William Meyers worked as an associate construction inspector for the City of San Jose. In February 2003, Meyers fell on the job, hitting his back and elbow on the pavement. In August 2003, Meyers underwent surgery to fuse three of his vertebrae.
Meyers returned to work in December 2003, but continued to experience muscle spasms and back pain. In July 2004, the City transferred Meyers to the position of sidewalk inspector, but his pain increased. Meyers filed a workers' compensation claim and was examined by two qualified medical examiners, Dr. Horowitz and Dr. Abend. In October 2004, Dr. Horowitz concluded that Meyers's new position as a sidewalk inspector exacerbated his lower back pain and he took Meyers off work. In February 2005, Dr. Horowitz placed substantial limitations upon Meyers such as no bending, crawling, crouching, kneeling, lifting, pushing, pulling, frequent rotation of the neck and no lifting more than twenty-five pounds.
On March 5, 2005, Meyers applied for service-connected disability retirement benefits with the Board of Administration for the Federated City Employees Retirement Fund ("the Board") for the City of San Jose. In connection with his application, Meyers was examined by Dr. Das who found that Meyers needed to avoid repetitive bending and stooping, lifting weights greater than 20 pounds and being allowed to stand or sit for more than 15-20 minutes. Dr. Abend reached similar conclusions with regards to Meyers's restrictions.
The City separated Meyers on May 19, 2005. Following his separation, the Board asked the City whether restrictions set forth by Dr. Das could have been accommodated at the time Meyers was separated. In January 2006, the City stated that it could accommodate Meyers in the Sidewalk Section based on the work restrictions imposed by Dr. Das and further stated that Dr. Das's restrictions differ from Dr. Horowitz's restrictions of February 2005. In addition, the City testified at a hearing before the Board that Meyers was not eligible to return to work as of January 2006 because he has already been separated.
Following his separation, Dr. Horowitz concluded that Meyers could not return to his job at all. Based upon Dr. Horowitz's determination, the City notified Meyers in November 2005 that the City had no modified or alternative work for him.
In April 2006, Meyers was awarded workers' compensation benefits. In July 2006, Dr. Massey examined Meyers and noted that the likelihood of Meyers returning to work was "low". In 2007, Meyers completed an eight-week functional restoration program and was treated by Dr. Massih. At the end of the program, Dr. Massih placed limitations on Meyers's ability to return to work that were more consistent with Dr. Abend's determinations and not as severe as Dr. Massey's restrictions.
In September 2009, the Board held an administrative hearing on Meyers's application for service-connected disability benefits. Following the hearing, the Board denied Meyers's application. The Board held a rehearing in April 2010 and again voted to deny Meyers's application.
Meyers filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus challenging the Board's ruling. In March 2012, the court denied the petition. The court agreed with the Board that, in light of Meyers's restrictions, the City could accommodate him. Meyers appealed.
The Court of Appeal first determined whether Meyers was subject to the less restrictive work restrictions imposed by Drs. Das, Abend and Massih, or the more restrictive work restrictions imposed by Drs. Horowitz and Massey. The Court of Appeal applied the substantial evidence test and concluded that the trial court correctly concluded that the less restrictive limitations applied.
The Court of Appeal then turned to the City's Municipal Code to determine if Meyers was "incapacitated for the performance of duty" and thus eligible for disability retirement benefits. Under the Municipal Code, an individual is not "incapacitated for the performance of duty" if he or she is capable of performing the duties and functions of either his or her current position, or any other position in the same classification of positions to which the city may offer to transfer him. The trial court concluded Meyers was able to perform the construction inspector position and that the City could accommodate his restrictions.
The Court of Appeal disagreed. It determined that the construction inspector position assigned to the sidewalk section required repetitive bending and stooping, thus the substantial evidence supports the conclusion that Meyers was not physically able to carry out the duties of construction inspector assigned to sidewalks.
The Court of Appeal then considered whether Meyers was physically able to perform any other position to which the city may offer to transfer him. The Court considered the language of the Municipal Code and what is the meaning of the phrase "or any other position in the same classification of positions to which the city may offer to transfer him." Meyers argued that this language means any other position to which the city in fact offered to transfer him. The Board argued that the language means any other position to which the city theoretically could have offered to transfer him. The Court held that the Board's interpretation would require it to consider theoretical, and not factual, evidence and that the Board's finding must be based on evidence showing how the City could and would have accommodated Meyers.
The Court remanded the matter back to the Board to determine if there was any evidence to show that the City could have accommodated Meyers in light of his restrictions.
The facts of the Meyers case are somewhat confusing, but the case illustrates a common issue that arises in many disability-related cases – the battle of the doctors. Although three doctors concluded that Meyers was limited to semi-sedentary work, two doctors did not impose such restrictive limitations. This issues often arise during retirement board appeal hearings and LCW attorneys often handle such hearings on behalf of our clients. The Court concluded that the reports of the two doctors who imposed less restrictive measures were sufficient to constitute "substantial evidence" that Meyers was not limited to semi-sedentary work. Agencies need to carefully consider how to deal with conflicting medical reports and to weigh such factors as to whether each doctor is qualified to conduct the examination in question, whether each doctor had relevant job descriptions, which report is more recent, which report is more specific and whether there are other factors that make one report more reliable than another.
Meyers v. Board of Administration for the Federated City Employees Retirement Fund (2014) ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ____ [2014 WL 788266].