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Pinion v. Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

October 29, 2019

SHIRLEY E. PINION APPELLANT
v.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/22/2018

          HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JEFF WEILL SR.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: GEORGE S. LUTER

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL SAMUEL MARTIN MILLETTE III JANE L. MAPP

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

          WESTBROOKS, J.

         ¶1. On February 26, 2013, the Board of Trustees (the PERS Board) of the Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi (PERS) entered an order approving and adopting the recommendation, findings of fact, and conclusions of law of the PERS's Disability Appeals Committee (the Committee), thereby denying Shirley Pinion's application for in-the-line-of-duty disability benefits pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 25-11-114(6) (Supp. 2011). Dissatisfied, Pinion appealed to the Hinds County Circuit Court seeking reversal of the PERS Board's decision. The circuit court affirmed the PERS Board's decision on June 22, 2018. Finding the PERS Board's decision was supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Shirley Pinion was employed with the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) for 23 3/4 years before her departure in 2012.[1] Around 1997, Pinion received a carpal-tunnel-syndrome (CTS) diagnosis, revealing that the disease was most severe in her right hand. Despite the diagnosis and its accompanying discomfort, Pinion continued to work in her usual capacity with UMMC. The daily functions of Pinion's position entailed a great deal of typing and other computer-based work. In an attempt to avoid surgery, Pinion used braces to assuage the pain. Unable to cope, Pinion elected to undergo a carpel-tunnel-release surgery on her right hand in July 1999. The surgery was intended to relieve the CTS symptoms, but Pinion continued to experience pain. Pinion sought further evaluation from a series of physicians, and each provided different hypotheses about the persisting discomfort.

         ¶3. On August 13, 2001, Pinion was referred to and evaluated by rheumatologist Dr. Suzanne Sanders. Dr. Sanders suspected Raynaud's disease as the cause of Pinion's pain and recommended further testing. Dr. Sanders was not able to reach a definitive diagnosis.

         ¶4. On February 11, 2004, Pinion sought a pain-management consultation from Dr. Jeffery Summers, who suggested sympathetic pain was the culprit. Still seeking relief, Pinion agreed to another surgery and allowed Dr. William Lineweaver to perform a sympathectomy procedure in April 2004. Pinion reported increased pain after the procedure but returned to work in May 2004.

         ¶5. Failed by surgical solutions, Pinion visited Dr. Rahul Vohra in February 2006. Dr. Vohra developed an effective pharmacologic-pain-management regimen to relieve the unbearable CTS symptoms. Drugs used in Pinion's treatment included a number of narcotic pain medicines and analgesic patches. Pinion experienced notable relief and was able to continue working with the aid of the medications.

         ¶6. On February 13, 2012, UMMC family physician Dr. Rebecca Waterer evaluated Pinion. Although the prompt for Pinion's appointment with Dr. Waterer is unclear, the visit resulted in a determination that Pinion could not safely perform the work tasks required of her and simultaneously adhere to the drug regimen prescribed by Dr. Vohra.

         ¶7. On February 14, 2012, UMMC placed Pinion on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, 20 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (2012), pending the discontinuation or significant decrease in the use of the narcotics. In light of UMMC's determination, Pinion returned to Dr. Vohra, who adamantly rejected UMMC's request that Pinion discontinue or significantly decrease her use of the narcotics as unreasonable after evaluating Pinion's pain levels. Dr. Vohra also noted that Pinion had followed the drug regimen ...


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