March 04, 2021

Resolving a challenge to the denial of an application for accidental disability retirement benefits resulting from a tie vote by the pension fund's Board of Trustees

The New York City's Police Pension Fund [Fund] Medical Board [Medical Board] concluded that the disability of an individual's [Applicant] for accidental disability retirement benefits [ADR] "stemmed from an unsuccessful spinal surgery and not from a line-of-duty incident." As the Fund's Board of Trustees [Trustees] review of the Medical Board's decision resulted in a tie vote, Applicant was denied accidental disability retirement [ADR] pension benefits and was awarded ordinary disability retirement [ODR] benefits instead. 

Applicant then filed a CPLR Article 78 petition seeking a Supreme Court order annulling the Trustee's action and the Medical Board's determination. Supreme Court dismissed the proceeding and the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the lower court ruling.

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 in the event the Fund's Trustees' determination is the result of a tie vote, the reviewing court may not set aside the denial of ADR benefits "unless it can be determined as matter of law on the record that the disability was the natural and proximate result of a service-related accident."

Accordingly, said the court, in the event that there some credible evidence which supports the Medical Board's findings, a court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Medical Board, noting the decision by the Court of Appeals in Borenstein v New York City Employees' Retirement Sys., 88 NY2d 756 on this point.

Notwithstanding the Applicant's contentions to the contrary, the Appellate Division said that the record shows that the Medical Board reviewed all of the relevant evidence, including Applicant's medical records. Further, said the court, the Medical Board conducted three separate evaluations of the Applicant before reaching its final determination that ultimately resulting in her being awarded ODR benefits. 

Finding that there was credible evidence in the record to support the Medical Board's determination, the Appellate Division opined that the Trustees' denial of the ADR benefits sought by the Applicant should not be disturbed, affirming the Supreme Court's ruling in this matter.

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's decision.