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Jett v. Kentucky Retirement Systems

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

August 4, 2017

MARSHA JETT APPELLANT
v.
KENTUCKY RETIREMENT SYSTEMS AND THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE KENTUCKY RETIREMENT SYSTEMS APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM FRANKLIN CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE THOMAS D. WINGATE, JUDGE ACTION NO. 15-CI-00310

          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: John Gray Frankfort, Kentucky.

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEES: Carrie Bass Frankfort, Kentucky.

          BEFORE: DIXON, J. LAMBERT AND STUMBO, JUDGES.

          OPINION

          STUMBO, JUDGE.

         Marsha Jett appeals from an order of the Franklin Circuit Court which affirmed a decision of the Kentucky Retirement Systems (hereinafter referred to as "Systems") to deny her application for disability retirement benefits. We believe the Kentucky Retirement Systems incorrectly denied Ms. Jett disability retirement benefits; therefore, we reverse and remand.

         Ms. Jett worked for the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center. Her last day of paid employment was on November 25, 2011. She applied for disability retirement benefits on February 24, 2012. In her application, she alleged that she was disabled due to major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD").[1] Ms. Jett argued that it was the cumulative effects of the depression and PTSD that disabled her from returning to work.

         The Systems' medical examiners reviewed Ms. Jett's application and medical records and denied her benefits. Ms. Jett appealed and an administrative hearing was held. Ms. Jett was the only person to testify. A hearing officer rendered a recommended order in which she found that Ms. Jett suffered from depression and PTSD for over a year after her last day of paid employment. The hearing officer also found that while Ms. Jett's conditions were disabling, the disability was not permanent because she did not properly comply with treatment recommendations by taking anti-depressants, going regularly to counseling, and cutting off contact to people who were exacerbating her condition. The hearing officer recommended that the Board of Trustees of the Kentucky Retirement Systems (hereinafter referred to as "Board") deny her application for benefits. The Board then adopted the hearing officer's recommended order and denied Ms. Jett disability retirement benefits.

         Ms. Jett then appealed the decision to the Franklin Circuit Court. The court affirmed the decision of the Board and held that while Ms. Jett suffered from PTSD and depression, her disability was not permanent because she did not follow through with her treatment plan during the year following her last day of employment. This appeal followed.

         Ms. Jett argues on appeal that the trial court and Board erred in denying her disability benefits based on lack of permanency. Ms. Jett claims that the disability retirement statutes do not require one to obey treatment recommendations in order for a disability to be deemed permanent, but that the disability only need last for 12 months or more. Ms. Jett's argument is well taken and we believe Ms. Jett should be awarded disability benefits.

         This Court's standard of review for an administrative adjudicatory decision is the clearly erroneous standard. Stallins v. City of Madisonville, 707 S.W.2d 349, 351 (Ky. App. 1986). A decision is clearly erroneous if it is not supported by substantial evidence. Id.

Substantial evidence is defined as evidence, taken alone or in light of all the evidence, that has sufficient probative value to induce conviction in the minds of reasonable people. If there is substantial evidence to support the agency's findings, a court must defer to that finding even though there is evidence to the contrary. A court may not substitute its opinion as to the credibility of the witnesses, the weight given the evidence, or the inferences to be drawn from the evidence. A court's function in administrative matters is one of review, not reinterpretation.

Thompson v. Kentucky Unemployment Ins. Comm'n, 85 S.W.3d 621, 624 (Ky. App. 2002) ...


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