In a rare victory for a public employer, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) recently overruled Public Employees Retirement Association’s (PERA) determination that the public employer’s former peace officer was duty disabled under law. The decision arose from the employer’s challenge to such determination under Minnesota Statutes, section 299A.465 (continued health insurance coverage). This relinquished the public employer from having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the former officer and their dependent’s health insurance until the former office is 65 years old.
The employer was represented by Flaherty & Hood, P.A. Attorney Christina Petsoulis with the assistance of Shareholder Attorney Brandon Fitzsimmons, Legal Assistant Pang Yang, and Attorney Chad Arnesen.
The ALJ earlier in the case denied the former peace officer’s claim that they should be deemed eligible for PERA duty disability benefits simply because they were deemed eligible for workers compensation benefits due to PTSD. Flaherty and Hood, P.A. effectively argued that because the issues presented in the workers’ compensation proceeding are not identical to the issues in the duty disability proceeding, the workers compensation proceeding does not determine the individual’s eligibility for duty disability benefits.
After a contested case hearing, the ALJ concluded that the former peace officer was not duty disabled under law, reasoning that the record did not sufficiently support that the former peace officer’s PTSD, with appropriate treatment, was expected to prevent them from performing the normal duties of police officer for more than 12 months. The ALJ relied primarily on the employer’s expert psychiatrist criticizing the former officer’s treating psychologist for not using treatment methods that are known to be effective for treating PTSD and processing trauma. Additionally, the ALJ concluded that the former officer’s PTSD and its limitations did not directly result from performing inherently dangerous duties as a peace officer with the employer.