OF JUDGMENT: 07/03/2018
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. JEFF WEILL
SR. TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: GEORGE S. LUTER
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
SAMUEL MARTIN MILLETTE III
This disability-benefits appeal arises from a decision
denying Carver duty-related disability benefits from the
Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi
(PERS). This Court, having fully considered the parties'
briefs, the record, and the applicable law, affirms the Hinds
County Circuit Court's judgment.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The facts in this case detail various incidents that Carver
faced while on duty for the Jackson Police Department (JPD).
The parties do not dispute these events.
In January 2004, Carver shot and killed an individual while
on duty as a patrolman for JPD. After the shooting, JPD
referred Carver to Dr. Jerry Alford as a matter of policy.
Carver visited with Dr. Alford twice to determine whether he
was fit to return to work. Carver was eventually cleared.
Several months after returning to work, Carver responded to a
domestic-violence dispatch. At the scene, Carver explained
that everyone was yelling and screaming at each other causing
him to become "highly anxious." In distress, Carver
drew his weapon and kicked in the door. As the door flew
open, a screaming child standing behind it was hit. Carver
"froze." He testified that he could not move or
enter the house. As a result, Carver's accompanying
officers took charge of the situation. After the event,
Carver did not take time off from work or seek professional
counseling. He feared counseling would end his career.
At a hearing to determine his disability benefits, Carver
admitted these facts. He also stated that he struggled with
other domestic-violence situations. He explained that there
were some domestic-violence dispatches that he could not
handle. During those instances, Carver waited until other
officers arrived instead of immediately responding. He even
detailed one specific instance where he set off his emergency
button because he could not handle a group of people yelling.
In 2007, Carver transferred from his midnight shift on the
radio-car dispatch patrol to the police-motor unit. Rather
than responding to thefts, burglaries, and domestic-violence
calls, the police-motor unit dealt with traffic-related
matters, such as motorcycle patrol and tag violations. During
this time, Carver was fighting insomnia by periodically
taking prescription medication. And even though the transfer
helped, Carver testified that there were times he would get
anxious when people did not stop right away. He feared that
he would be placed in a position that required him to use
Carver also testified that he had failed to report these
incidents to JPD. He did, however, speak with a supervisor
asking whether officers were required to report these types
of feelings. In November 2009, Carver started seeking
assistance from a licensed professional counselor to help
combat his anxiety. The next month, in December 2009, Carver
testified that he was involved in an incident over a minor
situation while on patrol during a Christmas parade. He
stated that he was afraid he might use his weapon
inappropriately. Carver expressed these feelings to his
professional counselor, and with his permission, the
counselor informed Carver's supervisors about the
Carver stated that after this incident, JPD relieved him of
his gun, and he took a medical leave of absence. The next
week, Carver received two letters terminating his employment.
After his termination, Carver's counselor wrote a letter
opining that Carver suffered from post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD). Carver was subsequently evaluated by Dr.
Webb, a psychiatrist, who stated that all of the
above-mentioned traumas and incidents caused his PTSD.
Carver applied for non-duty and duty-related disability
benefits. The PERS Medical Board granted him non-duty related
disability benefits but denied his request for duty-related
disability benefits. Carver appealed the decision to the
Disability Appeals Committee (DAC), which held a hearing and
agreed with the Medical Board's decision. The DAC
recommended that the Board of Trustees (PERS Board) deny
Carver duty-related disability benefits. The PERS Board
adopted the DAC's findings and recommendations. Carver
appealed the PERS Board decision to the Hinds County Circuit,
but the circuit court affirmed. It is from that decision that
Carver now appeals to this Court.
Our review of an administrative agency's decision is
limited in this Court. The conclusion of the agency
withstands appellate review unless the decision is: "(1)
not supported by substantial evidence; (2) is arbitrary and
capricious; (3) is beyond the scope or power granted to the
agency; or (4) violates one's constitutional
rights." Pub. Emps.' Ret. Sys. v. Marquez,
774 So.2d 421, 425 (¶11) (Miss. 2000). A decision by the
PERS Board has a rebuttable presumption in favor of its
ruling. Pub. Emps.' Ret. Sys. v. Card, 994 So.2d
239, 242 (¶14) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008) (quoting Pub.
Emps.' Ret. Sys. v. Dishmon, 797 So.2d 888, 891
(¶9) (Miss. 2001)). If the agency's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, then the agency's
decision stands. Pub. Emps.' Ret. Sys. v.
Walker, 126 So.3d 892, 895 (¶7) (Miss. 2013).
Substantial evidence has been defined by our supreme court as
"such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion." Id.
(quoting Delta CMI v. Speck, 586 So.2d 768, 773
(Miss. 1991)). In short, the evidence must be more than a
mere scintilla or suspicion. Miss. Real Estate Comm'n
v. Anding, 732 So.2d 192, 196 (¶13) (Miss. 1999).
"An administrative agency's decision is arbitrary
when it is not done according to reason and judgment, but
depending on will alone." Burks v. Amite Cty. Sch.
Dist., 708 So.2d 1366, 1370 (¶14) (Miss. 1998). An
act is capricious if it is done without reason, "in a
whimsical manner, implying either a lack of understanding of
or a disregard for the surrounding facts" and settled
controlling principles. Id.
A member can receive disability benefits from PERS in two
ways. The first way is for members who are vested and become
disabled for any reason. Miss. Code Ann. § 25-11-113
(Rev. 2010). The second way is duty-related disability
benefits for any members, no matter how many years of
creditable service, who are ...