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Friday, March 13, 2015

Legislative intent with respect to providing performance of duty disability retirement benefits to State and local correction officers


Legislative intent with respect to providing performance of duty disability retirement benefits to State and local correction officers
2015 NY Slip Op 519474, Appellate Division, Third Department

A New York State Correction Officer [Officer] challenged the New York Employees' State Retirement System's  denial of his application for performance of duty disability retirement benefits.

Officer had applied for performance of duty disability retirement benefits alleging that he was permanently incapacitated due to a work-related injury to his right knee. At the administrative hearing Officer testified that he had injured his knee while involved in a struggle to restrain an unruly inmate who had threatened another office and that he and the other officer were in the process of taking the inmate down to the floor when he felt pain in his knee.

However, Officer had signed a written report on the day of the incident that stated that, after the other officer had taken down and restrained the inmate, who had stopped resisting, he injured his knee when he slipped as he was placing shackles on the inmate's legs. 

Crediting the description of the incident in the written report over Officer's testimony, the Hearing Officer found that Officer failed to establish that his injury was the result of an act of an inmate and upheld the Retirement System's denial of the application. The Comptroller adopted that determination and Officer appealed.

Mindful "that inconsistencies between [Officer’s] sworn testimony and written documents present a credibility issue for the factfinder to resolve," the Appellate Division said that it deferred “to the Hearing Officer's decision to credit the account of the incident set forth in the contemporaneous written report over that testified to by [Officer] during the hearing.” However, said that court, even accepting as true the version of the event contained in the written report, the record lacks substantial evidence to support the determination that Officer’s injury was not "the natural and proximate result of any act of any inmate” within the meaning of Retirement and Social Security Law §607-c [a].

Retirement and Social Security Law §607-c (a) provides, in pertinent part, that “performance of duty disability retirement benefits shall be available to a correction officer ... who becomes physically or mentally incapacitated for the performance of duties . . . by, or as the natural and proximate result of [,] any act of any inmate" (emphasis by the court) and the statute requires "that the [correction officer] demonstrate that his or her injuries were caused by direct interaction with an inmate."

The Appellate Division concluded that even accepting the version of the incident set forth in the written reports, the necessary "direct interaction" was present as Officer was injured while attempting to shackle an inmate who, just seconds earlier, had been taken down to the ground after violently threatening another correction officer. The court noted that the Hearing Officer erroneously found, which finding was adopted by the Comptroller, "[Officer] simply injured himself when he slipped after placing shackles on the inmate's feet" (emphasis by the court). Neither the testimony at the hearing nor any of the documentary evidence supports a finding that Officer was injured after he had shackled the inmate (emphasis by the court).

Under these circumstances, said the court, there is simply no evidentiary basis in the record to conclude that Officer’s injury was not the natural and proximate result of an act of an inmate. Further, explained the Appellate Division, ”... it is clear that the act of restraining a combative and unruly inmate is precisely the type of activity that was intended to trigger the protections afforded correction officers by Retirement and Social Security Law §607-c and the legislative justification for the enactment of both Retirement and Social Security Law §§507-b and 607-c — which provide performance of duty disability retirement benefits to correction officers employed by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and county-employed correction officers, respectively — was that "the increased inmate population of the state's prison system created strain and tension, manifesting itself in an increase in altercations among inmates and between inmates and correction officers." Thus, these statutes were thus "clearly intended to compensate correction officers who, because of the risks created by their 'daily contact with certain persons who are dangerous [and] profoundly antisocial.'”

Having determined that Officer’s injury was a natural and proximate result of an act of an inmate, the Appellate Division remitted the matter to the Comptroller “for further proceedings on the issue of the permanency of [Officer’s] alleged disability.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
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Disability Leave for fire, police and other public sector personnel - a 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and similar statutes providing benefits thereunder. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html
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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/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances 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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