This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Minneapolis Teachers’ Retirement
Filed February 26, 2002
Board of Directors
Minneapolis Teachers’ Retirement Fund Association
Diana Young Morrissey, C. David Flower, Faegre & Benson, L.L.P., 90 South Seventh Street, Suite 2200, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for relator)
Robert D. Butterbrodt, Attorney at Law, One West Water Street, Suite 275, St. Paul, MN 55107 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
Relator appeals by certiorari from a decision of the Board of the Minneapolis Teacher’s Retirement Fund Association (the board) to deny her permanent disability benefits. She argues that the decision should be reversed because the board failed to obtain or consider information required by law and because the decision was not supported by substantial evidence. We conclude that the board’s decision was supported by substantial evidence and that any procedural error by the board did not prejudice relator; accordingly, we affirm.
Relator Carolyn Moxness worked as a Minneapolis public school teacher from 1992 until November, 1999, when she took a medical leave of absence. She remained a member of the coordinated plan of respondent Minneapolis Teachers Retirement Fund Association (MTRFA). She is age 56, has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her hips, knees, shoulders, and spine, and has had her left knee replaced. She also has carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, fibromyalgia pain syndrome associated with a generalized anxiety disorder, and gastroesophageal reflux disease with a bleeding duodenal ulcer.
On February 27, 2001, relator applied for permanent disability benefits from the MTRFA. Her application contained a letter from her physician, Dr. William Turcotte. Dr. Turcotte concluded, “[relator is] unable to work. I expect this disability will be continuous and long-term, possibly permanent.” On March 21, 2001, the board reviewed relator’s application and determined that she should also be evaluated by Dr. Kathleen Ayaz, the MTRFA appointed physician.
In a letter to the board, Dr. Ayaz detailed relator’s medical condition, past surgeries and treatments, family medical history, and daily activities. Dr. Ayaz concluded that relator “does have some disability * * * [but] her impairment * * * would not be considered a total impairment” and that relator did not “qualify for a total disability rating.”
On June 21, 2001, the board informed relator by letter that her application was denied “based * * * on the opinion of the Fund’s doctor who concluded that you are not totally and permanently disabled at this time.” This appeal followed.
A public retirement fund board is analogous to an administrative agency and its . decisions should be reversed only if they are “fraudulent, arbitrary, unsupported by substantial evidence, * * *, or based on an error of law.” Axelson v. Minneapolis Teachers’ Retirement Fund Ass’n, 544 N.W.2d 297, 299 (Minn. 1996) (quotation omitted). A court must recognize the “need for exercising judicial restraint and restricting judicial functions to a narrow area of responsibility lest [the court] substitute its judgment for that of the agency.” Reserve Mining Co. v. Herbst, 256 N.W.2d 808, 825 (Minn. 1977) (citation omitted).
As a member of the MTFRA, relator would be eligible for benefits if she were found to be permanently disabled. Minn. Stat. § 354A.36, subd. 1 (2000). Permanent disability means being unable
to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to be of long continued and indefinite duration which shall in no event be less than one year.
Minn. Stat. § 354A.011, subd. 14 (2000).
The MTRFA board determines whether an applicant is disabled and must follow certain procedures when making its decision.
The board shall have the * * * member examined by at least two licensed physicians who shall be selected by the board. After making any required examinations, each physician shall make a written report to the board * * * which shall include a statement of the physician’s medical opinion as to whether the member is permanently or totally disabled within the meaning of [the statute]. The board shall also obtain a written statement from the school district as to whether or not the * * * member was terminated or separated from active employment due to a disability which is deemed by the district to reasonably prevent further service by the member to the district * * *.
Minn. Stat. § 354A.36, subd. 4 (2000) (emphasis added).
Relator initially argues that the board’s decision should be reversed because it failed to follow correct statutory procedure by not considering reports from two licensed physicians. The board had requested that relator attach a report from her physician to her application. After reviewing the application and the attached report, the board requested that relator see Dr. Ayaz, the physician selected by the board. Dr. Ayaz examined relator and sent a report to the board. The board based its decision on Dr. Ayaz’s evaluation after it obtained and considered reports from two licensed physicians as required by section 354A.36, subdivision 4. We conclude that the board’s procedure in selecting examining physicians was in compliance with section 354A.36, subdivision 4.
Relator notes that the board did not obtain a statement from the school district as required by Minn. Stat. § 354A.36, subd. 4. Although respondent argues that it is only an optional part of the evidentiary record, the statute clearly directs the board to obtain this written statement. Id. But it is also apparent that the board did not need this statement for its decision. It already knew that relator was on a leave of absence and was eligible to apply for benefits because she had worked in the Minneapolis School District from 1992 to 1997. The board also knew that relator had qualified for social security disability. Her medical history was detailed in the reports from Dr. Turcotte and Dr. Ayaz. We conclude that, because the statement was unnecessary for the board’s decision, the board’s failure to obtain the statement, although error, did not prejudice relator. See Sch. Serv. Employees Local No. 284 v. Ind. Sch. Dist. No. 270, 499 N.W.2d 828, 831 (Minn. App. 1993) (even if agency erred in limiting witness testimony, the error did not prejudice petitioner because the testimony was not necessary for the agency’s decision). A non-prejudicial error does not require reversal of the board’s decision. See Erickson v. Comm’r of Dep’t of Human Servs., 494 N.W.2d 58, 62 (Minn. App. 1992) (decision of administrative agency must be upheld unless the substantial rights of petitioner have been prejudiced).
Relator argues that the board’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence because Dr. Ayaz did not state her conclusion in statutory language and gave her opinion based on statistics. Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion and must be more than a scintilla of evidence, some evidence, or any evidence. Cable Communications Bd. v. Nor-west Cable Communications P’ship, 356 N.W.2d 658, 668 (Minn. 1984). Although Dr. Ayaz’s conclusion did not utilize statutory terminology in defining disability, she did address the statutory definition elsewhere in her report. She stated that relator’s condition is not a “total impairment,” but rather chronic in nature. She also stated that relator’s condition is not permanent and would improve with her recent knee replacement and other treatment. Finally, Dr. Ayaz noted that most people with similar symptoms are able to work full time.
It is true that Dr. Ayaz could have explained in greater detail relator’s ability or inability to work; and Dr. Ayaz’s opinion was based on several future probabilities, to-wit, that relator would increase her activity level and that her knee replacement and carpal tunnel surgeries were successful. But Dr. Ayaz made individualized observations about relator’s condition at the time of the examination and commented on relator’s daily activities. Dr. Ayaz also detailed relator’s medical history and supported her conclusion with medical statistics about the abilities of others similarly situated to work full time. The board was free to rely on Dr. Ayaz’s opinion and did so. See Quinn Distrib. Co. v. Quast Transfer, Inc., 288 Minn. 442, 448, 181 N.W.2d 696, 700 (1970) (determining the weight given to evidence rests with the administrative board). We conclude that Dr. Ayaz’s report contains substantial evidence sufficient to support the board’s decision.