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Hedleston v. Virginia Retirement System

Court of Appeals of Virginia, Richmond

December 3, 2013

Boyd B. HEDLESTON
v.
VIRGINIA RETIREMENT SYSTEM.

Page 2

Richard F. Hawkins, III, Richmond (The Hawkins Law Firm, on briefs), for appellant.

Brian J. Goodman, Legal Affairs & Compliance Coordinator (Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: FELTON, C.J., KELSEY, J. and BUMGARDNER, S.J.

OPINION

BUMGARDNER, III, Judge.

[62 Va.App. 594] Boyd B. Hedleston appeals the denial of his claim for disability retirement benefits by the Virginia Retirement System. He contends the circuit court erred in ruling that the denial by VRS was supported by substantial evidence. We affirm the decision.

We view the evidence in the light most favorable to VRS, the prevailing party below. See R.G. Moore Bldg. Corp. v. Mullins, 10 Va.App. 211, 212, 390 S.E.2d 788, 788 (1990). Appellant joined VRS in 2007 when he was employed as a secondary school teacher. In 2006, prior to becoming a member of the VRS, he had suffered a stroke. Appellant applied for disability retirement benefits in May 2010. The Medical Board recommended denial of appellant's application pursuant to Code ยง 51.1-156(E). It found that " clearly [appellant's] alleged disabling conditions predated" his entry into the VRS. It further found that " [d]ue to his short tenure, one cannot say with certainty that [the conditions] have worsened since his entry into the VRS," and noted that the " residual findings" related to the stroke were " mild in nature."

The Medical Board pointed out that appellant's employer had provided information that appellant had " some performance issues" after the first ninety days of his employment that included the lack of daily lesson plans, unorganized activities, and the failure to maintain a grade book. The board concluded " there is no documentation of any sudden and/or recent deterioration in function" and it did " not find [appellant] to be [62 Va.App. 595] incapacitated for the further performance of his duties or that his incapacity will be permanent in nature."

VRS denied disability retirement benefits, and appellant appealed. The Medical Board conducted a first appeal review. It reviewed the additional medical evidence provided in the psychology report of Dr. Michael Fielding. The board noted that this report indicated appellant had difficulties with short term memory. However, it stated appellant was diagnosed with anxiety and depression which " could clearly influence [his] function with short term memory." The board found that the records did not " support whether [appellant]'s inabilities [we]re due to an organic basis versus a functional basis." It concluded " significant objective documentation of progressive disability on both reviews has not been provided" and again recommended denial of benefits. It also found appellant was not incapacitated for further performance of his duty.

VRS again denied disability retirement benefits, and appellant appealed. An independent fact finder conducted an informal fact finding proceeding. At that hearing, only appellant testified. Appellant asserted his short term memory lapses formed the basis of his occupational incapacity as a high school teacher. He described his symptoms, various medical diagnoses, and how his medical condition affected him. He summarized medical reports and psychological evaluations. He testified concerning medical treatment he had received from 2001 through August 2011. Dr. Fielding's psychological report and other medical records were made part of the record.

The Medical Board had a transcript of the testimony from the hearing when it conducted a third review of the application. Again it recommended the denial of benefits, stating: " [t]he applicant alleges cognitive dysfunction due to a stroke in 2006 however, clearly absent is any medical documentation of deterioration over time" and " [f]rom a medical standpoint, there is no documentable medical basis for the applicant's difficulties as a teacher." The board found the low scores in " working memory" could be explained by other conditions such as ongoing anxiety and depression " which [are] treatable

Page 3

[62 Va.App. 596] condition[s]." The board did not find appellant " to be incapacitated for the further performance of his duties or that his incapacity will be permanent in nature."

The VRS Board requested the fact finder to render a decision after receiving the reports from the Medical Board. The fact finder found that appellant had not presented corroborative evidence of his asserted incapacity. The fact finder noted that although Dr. Fielding's psychological evaluation reinforced appellant's claims of a short term memory loss, " that report also describe[d] impressive cognitive attributes." The fact finder stated the report contained " a very mixed bag of cognitive abilities and challenges, some well above average and some below." He noted that Dr. Fielding characterized appellant's short term memory loss ...


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