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Jones v. Commonwealth ex rel. Moll

Supreme Court of Virginia

June 7, 2018

EDDIE R. JONES, SR.
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, ex rel. DAVID VON MOLL, COMPTROLLER

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF HAMPTON Christopher W. Hutton, Judge

          OPINION

          S. BERNARD GOODWYN JUSTICE

         In this appeal, we consider whether the circuit court erred when it ruled that a retired firefighter was not a disabled person entitled to receive health insurance benefits under the Virginia Line of Duty Death and Disability Act.

         Background

         On May 21, 2015, Eddie R. Jones, Sr. (Jones) filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of the City of Hampton, appealing "an adverse decision of the Commonwealth of Virginia/Office of the Comptroller" (Comptroller) that denied him health insurance coverage, owed to disabled persons, under the Virginia Line of Duty Death and Disability Act, Code § 9.1-400 et seq. (the Act).[1] After a bench trial, the circuit court concluded that the Comptroller had properly applied the provisions of the Act, and dismissed Jones's complaint.

          Facts Before testimony was taken at trial, counsel for Jones read a list of agreed stipulations into the record:

1. The parties agree that [Jones] was employed with the City of Hampton as a firefighter from October 5, 1977 to August 1, 2010.
2. The parties agree that [Jones] took a service-connected retirement-that is, a retirement based on years of service, and was effectively retired from the fire department as of August 1, 2010.
3. The parties agree that [Jones] was diagnosed with throat cancer on March 11, 2011.
4. The parties agree that one of his treating physicians, Dr. John Mattern, . . . opined that [Jones] was incapacitated from further performance of duty as of November 6, 2013.

         Jones testified that he did not experience any health problems while he worked as a firefighter and that he "never had any issues with the physicals" that were administered each year. He explained that his retirement was not health-related but occurred because the City "offered a 20 percent buyout."

         Around October 2010, Jones began experiencing a problem with his ear. He visited an ear, nose, and throat specialist who discovered that he had a cyst in his "nasal area." A biopsy was performed and Jones was diagnosed with throat cancer on March 11, 2011. Thereafter, Jones underwent "35 radiation treatments and 12 rounds of chemo."

         Jones submitted into evidence a November 6, 2013 Report (Report) completed by Dr. Mattern, the oncologist who performed the chemotherapy treatments. The Report stated that Jones became unable to work as of the date of his diagnosis, March 11, 2011, and that although the cancer was in remission, "[t]here is no way that [Jones] can safely work in any polluted atmosphere (fumes or smoke) as this would trigger significant respiratory distress and airway compromise." Dr. Mattern explained that Jones "should be considered disabled on the basis of a very bad cancer, " which could "recur at any time, " and "the toxicities of treatment have been such that [Jones] . . . is at risk for developing significant respiratory distress if exposed to any kinds of fumes or smoke."

         Jones also submitted a "stipulated award order" entered by the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission that awarded him "temporary total disability benefits" and "all reasonable and necessary medical expenses" ...


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