ERIN K. DAVIS APPELLANT
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 06/14/2018
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. JOSEPH
ANTHONY SCLAFANI TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: GEORGE S. LUTER
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
SAMUEL MARTIN MILLETTE III
CARLTON, P.J., WESTBROOKS AND C. WILSON, JJ.
The Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi
(PERS) Board of Trustees (the PERS Board) denied Erin
Davis's request for disability retirement benefits. The
statutory requirement for PERS disability is a finding that a
member is likely permanently disabled from performing the
usual duties of employment. Here, the PERS Board found there
was insufficient evidence that Davis is likely permanently
disabled from teaching. Davis appeals, contending that
substantial evidence does not support the PERS Board's
denial of her claim and that her due process rights were
violated. We affirm. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On September 5, 2012, a student attacked Davis, a STEM and
world history teacher in the Vicksburg-Warren County School
District, at work. According to Davis's testimony, the
student was being uncooperative. Davis went to push the
intercom button in her classroom when the student elbowed
Davis in the side, threw her down, and slammed the door into
her head while she was on the ground. Davis testified that
the attack left her dazed but not unconscious.
Two days later, Davis's husband took her to the emergency
room for dizziness and a headache. Davis had a CT scan, but
the results returned inconclusive. The doctor told Davis that
she likely had a concussion. Davis returned to work eight
days after the incident. She finished working the remainder
of the school year and began working the following school
year, although she periodically missed work, using medical
leave. On December 2, 2013, when Davis did not return to work
after exhausting her medical leave, she was terminated.
Approximately four months after Davis was terminated, on
March 27, 2014, Davis applied for PERS disability retirement
benefits. Because Davis had eight and a half years of service
credit and was a vested, albeit inactive, PERS member, she
was eligible for both non-duty- and duty-related disability
benefits. But after reviewing Davis's records,
the PERS Medical Board (the Medical Board) found there was
insufficient evidence to support Davis's claim that her
medical condition prevented her from performing the duties of
a teacher. The Medical Board denied Davis's disability
claim, and Davis appealed.
The PERS Disability Appeals Committee (the Appeals
Committee), comprised of two physicians and an
attorney/nurse, conducted a de novo review of Davis's
claim. The Appeals Committee held hearings on December 1,
2014, and June 1, 2015. Davis and her husband testified and
provided evidence, including additional medical records.
Davis testified that she could no longer work due to
dizziness, vertigo, headaches, back and limb pain, inability
to drive or focus, and inability to sit or stand for any
sustained length of time.
On June 1, 2015, the Appeals Committee issued a thorough,
twenty-one page statement of factual findings and conclusions
of law. In its analysis, the Appeals Committee noted that
Davis's medical records pre-dating the 2012 incident show
a long history of pain complaints, sleep disturbances, and
pain-management treatments. The Appeals Committee also
addressed the opinions and reports of various doctors that
had seen Davis:
Dr. [Krishna] Goli, [a] neurologist, wrote in a memo dated
April 29, 2013, that Ms. Davis had a complete work-up
includ[ing] an MRI and MRA of the brain on October 30, 2012[,
] that was unremarkable. . . . He noted he had never
restricted Ms. Davis'[s] driving because she looked to
have no neurological problems and her imaging studies
revealed no abnormalities. He stated he had no objective
evidence to support her subjective complaints and therefore
left driving to her judgment.
. . . .
At PERS'[s] request, Ms. Davis underwent an independent
medical examination [(IME)] on July 1, 2014, by Dr. David
Collipp, an expert in physical medicine and disability. . . .
Dr. Collipp opined that from a physical standpoint, he
believed Ms. Davis was able to perform light duty work with a
20-pound lift ...