may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of:
Disability Benefits Application of Craig Wallin.
Filed July 20, 1999
Minnesota State Retirement System
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Rory H. Foley, Assistant Attorney General, Suite 200, 525 Park Street, St. Paul, MN 55103-2106 (for respondent MSRS Board of Directors)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Schultz, Judge.[*]
Craig Wallin appeals the Minnesota State Retirement System Board's denial of his appeal to change his disability classification. Because the board did not err in its interpretation of the statute governing disability benefits and the board's decision is supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.
Craig Wallin is a former corrections employee who is disabled because of depression and alcoholism. Wallin applied for disability benefits in August 1997, and the executive director of the Minnesota State Retirement System approved non-job-originated disability benefits for Wallin in November 1997. Six months later Wallin appealed, requesting that his classification be changed to the higher benefit level paid for job-originated disability.
The Minnesota State Retirement System Board held a hearing on Wallin's request. See Minn. Stat. § 352.031, subd. 3 (1996) (authorizing board to review determinations by the executive director). The executive director presented his explanation of the denial of job-originated disability benefits. He explained that the medical documentation submitted by Wallin indicated only that his work exacerbated his depression, but it did not demonstrate that Wallin's work was the original cause of his depression. The board indicated that the appeal required further study and tabled the request.
As part of its further study, the board hired Dr. Gordon Dodge to review Wallin's medical file and make an independent medical evaluation of Wallin's disability. After reviewing Wallin's file, Dodge concluded that Wallin's employment did not cause or substantially contribute to Wallin's depression. He based his conclusion on his findings that Wallin's depression was long-standing; that the nature of the depression Wallin suffered was typically caused by biological factors, often genetics; that Wallin's family had a strong history of major depression; that before the onset of his major depression, Wallin had a good work record; that because of Wallin's depression, he was not able to fairly assess his work environment; and that Wallin's file did not indicate substantial improvement despite not having worked in corrections for more than a year.
After receiving the report, the board held a second hearing on Wallin's appeal. The board reviewed the record and adopted Dodge's conclusion that Wallin's depression was not the direct result of his work. It then voted to deny Wallin's appeal. Wallin appeals the board's decision.
Two principal issues are raised by Wallin's appeal. The first is whether the Minnesota State Retirement System Board erred in its interpretation of the "direct result" requirement in the disability statute, and the second is whether the board's decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. State by Beaulieu v. RSJ, Inc., 552 N.W.2d 695, 701 (Minn. 1996). The purpose of statutory interpretation is to discern the intention of the legislature as expressed in the statutory language. Administrative agencies charged with responsibility to apply regulatory statutes are accorded deference in the construction of the statutes they apply. Goodman v. State of Minnesota, Dep't of Pub. Safety, 282 N.W.2d 559, 560 (Minn. 1979). But the question raised in this appeal is essentially textual statutory construction.
The statute distinguishes between injuries directly resulting from work and those that do not. In interpreting a statute, "[e]very law shall be construed, if possible, to give effect to all its provisions." Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (1996). The "direct result" language indicates the legislature intended section 352.95, subd. 1, to cover disabilities that originate in work performed by corrections employees. See Allen v. District of Columbia Police & Firefighters' Retirement & Relief Bd., 528 A.2d 1225, 1229-30 (D.C. 1987) (officer's depression disability, arising from disagreements with police department, was not "job-related" within meaning of disability statute). An exacerbation of a disability means the employee aggravated a pre-existing disability. Thus, the disability did not originate as the direct result of work. See Norman v. City of Whitefish, 852 P.2d 533, 538 (Mont. 1993) (affirming court holding that stress aggravating a police officer's pre-existing anxiety disorder condition did not satisfy work-related disability requirement).
Wallin argues that the "direct result" language should be read broadly. But a statute should not be interpreted to provide benefits in a situation not intended by the legislature. See Axelson v. Minneapolis Teachers' Retirement Fund Ass'n, 544 N.W.2d 297, 301 (Minn. 1996); see also Renz v. Hibbing Firemen's Relief Ass'n, 186 Minn. 370, 374, 243 N.W. 713, 714 (1932) ("[Disability benefit statutes] generally require a causal connection between the disability and the work. Such a pension usually contemplates disaster directly relating from the service."). In addition, the legislature only recently extended the non-job-originating disability provision to cover mental disabilities as well as physical disabilities. 1996 Minn. Laws. ch. 438, art. 2, § 2; see also Allen, 528 A.2d at 1231 (declining to broadly interpret disability statute because of statute's causal requirement); Woldrich v. Vancouver Police Pension Bd., 928 P.2d 423, 426 (Wash. Ct. App. 1996) (declining to broadly interpret disability statute). The board correctly interpreted the statute to limit the greater benefits to corrections employees whose disability originates from the performance of their work.
Significantly, the statute places the burden on the corrections employee applying for disability benefits to support the application with medical evidence. Minn. Stat. § 352.95, subd. 4 (1996). The evidence submitted by Wallin demonstrates only that he is disabled, which is not disputed by the board. Letters by Dr. Steven Genheimer, who treated Wallin, state that the "stress from work has exacerbated" Wallin's depression and that Wallin's anticipation of returning to his job "is almost certainly hampering his recovery from depression." Neither Genheimer nor two other psychiatrists who examined Wallin stated that his disabilities were the direct result of his work.
Wallin asserts that the record should be limited to the medical reports made before the initial board hearing. But the appeals procedure statute provides that the record includes "any documentation the board allows to be submitted at or after the meeting at which the petition is considered." Minn. Stat. § 352.031, subd. 1(e) (1996). The appeals procedure also provides the board "may allow further documentation to be placed in the record at or subsequent to the board meeting." Minn. Stat. § 352.031, subd. 5 (1996). The board's acceptance and use of Dodge's assessment was proper. His evaluation, based on Wallin's medical file, is substantial evidence that supports the board's decision.
Wallin raises a final procedural issue, arguing that the board exceeded its statutory authority in obtaining Dodge's assessment because it is tantamount to promulgating "guidelines" for processing claims. Nothing in the statute prohibits the board from continuing an adjudication to obtain additional information or documentation. See Minn. Stat. § 352.031. Indeed, the statute allows the board to supplement the record with additional documentation. Minn. Stat. § 352.031, subd. 5. The only restriction on documentation is that the board must provide a copy of any additional documentation to the person petitioning for benefits prior to the meeting at which it makes its decision. Cf. Minn. Stat. § 352.031, subd. 5 (implying the petitioner should have the opportunity to review documents upon which the board bases its decision). The board provided Wallin with a copy of Dodge's evaluation before it made its final decision, and thus it complied with the statute. The board acted within the scope of its statutory authority in continuing the adjudication.
[*] Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.