This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).







Bradley G. Tafs,

on his own behalf and on

behalf of his dependents,

Mary Tafs, William Tafs, and Lindsay Tafs,





City of Proctor,



Filed July 31, 2007


Hudson, Judge


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 Minnesota Cities, 145 University Avenue West, St. Paul, Minnesota 55103-2044 (for respondent)


            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


Appellant 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 Proctor, for which appellant previously worked as a police officer.  The district court denied relief to appellant who now argues that the district court erred in its application of the law.  Because the district court did not err by concluding that the grant of a duty-related disability pension by the Public Employees Retirement Association under Minn. Stat. § 353.656 (2004) did not preclude respondent from challenging, in a separate proceeding to determine the right to continued health-insurance coverage under Minn. Stat. § 299A.465 (2004), whether the officer’s disabling injury occurred in the course and scope of duties as a peace officer, we affirm.


            Appellant worked as a police officer for respondent City of Proctor from January 1978 to February 2004.  In March 1996, appellant suffered a shoulder injury, which required surgery and physical therapy.  In October 1996, appellant returned to work without restrictions and thereafter performed the duties of a licensed police officer for more than six years. 

            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 Proctor did not substantially contribute to his right shoulder disability.”  Appellant did not return to work.  In February 2004, after exhausting his sick leave, he retired from his position as a police officer.

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.

Appellant 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 St. Louis County district court, alleging that the city was estopped from challenging his qualification for continued health-insurance benefits.  The district court denied summary judgment, and a bench trial was held in May 2006. 

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. 


On 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. County of Blue Earth, 654 N.W.2d 153, 157 (Minn. App. 2002), review denied (Minn. Feb. 26, 2003).  Appellant does not challenge the district court’s factual findings; his arguments focus on the interplay between the statutes governing disability pensions and those governing continued health-insurance benefits.  Statutory construction is a question of law reviewed de novo.  Brookfield Trade Ctr., Inc. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 393 (Minn. 1998), review denied (Minn. Oct. 9, 1998).  Accordingly, we must determine whether the district court properly applied the law.

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).[1]

Today, as in 2004, employers and employees fund the public employees’ police-and-fire plan through contributions based on paid salary.  Minn. Stat. § 353.65 (2004 & Supp. 2005 & 2006).  To obtain a disability pension, a public employee covered by the statewide police-and-fire plan must file an application with the executive director of the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) and provide proof of the claimed disability.  Minn. Stat. § 353.656, subds. 5 (proof of disability), 8 (application to executive director), 12 (review of applications by executive director).  At the time of appellant’s application, a public employee who established that he or she had become “disabled and physically unfit to perform duties as a police officer . . . as a direct result of an injury, sickness, or other disability incurred in or arising out of any act of duty,” and who had the requisite period of service, qualified for line-of-duty benefits.  Id., subd. 1 (2004).  Then and now, if an application for disability benefits is denied, the member is entitled to “appeal the executive director’s decision to the [PERA] board of trustees.”  Id., subd. 12 (2004 & Supp. 2005 & 2006).  In 2004, appellant was awarded a duty-related disability pension by PERA and did not have to pursue an appeal.

The 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 Minn. Stat. § 299A.01, subds. 1, 2 (2006) (providing for creation and mission of department of public safety).  The basic criteria for obtaining employer-paid health-insurance benefits remain the same today as they were in 2004.  Under certain circumstances, and upon a proper application, the former employer must pay the disabled employee’s cost for coverage under the employer’s group-health plan and, if applicable, the cost of coverage for the disabled employee’s dependents.  Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 1(a, b) (2004 & 2006).  To receive these benefits, the officer must establish the existence of a disabling injury that: “(1) results in the officer’s . . . retirement or separation from service” and that (2) “occurs while the officer . . . is acting in the course and scope of duties as a peace officer,” as well as establishing that “(3) the officer . . . has been approved to receive [a] duty-related disability pension.”  Id., subd. 1(a). The public employer may apply “to the commissioner of public safety for reimbursement to help defray a portion of its costs” of providing continued health insurance.  Id., subd. 4 (2004 & 2006).  The record before us contains no information on the amount of reimbursement that may be available to respondent if appellant prevails, but it is clear that the employer has primary responsibility for the costs of providing continued health-insurance for qualified disabled employees. 

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. 

“The object of all interpretation and construction of laws is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature.”  Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2006).  For two reasons, we conclude that a plain reading of sections 299A.465 and 353.656 establishes that the legislature did not intend that a PERA determination be dispositive of a subsequent claim for continuation of health-insurance benefits.   

First, 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.  Minn. Stat. § 645.17(2) (2006).  When the legislature has articulated specific criteria or limitations, we must apply the plain meaning of the statute to give effect to all of the criteria or limitations.  Mapleton Cmty. Home, Inc. v. Minn. Dep’t of Human Servs., 391 N.W.2d 798, 801 (Minn. 1986).

In 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 department). 781-82.  In that case, unlike this one, the employer “acknowledged that several identifiable incidents in [the employee’s] work history caused or played a significant role in the development of” his disabling condition, and the employer did “not disagree with PERA’s determination” that the employee was eligible for a duty-related disability pension. 785-86.  We noted that PERA serves a screening function, by evaluating all medical records and available information “to determine whether an officer is disabled.” 785.  Our comment, that the employee had “necessarily” satisfied all three criteria governing continued health-insurance benefits, must be read in the context of a case in which there was no dispute that the officer was disabled and that his disability was directly related to his job.  See id.  There is no similar agreement in this case over the cause of appellant’s disabling injury or its connection to his duties.  While it is clear that the eligibility requirements are related, we will not ignore the legislature’s clear intent to establish separate criteria for disability benefits and for continued health-insurance benefits.  Accordingly, we iterate that all three criteria in section 299A.465, subdivision 1(a), must be given effect.  The district court did not err in doing so. 

Because 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.” 786.  And because the issues are not squarely before us today, we again decline to determine (a) the extent to which an employer might have the right to participate in PERA’s administrative review of an employee’s disability application; (b) whether an employer would have the right to file a certiorari appeal to this court from a PERA decision; or (c) whether the lack of stated findings, coupled with the absence of a hearing at which the evidence was summarized and the basis of the decision was explained, would preclude meaningful appellate review of the PERA decision.  We agree with the district court that the PERA determination was not dispositive of the appellant’s claim for continued health-insurance benefits.  Accordingly, we express no opinion on appellant’s argument that respondent could have filed a certiorari appeal from the PERA determination and should now be penalized for failure to do so.     

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.[2] 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. 

Finally, 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 Minn. Laws  ch. 136, art. 8, §§ 7, 8.  Although this panel did not exist when appellant made his application for continued health insurance or when he brought his declaratory-judgment action, the current statute preserves the chronology that existed in the 2004 statute: after a peace officer “has been approved to receive a duty-related disability pension,” he or she “may apply to the panel . . . for a determination of whether or not the officer . . . meets the [statutory] requirements” for continued health-insurance benefits.  Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 6(a) (2006).  A final decision by the course-and-scope-of-duties panel binds “the applicant and the employer, subject to any right of judicial review.”  Id. 

The 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.  Id.  The statute directs the panel, in making that determination, to consider “whether or not the officer’s . . . occupational duties or professional responsibilities put the officer . . . at risk for the type of illness or injury actually sustained.”  Id.  In a previous certiorari appeal from a decision by the course-and-scope-of-duties panel, we concluded that a denial of benefits was arbitrary and capricious because it was based on criteria not specified in the statute.  In re Claim for Benefits by Meuleners, 725 N.W.2d 121, 125 (Minn. App. 2006).  Although appellant’s claim was not considered by the course-and-scope-of-duties panel and was properly raised in a declaratory-judgment proceeding, the 2005 amendments to the statute are consistent with our conclusion that the district court must consider, in addition to the appellant’s receipt of a duty-related disability pension, the statutory criteria set forth in Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, subd. 1(a). 

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.



[1]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 insurance.  2005 Minn. Laws ch. 136, art. 8, §§ 7, 8.  The legislature also provided that the law creating the panel would expire on July 1, 2008.  Id.  Appellant began seeking continued health-insurance benefits in 2004 and he sued in April 2005, before the 2005 amendments took effect.  Accordingly, most of our analysis will focus on the 2004 version of the statutes.


[2]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.