August 21, 2019

Challenging the denial of an application for disability retirement benefits when the application is rejected by a "tie vote" by the trustees of the retirement fund

In Guidal v Trustees of the NYC Fire Department Article 1-B Fund, 275 AD2d 458, the Appellate Division demonstrated the difficult test that a claimant faces in attempting to have a court overturn a decision by the trustees of a pension fund denying his application for accidental disability retirement benefits. In Guidal's case the Trustees, by a tie vote, disapproved his application for accidental retirement benefits but approved him for ordinary disability retirement benefits. The court observed that:

"Where the Board of Trustees of the New York City Fire Department, Article 1-B Pension Fund ... denies an application for accidental disability benefits as a consequence of a tie vote, the Board’s determination can be set aside on judicial review only if it can be concluded as a matter of law that the petitioner’s disability was the natural and proximate result of a service-related injury."

In the instant CPLR Article 78 action the Supreme Court annulled the determination of the retirement system's Board of Trustees [Board] which, by a tied vote, denied Petitioner's application for accidental disability retirement benefits and remanded the matter to the Board for its further consideration.

The Board appealed and the Appellate Division unanimously reversed the lower court's ruling "on the law" and dismissed the proceeding.

Citing Meyer v Board of Trustees of N.Y. City Fire Dept., Art. 1-B Pension Fund, 90 NY2d 139, the Appellate Division explained that "[b]ecause the Board of Trustee's denial of [Petitioner's]  application for accident disability retirement was the result of a tie vote, the issue for the reviewing court was whether there was any credible evidence of lack of causation, i.e., evidence that the disability was not the natural and proximate result of the 1996 service-related accident."  

Other elements considered by the Appellate Division in making its ruling was the fact that :

[1] The record included "some credible evidence of lack of causation, namely, the conservative treatment [Petitioner] received after the accident and [Petitioner's] return to full duty for approximately 14 years before seeking further treatment;" and 

[2] The fact that "neither the Medical Board nor petitioner's physician were able to explain why the purported disabling injury did not prevent [Petitioner] from returning to full time duty for 14 years without further complaint."

The State Comptroller is the sole trustee of the New York State Employees’ Retirement System. Presumably the same analysis would be applied in cases where the determination concerning approving an application for accidental or duty-related disability benefits is at issue.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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