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Thompson v. Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 19, 2019

PEGGY S. THOMPSON 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

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

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., WESTBROOKS AND LAWRENCE, JJ.

          WESTBROOKS, J.

         ¶1. Peggy Thompson filed an application for Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) duty-related disability benefits on February 9, 2015.[1] The PERS Medical Board reviewed and denied Thompson's application. The Medical Board determined that Thompson failed to provide sufficient evidence that she was disabled under Mississippi Code Annotated sections 25-11-113 or 25-11-114 (Supp. 2011). Thompson appealed the Medical Board's decision to the PERS Disability Appeals Committee. A hearing was held on September 14, 2015. Following the hearing, the Committee recommended the denial of Thompson's application to the PERS Board of Trustees (the Board). The Board adopted the Committee's proposed statement of facts and conclusions of law to deny Thompson's claim for both duty-related and non-duty-related disability benefits on December 15, 2015. Thompson appealed the Board's decision to the Circuit Court of Hinds County. On or about June 12, 2018, the circuit court affirmed the Board's decision to deny Thompson's application for benefits. Aggrieved, Thompson appeals. After review of the record, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Thompson worked as a court reporter/court administrator for the Honorable Beverly Franklin in Lowndes County, Mississippi from 2002 until March 2014. Thompson was terminated because she was unable to perform her duties at work. Thompson claims the failure to perform her duties and resulting termination were due to debilitating pain in her hands. Thompson has a long history of hand-related issues. She testified she was first diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in the early 1990s and had surgery during that time to relieve the symptoms. She testified that she has experienced pain and discomfort from recurrent carpal tunnel syndrome continuously since the 1990s. Thompson testified she had open-heart surgery in 1999. Thompson testified she has been diagnosed and treated for carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, and De Quervain syndrome[2] through the years. On July 21, 2012, Thompson was treated by Dr. Chris Galjour for complaints of bilateral wrist pain. Dr. Galjour performed a trigger-finger digit release on her left hand on August 2, 2013. On October 3, 2013, Dr. Karl Crossen inserted an implantable loop recorder (heart monitor) to record Thompson's heart-electrical activity.

         ¶3. On July 8, 2014, Dr. Galjour treated Thompson for her recurring carpal tunnel syndrome with an injection. On July 17, 2014, Thompson was given the specific restriction of "no use of her hands" pending an EMG study.[3] Dr. Galjour, in addition to making the restriction contingent upon the EMG study, also noted Thompson had an "excellent prognosis for recovery." Thompson never had the EMG study performed and testified that she sought no further treatment in the year between her termination and the appeals hearing before the Committee.

         ¶4. At the request of PERS, Thompson underwent an independent medical evaluation on April 17, 2015, by Dr. Laura Gray, who noted that Thompson may have had pain in her hands; however, there were no deformities, swelling, or visible abnormalities that would make typing impossible. Further, Dr. Gray found that Thompson would be able to return to her previous occupation and that she did not meet the criteria for a duty-related disability. The Medical Board denied her application, finding that Thompson failed to provide sufficient evidence that she was disabled under Mississippi Code Annotated sections 25-11-113 or 25- 11-114.[4]

         ¶5. Thompson appealed to the Committee in September 2015 and was granted a de novo hearing. At the hearing, Thompson stated that she knew that she had issues with her hands prior to working for Lowndes County; however, the pain had gotten worse over the last several years. Thompson specifically testified she could not attribute her pain to a single traumatic event or accident; she explained that her pain was the result of repetitive use. Thompson also stated that she had undergone open-heart surgery in 1999, had issues with atrial fibrillation, and wears a heart monitor.

         ¶6. The Committee recommended the denial of both duty-related and non-duty-related disability benefits, and the Board adopted the Committee's recommendation. Thompson appealed the Board's decision to the Circuit Court of Hinds County, and the circuit court affirmed the Board's decision. Aggrieved, Thompson appeals.

         STANDARD ...


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