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In re Iovino

Supreme Court of New York, Third Department

June 28, 2018

In the Matter of SCOTT F. IOVINO, Petitioner,
v.
THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI, as State Comptroller, Respondent.

          Calendar Date: May 1, 2018

          Bartlett LLP, White Plains (Jason D. Lewis of counsel), for petitioner.

          Barbara D. Underwood, Attorney General, Albany (William E. Storrs of counsel), for respondent.

          Before: Garry, P.J., McCarthy, Devine, Aarons and Pritzker, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM AND JUDGMENT

          DEVINE, J.

         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 denying petitioner's applications for accidental and performance of duty disability retirement benefits.

         Petitioner, a police officer, applied for accidental and performance of duty disability retirement benefits claiming that a 2010 work-related injury and ensuing 2012 surgery caused him to be permanently incapacitated from his employment. Petitioner's applications were initially denied. Following an administrative hearing, the Hearing Officer upheld the denials and found that, although petitioner was permanently incapacitated, the incident did not constitute an accident within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law and that neither the incident nor related surgery caused petitioner's disability. Respondent adopted the Hearing Officer's findings and conclusions. Petitioner thereafter commenced this CPLR article 78 proceeding.

         We confirm. With regard to accidental disability retirement benefits, "[p]etitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that his disability arose out of an accident as defined by the Retirement and Social Security Law, and respondent's determination in that regard will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence" (Matter of Mitchell v DiNapoli, 154 A.D.3d 1029, 1030 [2017] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Matter of Bodenmiller v DiNapoli, 157 A.D.3d 1120, 1121 [2018]). To qualify as an accident, the underlying incident "must be a sudden, fortuitous, out of the ordinary and unexpected event that does not result from an activity undertaken in the performance of regular or routine employment duties" (Matter of Mitchell v DiNapoli, 154 A.D.3d at 1030 [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]). "[A]n injury which occurs without an unexpected event as the result of activity undertaken in the performance of ordinary employment duties, considered in view of the particular employment in question, is not an accidental injury" (Matter of Martins v DiNapoli, 156 A.D.3d 1031, 1031 [2017]; see Matter of Kelly v DiNapoli, 30 N.Y.3d 674, 681-682 [2018]).

         Here, petitioner responded to a call and sustained an injury to his fingers while assisting the medical examiner in carrying a large, deceased male to a transport vehicle. Petitioner acknowledged that this work was within the scope of his job duties, regardless of the heft of the body to be carried. Consequently, substantial evidence supports respondent's determination that the incident did not constitute an accident entitling petitioner to receive accidental disability retirement benefits (see Matter of Kelly DiNapoli, 30 N.Y.3d at 684-685; Matter of Somuk v DiNapoli, 145 A.D.3d 1339, 1340-1341 [2016]; Matter of Esposito v Regan, 162 A.D.2d 870, 871 [1990]).

         Turning to petitioner's application for performance of duty disability retirement benefits, there is no dispute that he is permanently incapacitated from the performance of his duties. As a result, "the issue before us distills to whether petitioner met his burden of demonstrating that his disability was caused by his workplace injuries" (Matter of Andrus v DiNapoli, 114 A.D.3d 1078, 1079 [2014]; see Matter of Volpe v Murray, 112 A.D.3d 1054, 1055 [2013]). Where, as here, there is conflicting medical evidence, respondent "is authorized to resolve the conflicts and to credit one expert's opinion over that of another so long as the credited expert articulates a rational and fact-based opinion founded upon a physical examination and review of the pertinent medical records" (Matter of Pufahl v Murray, 111 A.D.3d 1050, 1051 [2013] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]).

         Respondent credited the testimony and report of Neal Hochwald, an orthopedic surgeon with a subspecialty in hand surgery, who examined petitioner and reviewed his medical records to conclude that, while petitioner had a disabling problem with his left hand and fingers, that problem was unconnected to the 2010 injury or 2012 surgery. Hochwald instead opined that petitioner's preexisting psoriasis led to psoriatic flexor tenosynovitis associated with psoriatic arthritis. Petitioner's later diagnosis of reflex sympathetic dystrophy (hereinafter RSD) was also, according to Hochwald, unconnected to the injury or surgery. Hochwald noted in particular that RSD would develop no more than a few months after any causative trauma but that, in this case, petitioner returned to work after the injury and surgery and was not diagnosed with RSD until 17 months after the surgery. Hochwald's rational and fact-based opinion provides substantial evidence to support respondent's determination and, therefore, it will not be disturbed, despite the presence of proof in the record that could support a contrary conclusion (see Matter of Ortiz v DiNapoli, 98 A.D.3d 1224, 1225 [2012]). We have reviewed petitioner's remaining contentions, including his challenge to the medical evidence reviewed by Hochwald, and find them to be without merit.

          McCarthy, Aarons and Pritzker, JJ., concur.

          Garry, P.J. (concurring in part and dissenting in part).

         I concur in that part of the majority's decision finding that petitioner was not entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits. I respectfully dissent as to the denial of petitioner's application for performance of duty disability retirement benefits, ...


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