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May 23, 2016

Determining the impact of performing light, limited or restricted duty on applications for disability retirement benefits


Determining the impact of performing light, limited or restricted duty on an application for disability retirement benefits
Koenig v DiNapoli, 2016 NY Slip Op 03942, Appellate Division, Third Department

2 NYCRR 364.3 addresses situations in which a member of the New York Stateand Local Police and Fire Retirement System [SLPFRS] has been assigned to light, limited or restricted duty applies for disability retirement benefits.

If the SLPFRS member has been assigned to light, limited or restricted duties for less than two years prior to the date application for disability retirement benefits was filed with the Comptroller and has not performed at least 100 hours of paid overtime in any 12-month period within such two-year period, SLPFRS is to “render its determination on the issue of permanent incapacity on the basis of the duties and job requirements of such previous full duty assignment.”

In contrast, if the SLPFRS member has been continuously assigned to light, limited or restricted duties for at least two years prior to the date application for disability retirement benefits SLPFRS  is to render its determination on the issue of permanent incapacity on the basis of such light, limited or restricted duty assignment.

If, however, the SLPFRS member has been continuously assigned to light, limited or restricted duties for at least one year prior to the date application for disability retirement benefits was filed performed at least 100 hours of paid overtime while on light, limited or restricted duty assignment during any 12-month period within the two-year period prior to the filing of the application for disability retirement, SLPFRS is to base its determination on the issue of permanent incapacity “on the basis of such light, limited or restricted duty assignment.”

In July 2007, Daniel G. Koenig, a police officer, was injured when a bullet fragment from another police officer's gunshot ricocheted off a target at the firing range and struck petitioner in the leg. Koenig returned to work in December 2007 and placed on light duty assignment. In January 2009, Koenig filed an application for accidental disability retirement benefits.

The New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System [SLPFRS] assessed Koenig's disability application on whether he was incapacitated from the performance of the duties assigned to light duty work in accordance with 2 NYCRR 364.3(c).*

The Comptroller, however, accepted the findings and conclusions of the Hearing Officer, concluding that whether Koenig was permanently disabled from the performance of his duties should be evaluated on the basis of his light duty assignment and thereafter denied his application for accidental disability retirement benefits. The Comptroller, in effect, held that Koenig was not disabled from continuing to perform his light duty assignment.

Koenig filed an Article 78 petition challenging the Comptroller’s determination, contending that as the hearing had already been commenced under the full duty performance standard, the provisions of 2 NYCRR 364.3(c) should not control. He also claimed that he had not worked 100 hours or more of overtime.

The Appellate Division held that Koenig's contention that it was error, following the commencement of the hearing, to change the standard upon which to evaluate his disability retirement application from full duty to light duty performance, particularly given that he already had presented medical testimony based upon his full duty assignment, “was without merit.” The court said that evidence in the record established that Koenig continuously performed light duty assignment for a year following his return to work and also performed at least 100 hours of paid overtime during a 12-month period prior to filing his application for disability retirement benefits. Accordingly, said the court, 2 NYCRR 364.3(c) requires that the determination on the issue of permanent incapacity be evaluated on the basis of the light duty assignment.

Although Koenig sought to deduct mandatory overtime for medical evaluations or court appearances and contractual travel overtime from his total hours of overtime, the Appellate Division said that it found “nothing irrational, unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious in the Comptroller's interpretation that, under the circumstances herein, such overtime was reasonably anticipated by the regulation and should not be excluded from the total overtime hours reported.”**  Further, explained the court citing Bombace v Nitido, 117 AD3d 1375, “[t]he Comptroller is vested with . . . the duty to correct errors and cannot be estopped to create rights to retirement benefits to which there is no entitlement.”

Although Koenig was given the opportunities to recall or have his medical expert submit an affidavit as to his ability to perform light duty work and also was informed that appropriate time would be given in order for him to present any additional evidence or witnesses, he declined to do so.

The Appellate Division ruled that as Koenig presented no evidence regarding his inability to perform light duty work, the Comptroller's denial of his application for accidental disability retirement benefits “will not be disturbed.”

* 2 NYCRR 364.3(c) provides the member has been continuously assigned to light, limited or restricted duties for at least one year prior to the date application for disability retirement benefits was filed with the Comptroller has performed at least 100 hours of paid overtime while on light, limited or restricted duty assignment during any 12-month period within the two-year period prior to the filing of the application for disability retirement, SLPFRS “shall render its determination on the issue of permanent incapacity on the basis of such light, limited or restricted duty assignment.”

**The Appellate Division observed that even under his own assessment, Koenig completed more than 90 hours of voluntary overtime during the relevant 12-month period.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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