Monday, June 06, 2016

A General Municipal Law §207-a(2) salary supplement becomes payable by the employer upon a firefighters retirement with accidental or line of duty disability benefits


A General Municipal Law §207-a(2) salary supplement becomes payable by the employer upon a firefighters retirement with accidental or line of duty disability benefits
Masullo v City of Mount Vernon, 2016 NY Slip Op 04225, Appellate Division, Second Department

The Fire Commissioner of the City of Mount Vernon adopted the recommendation of a hearing officer, made after a hearing, and denied disabled firefighter Michael Masullo’s application for supplemental salary benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a(2).

Masullo appealed the City’s action and Supreme Court held that Masullo was obligated to submit an application in the manner prescribed by the City of Mount Vernon and City of Mount Vernon Fire Department for §207-a(2) salary supplement payments and that the eligibility review process imposed by the City of Mount Vernon and City of Mount Vernon Fire Department was not improper. Masullo appealed the Supreme Court’s determination.

The Appellate Division overturned the Supreme Court’s decision, essentially holding that the language in §207-a(2) providing for supplemental salary payments to a firefighter retired on accidental or line of duty disability retirement mandates such payments upon the retirement of the firefighter because of such disability and is initiated by operation of law. Thus no “procedure” or “request” to grant or obtain such payments involving the employer appears to be required.

In the words of the Appellate Division, “General Municipal Law §207-a(2) guarantees the payment of benefits to a firefighter who is permanently disabled in the line of duty, including the continued payment of the firefighter's regular salary until the mandatory retirement age, less certain amounts received from other sources.”

The court noted that Masullo’s appeal “presents an issue of first impression for this Court: whether the provisions of General Municipal Law §207-a(2) authorize a municipality to terminate permanent disability retirement benefits previously awarded to a firefighter pursuant to that subsection, and require the firefighter to submit a formal application for those benefits pursuant to an application procedure that was adopted by the municipality subsequent to the firefighter's retirement.”

The court ruled that “a municipality is not authorized to terminate such previously awarded §207-a(2) benefits or require the submission of a formal application for such benefits after the firefighter has retired, as this essentially amounts to an improper reconsideration of an award of benefits based on improved medical condition, a procedure which is not authorized by General Municipal Law §207-a(2).”

The decision reports that the New York State Comptroller had approved both an accidental disability retirement allowance pursuant to the Retirement and Social Security Law §363, and a performance-of-duty disability retirement allowance pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law §363-c for Masullo. In addition, the decision notes that Masullo "had simultaneously retired from the fire department."

In accordance with General Municipal Law §207-a(2), the City commenced paying Masullo §207-a(2) benefits, consisting of the  difference between his regular salary and those retirement allowances. In April 2004, the City adopted an application procedure for firefighters to request and receive §207-a(2) benefits.

The genesis of this litigation was a letter Deputy Fire Commissioner Deborah Norman sent to Masullo advising him that the City had recently reviewed his eligibility to receive §207-a(2) benefits and determined that there was no record that he had ever requested or applied for those benefits. Norman also advised Masullo that, "in the absence of a request or application for [Section] 207-a(2) benefits," she had determined that Masullo had been erroneously paid these benefits. Norman then directed the City to immediately cease paying Masullo §207-a(2) benefits, and included an application form with the letter should Masullo wish to apply for those benefits.

Masullo’s attorney wrote to the City the expressing his view that the Masullo was entitled to continue receiving §207-a(2) benefits. The City agreed to resume paying §207-a(2) benefits to Masullo on the condition that he submit an application in full compliance with the Fire Department’s recently implemented application process. Masullo did so and the City’s physician who examined Masullo opined that he “did not find any pathology that would represent a causally related disability, and determined that there was nothing which would prevent [Masullo] from returning to full-duty status.” Ultimately the City discontinued Masullo’s §207-a(2) supplemental payments.

Citing McGowan v Fairview Fire District, 51 AD3d 796,  the court said that it had addressed the question of whether a fire district was authorized to review a firefighter's medical condition for the purpose of determining whether it had improved to such an extent that the firefighter was no longer entitled to supplemental benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a(2).

The court said in McGowan it had held that General Municipal Law §207-a does not contain any language authorizing a municipality to terminate General Municipal Law §207-a(2) benefits on the basis of improved medical condition.

In contrast, GML §207-a(3) expressly grants municipalities the authority to terminate benefits being paid pursuant to GML §207-a(1) upon a finding that the employee has experienced an improvement is his or her medical or physical condition under certain circumstances.

Subdivision 3 of General Municipal Law §207-a provides as follows: “If such a [firefighter] [i.e., a firefighter receiving §207-a(1) benefits] is not eligible for or is not granted such accidental disability retirement allowance or retirement for disability incurred in performance of duty allowance or similar accidental disability pension and is nevertheless, in the opinion of such health authorities or physician, unable to perform his [or her] regular duties as a result of such injury or sickness but is able, in their opinion, to perform specified types of light duty, payment of the full amount of regular salary or wages, as provided by subdivision one of this section, shall be discontinued with respect to such [firefighter] if he [or she] shall refuse to perform such light duty if the same is available and offered to him [or her], provided, however, that such light duty shall be consistent with his [or her] status as a [firefighter] and shall enable him [or her] to continue to be entitled to his [or her] regular salary or wages, including increases thereof and fringe benefits, to which he [or she] would have been entitled if he [or she] were able to perform his [or her] regular duties.”*

The Appellate Division concluded that the absence of a similar provision in General Municipal Law §207-a with respect to retirees receiving §207-a(2) salary supplements to their retirement benefits indicates that the Legislature did not intend to grant municipalities the authority to terminate benefits paid §207-a(2) on the basis of the retiree’s improved medical condition.

The Appellate Division determined that the Masullo [1] was not obligated to submit an application for benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a(2) in the manner prescribed by the City of Mount Vernon and City of Mount Vernon Fire Department; [2]  the eligibility review process imposed by the City of Mount Vernon and City of Mount Vernon Fire Department was improper; [3] directed the City of Mount Vernon to reinstate Manullo’s§207-a(2)  benefits retroactive to February 13, 2009, plus statutory interest; and [4] awarded Masullo “one bill of costs.”

* GML §207-a(5) provides “The appropriate municipal or fire district officials may transfer such a [firefighter] to a position in the same or another agency or department where they are able to do so pursuant to applicable civil service requirements and provided the [firefighter] shall consent thereto.” See, also, GML §207-a(6) which provides for the forfeiture of a firefighter’s GML §207-a(1) entitlement to such benefits under certain circumstances.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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The Disability Benefits E-book: - This e-book focuses on disability benefits available to officers and employees in public service pursuant to Civil Service Law §§71, 72 and 73, General Municipal Law §207-a and §207-c, the Retirement and Social Security Law, the Workers’ Compensation Law, and similar provisions of law. For more information click on: http://booklocker.com/3916.html
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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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