This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Bradley G. Tafs,
on his own behalf and on
behalf of his dependents,
Mary Tafs, William Tafs, and Lindsay Tafs,
Filed July 31, 2007
St. Louis County District Court
File No. 69DU-CV-05-452
Cort C. Holten, Jeffrey D. Bores, Stewart C. Loper, Chestnut & Cambronne, P.A., 3700 Campbell Mithun Tower, 222 South Ninth Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402 (for appellant)
Patricia Y. Beety, League of
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Bradley G. Tafs brought a declaratory-judgment action to establish that he and
his dependents are entitled to receive continued health-insurance benefits from
respondent City of
Appellant worked as a police officer
for respondent City of
Between October 1996 and mid-July
2003, appellant did not complain to respondent about any shoulder problems or
physical difficulties affecting his ability to perform his assigned job
duties. In February and June 2003,
appellant saw his doctor and did not mention any problems with his
shoulder. In July 2003, appellant told
the chief of police that his shoulder required medical attention and that he
could no longer perform his job.
Appellant filed a workers’-compensation claim, but he did not cite any
specific duty-related activity or event that caused his inability to work in
2003. Respondent denied liability for
appellant’s workers’-compensation claim, and in conjunction with that
litigation, required appellant to undergo an independent medical evaluation
(IME). The IME doctor concluded that
“[appellant’s] work activities for the city of
Appellant applied to the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) for a duty-related disability pension under Minn. Stat. § 353.656, subd. 1 (2004). In conjunction with the application to PERA, appellant’s treating orthopedic doctor indicated that appellant’s condition was not related to any previous injury, although he did note the 1996 surgery. Responding to a request by PERA for information, respondent notified PERA of its position that appellant’s injury was not a direct result of his employment. The city was not afforded an opportunity to appear or otherwise participate in the PERA proceedings. Initially, PERA determined that there was insufficient “evidence to substantiate that [appellant’s] disabling condition [was] duty related,” and it approved a non-duty-related disability pension. One month later, without additional input from respondent, but after receiving information from appellant about his 1996 injury, PERA notified appellant that it had approved him for a duty-related disability pension. The decision omitted findings on the specific cause of appellant’s injury.
then applied to respondent city for continued health-insurance benefits under
Minn. Stat. § 299A.465 (2002 & Supp. 2003).
Respondent denied appellant’s request for the continuation of benefits,
relying on its determination that appellant’s disabling injury did not occur
while he was acting in the course and scope of his duties as a peace officer. In 2005, appellant brought a
declaratory-judgment action in
At trial, appellant relied on his argument that the city was required, as a matter of law, to provide continued health-insurance coverage, but he presented no evidence that established the cause of his disabling injury or that he was injured in the course and scope of his duties as a peace officer. The district court ruled for respondent, concluding that (a) appellant failed to prove that his disabling injury occurred in the course and scope of his duties as a peace officer, and (b) the grant of a PERA duty-related disability pension was not dispositive of the application for continued employer-paid health-insurance benefits under Minn. Stat. § 299A.465. Appellant challenges this adverse judgment.
appeal from a declaratory judgment, we will reverse findings of fact only if
they are clearly erroneous, but we “review the district court’s determinations
of legal questions de novo.” Pestka v.
In 2004, when appellant applied for benefits, a number of different statutes governed the training and certification of peace officers, the administration of pensions for public employees who were members of the statewide police and fire plan, and benefits available to peace officers and firefighters disabled or killed in the line of duty and to the family members of those killed or disabled. See, e.g., Minn. Stat. §§ 626.84-.863 (peace officer training, duties, and licensing); 353.63-.659 (police-and-fire-plan membership and benefits); 299A.41-.47 (2004) (public safety officer’s survivor benefits).
as in 2004, employers and employees fund the public employees’ police-and-fire plan
through contributions based on paid salary.
funding and procedures governing continued health-insurance benefits are set
forth in Minnesota Statutes chapter 299A, which relates to the department of
public safety, a state agency that is wholly independent of the PERA. See
Appellant argues that because he was awarded a PERA duty-related pension, he is entitled to continued health benefits under Minn. Stat. § 299A.465 as a matter of law. Appellant points to similarities in the language of the applicable statutes, asserting that because he was awarded a duty-related pension after establishing that he was disabled “as a direct result of an injury, sickness, or other disability incurred in or arising out of [an] act of duty,” his former employer should not be allowed to contest, in opposition to his claim for health-insurance benefits, that the disabling injury occurred while appellant was “acting in the course and scope of [his] duties as a peace officer.” Compare Minn. Stat. § 353.656, subd. 1, with Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 1(a)(1). Stated differently, appellant argues that the legislature intended that an award by PERA of a duty-related disability pension under section 353 be dispositive of a claim for continued health-insurance benefits under section 299A. For the first time on appeal, appellant also argues that respondent was required to contest the PERA determination by filing a certiorari appeal to this court. Appellant relies heavily on Conaway v. St. Louis County, 702 N.W.2d 779 (Minn. App. 2005), to support both arguments.
object of all interpretation and construction of laws is to ascertain and
effectuate the intention of the legislature.”
and most importantly, in subdivision 1(a) of section 229A.465, the legislature
enumerated three criteria for a claim for continued health-insurance benefits; receipt
of a duty-related disability pension satisfies only one criterion. Appellant’s construction would render clauses
(1) and (2) of the subdivision superfluous.
See Minn. Stat. § 299A.465,
subd. 1(a). We must presume that the
legislature intends all provisions of a statute to be effective.
urging us to ignore two of the criteria set forth in the statute, appellant
cites Conaway, but we conclude his
reliance is misplaced. That appeal also involved
district-court proceedings brought to establish a former employee’s right to
continued health-insurance benefits, after PERA had granted duty-related
disability benefits (there, to a former employee of a sheriff’s
the employer in Conaway did not
dispute the PERA determination, we did not reach the issue of whether an
employer has the “right to participate in the PERA disability proceeding.”
The second reason that we conclude that PERA approval of disability benefits is not dispositive of appellant’s application for health-insurance benefits is because the legislature has clearly prescribed different definitions and procedures in the applicable statutes. Appellant has presented no persuasive authority establishing that the legislature intended that these distinctions be ignored so that an administrative determination on disability benefits, made by the executive director of PERA without any formal hearing or proceedings, should be given preclusive effect in a separate judicial proceeding for a declaratory judgment on the right to continued employer-paid health benefits. Compare Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 5(a) (“peace officer” eligible for health-insurance benefits “has the meaning given in section 626.84, subdivision 1, paragraph (c)”), with Minn. Stat. § 626.84, subd. 1(c) (2004 & 2006) (“peace officer” includes employees and officials of political subdivisions or law-enforcement agencies who are licensed, charged with the prevention and detection of crime and the enforcement of general criminal laws, and who have the full power of arrest, plus six enumerated categories of agents and agency employees), and Minn. Stat. § 353.64, subds. 1 (police-and-fire-plan members include peace officers licensed under section 626.84, “assigned to a designated police or sheriff’s department, and whose primary job is the enforcement of the general criminal laws of the state”), 1a (2004) (identifying four categories of employees who formerly qualified for membership and who continue to be members even though they do not satisfy section 626.84).
The statutory framework clearly requires a disabled public employee to pursue a PERA disability pension first, because the employee must establish that he or she “has been approved to receive [a] duty-related disability pension” as a prerequisite to seeking employer-paid health-insurance benefits. Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 1(a)(3) (emphasis added). By mandating this chronology and requiring separate applications to separate agencies, for separate determinations, the legislature has expressed its intent that the decisions to award benefits, although interrelated, be separately considered, in accordance with the statutory criteria prescribed for each. The adoption of a separate statutory framework for disability benefits (administered by PERA) and for health-insurance benefits (administered under the auspices of the department of public safety) is simply inconsistent with appellant’s assertion that the PERA determination is absolutely dispositive of a later application for continued health-insurance benefits.
we note that the legislature altered the statutory framework for evaluating
applications for continued health-insurance benefits in 2005 by creating a new
course-and-scope-of-duties panel. 2005
course-and-scope-of-duties panel is now responsible for determining whether or
not a disabled peace officer who has already been approved for a duty-related
disability pension otherwise “meets the requirements” of section 299A.465,
subdivision 1, the statute considered by the district court in this case.
The district court properly rejected appellant’s argument that the PERA approval of duty-related disability benefits was dispositive of the application for continued health-insurance benefits. Because appellant does not challenge the factual findings of the district court, and those findings support the conclusion that appellant is not entitled to continued health insurance, we affirm the judgment.
As discussed in
more detail later in this opinion, most of the relevant statutes governing
disability benefits did not undergo any material changes between appellant’s
initial application for a pension in early 2004 and the trial on his claim for
continued health-insurance benefits in 2006.
But the legislature established a “course and scope of duties panel,”
effective July 1, 2005, to evaluate claims for continued health
The district court expressed concern about the “unfunded mandate” requiring local police and sheriffs’ departments to bear the financial burden of providing continued health-insurance benefits. We express no opinion on this characterization, but note that the fact that the employer is primarily responsible for health-insurance benefits, while PERA disability pensions are paid from a fund for which employers and employees share financial responsibility, provides further support for our conclusion that the legislature intended the process for each decision to be distinct, even though the parallel processes involve similar facts.