Hosea v. City of Phoenix Fire Pension Bd. (4/29/2010)

May 4, 2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A Local Pension Board May Reject an Application for Accidental Disability Benefits Under the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Without Appointing a Medical Board if the Disability Was Not a Cause of the Retirement.

Plaintiff William Hosea was a City of Phoenix firefighter and thus a member of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (“PSPRS”).  In 2002, Hosea entered the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (“DROP”), and voluntarily and irrevocably agreed to retire on May 31, 2007.  In July 2006, Hosea was injured while on duty.  He submitted an injury report, but never applied for workers’ compensation benefits, and did not seek medical treatment through the fire department’s health center until May 17, 2007.  One week later, on May 24, 2010, he applied for an accidental disability pension under the PSPRS with the City of Phoenix Fire Pension Board (“Board”), requesting disability benefits arising from his July 2006 injury, effective May 31, 2007.  The Board denied his application without appointing a medical board, finding that he did not terminate his employment “by virtue of the disability” but “by virtue of [DROP].”  Hosea filed a complaint in the trial court seeking judicial review of the Board’s decision.  The trial court affirmed the Board’s denial of Hosea’s application, and Hosea timely appealed.         

The ArizonaAppeals Court affirmed.  The Court rejected Hosea’s argument that the Board erred by not appointing a medical board before denying his application.  The Court explained that under the plain language of A.R.S. § 38-844(B), medical evidence of a purported accidental disability is unnecessary when the alleged disability could not have been a cause of the member’s retirement:  “A member is eligible for an accidental disability pension if the member’s employment is terminated by reason of accidental disability.”  Accordingly, the Board was not required to appoint a medical board before rejecting Hosea’s application because it had substantial evidence that Hosea retired due to the expiration of his DROP period rather than his accidental disability.  The Court also distinguished Parkinson v. Guadalupe Pub. Safety Ret. Local Bd., 214 Ariz. 274, 151 P.3d 557 (App. 2007), which held that an individual is entitled to disability benefits if disability is a cause of the individual’s.  Unlike Parkinson, Hosea’s accidental disability was not a cause of his retirement – the DROP program was the cause.

Presiding Judge Weisberg authored the opinion; Judges Hall and Gemmill concurred.