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Davis v. Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

October 29, 2019

ERIN K. DAVIS APPELLANT
v.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/14/2018

          HINDS 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

          BEFORE CARLTON, P.J., WESTBROOKS AND C. WILSON, JJ.

          C. WILSON, J.

         ¶1. 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

         ¶2. 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.

         ¶3. 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.

         ¶4. 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.[1] 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.

         ¶5. 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.

         ¶6. 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.[2] 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 ...

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