IN RE: Belkis M. MENDEZ

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IN RE: Belkis M. MENDEZ, Petitioner, v. Thomas P. DiNAPOLI, as State Comptroller, Respondent.

Decided: February 09, 2012

Before: MERCURE, Acting P.J., ROSE, SPAIN, MALONE JR. and McCARTHY, JJ. Bartlett, McDonough & Monaghan, L.L.P., White Plains (Lynne S. Beccaro of counsel), for petitioner. Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General, Albany (William E. Storrs of counsel), for respondent.

Proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 78 (transferred to this Court by order of the Supreme Court, entered in Albany County) to review a determination of respondent which denied petitioner's application for performance of duty disability retirement benefits.

In March 1998, petitioner, a police officer since 1989, was suffering from depression and suicidal ideation and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Petitioner was out of work for several months after which time she returned to light-duty work that did not involve her carrying a weapon. She remained on light duty until September 2001, when she stopped working altogether. In 2003, she applied for performance of duty disability retirement benefits, claiming to be permanently disabled due to posttraumatic stress disorder and depression. The application was initially denied and petitioner requested a hearing and redetermination. Following hearings, the Hearing Officer upheld the denial, finding, among other things, that petitioner had failed to establish that she was incapacitated from the performance of duty as the result of a disability sustained in service. Respondent made supplemental findings of fact, but otherwise adopted the Hearing Officer's findings, prompting this CPLR article 78 proceeding.

We confirm. Pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law § 363–c (b)(1), to be entitled to performance of duty disability retirement benefits, an applicant must establish that he or she is “[p]hysically or mentally incapacitated for performance of duty as the natural and proximate result of a disability ․ sustained in such service.” To that end, petitioner presented her testimony, her medical records and the testimony of psychologist Alan Goldstein. Goldstein opined that petitioner suffers from a permanent major depressive disorder that prevents her from performing both the regular duties of a police officer and the light duty tasks that petitioner had been assigned. Goldstein testified that he was not asked to give an opinion as to causation, but stated that petitioner blamed various events in her life, including the death of her nephew, a prior romantic relationship with a fellow police officer during which she was subjected to incidents of domestic violence, as well as trouble with coworkers and stress on the job.1 He further testified that he could not determine, however, if the trouble with coworkers and stress at work caused her condition or was the result of it. Petitioner herself testified that she had trouble at work dealing with fellow police officers and with cases of domestic violence due to her own experiences, but did not testify that her disability was sustained in the performance of her job duties. A review of petitioner's medical records reveals that, although her various medical experts diagnosed her with major depression, they did not make a causal link between the condition and her employment.

The New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System presented the report of Robert Conciatori, a psychiatrist who examined petitioner at its request and reviewed her medical records. Conciatori diagnosed petitioner as suffering from major depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. He concluded, however, that petitioner's condition “stems from personal trauma and nothing in connection with her police work.” In light of this opinion, and the lack of any medical opinion directly linking petitioner's condition to her employment, substantial evidence supports respondent's determination that petitioner's condition was not attributable to her employment (see Matter of Van Hasselt v. New York State & Local Police & Fire Retirement Sys., 299 A.D.2d 687, 688–689 [2002]; Matter of Sepanara v. New York State & Local Employees' Retirement Sys., 272 A.D.2d 830, 830 [2000] ).

Petitioner's remaining contention, that she is permanently disabled from performing even the restricted job duties, is rendered academic by this decision (see Matter of Eddie v. DiNapoli, 72 AD3d 1326, 1327 [2010] ).

ADJUDGED that the determination is confirmed, without costs, and petition dismissed.

FOOTNOTES

1.  To the extent that petitioner claims that the domestic violence was work-related due to the perpetrator being a fellow police officer, there is nothing in the record linking the alleged violence to the performance of petitioner's job duties.

McCARTHY, J.

MERCURE, Acting P.J., ROSE, SPAIN and MALONE JR., JJ., concur.

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