant to subdivision two of this section to a person who is granted retirement for disability incurred in performance of duty pursuant to section three hundred sixty-three-c of the retirement and social security law shall be reduced by the amount of the benefits that are finally determined payable under the workers' compensation law by reason of accidental disability.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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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 and other disability retirement issues is available from the Public Employment Law Press. Click on http://section207.blogspot.com/ for additional information about this electronic reference manual.

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Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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