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Public Employees' Retirement System v. Walker

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

December 5, 2013

PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM
v.
Sherry WALKER.

Page 893

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 894

Jane L. Mapp, Jackson, attorney for appellant.

George S. Luter, attorney for appellee.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

WALLER, Chief Justice.

¶ 1. The Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) denied Sherry Walker's requests for regular and duty-related disability benefits. The Hinds County Circuit Court reversed PERS's decision. The Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court, reinstating PERS' denial of benefits. We find that PERS' decision to deny Walker's request for regular disability benefits was unsupported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, we reverse in part the opinion of the Court of Appeals. We also reverse the judgment of the Hinds County Circuit Court, and we remand this case to the circuit court with instructions to enter judgment in Walker's favor on her regular disability benefits claim.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

¶ 2. Sherry Walker worked as a teacher in the South Pike School District for thirteen years. In 1998, Walker fell during a classroom demonstration, injuring her neck, back, and wrists. She then applied for regular and duty-related disability benefits from PERS, claiming that her workplace injury had exacerbated her preexisting degenerative disease and fibromyalgia. Other facts, including a summary of Walker's treatment by various physicians, will be discussed as necessary later in this opinion.

¶ 3. After reviewing Walker's medical records and other evidence, the PERS Medical Board denied Walker's request for benefits. Walker appealed to the PERS Disability Appeals Committee (DAC), which also concluded that Walker's medical condition was not severe enough to prevent her from performing her normal work duties. Thus, the DAC recommended that the PERS Board of Trustees deny Walker's request for benefits. The Board of Trustees adopted the DAC's recommendation, and Walker appealed to the Hinds County Circuit Court. The circuit court reversed the Board of Trustees' decision, finding that PERS' denial of duty-related benefits was not supported by substantial evidence.

¶ 4. PERS appealed the circuit court's decision, and the case was assigned to the Court of Appeals. Walker cross-appealed on the issue of whether she was entitled to regular disability benefits. The Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court's decision and rendered judgment in favor of PERS, finding that substantial evidence supported PERS' denial of both regular and duty-related benefits. We granted Walker's petition for writ of certiorari to determine whether PERS' denial of disability benefits was supported by substantial evidence, when PERS had declined to conduct an independent medical examination of Walker.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 5. This Court's standard of review of the decision of an administrative agency is well-settled. " [A]n agency's conclusions must remain undisturbed unless the agency's order: 1) is not supported by substantial evidence, 2) is arbitrary or capricious, 3) is ...


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