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Beckley v. Board of Administration of California Public Employees' Retirement System

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fourth Division

November 27, 2013

PERRY C. BECKLEY, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
BOARD OF ADMINISTRATION OF CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, Defendant and Appellant.

Pub. order 12/26/13 (see end of opn.; reposted 12/26/13 to add counsel)

Alameda County No. RG11593721 Trial court Hon. Evelio Grillo Trial judge.

Counsel:

Patricia Bertha Miles and Rory Jerome Coffey for Defendant and Appellant.

Law Offices of Linda Joanne Brown and Christopher Hayes Dahms for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Rivera, J.

Plaintiff Perry Beckley was a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer until the CHP determined he was not able to perform the tasks required of an officer. He applied for disability retirement, and the Board of Administration of California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) denied his application, ruling that Beckley was not disabled from carrying out the duties of the position he had most recently held as a public affairs officer (PAO). Beckley brought a petition for writ of mandate, which the trial court granted. CalPERS has appealed.[1] We shall affirm the trial court’s judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Beckley worked as a CHP officer for approximately 23 years. In 2003, he sought treatment for wrist and arm pain, which he believed were the result of processing an unusually large number of reports at work. Later in 2003, Beckley reported that he had hurt his back getting out of his state vehicle. While he was assigned to patrol duty later that year, he had “ ‘flare-ups’ ” of his back condition, was diagnosed with lumbar disc degeneration and sciatica, and was taken off work temporarily on several occasions in 2003 and 2004.

In 2004, Beckley applied for a position as a PAO. The duties of the position included meeting with local legislators, city managers, and community leaders; speaking to community groups; community outreach programs such as child car seat inspections; and attending community fairs. Beckley would typically drive a patrol car and wear a uniform when attending outreach events. He was not assigned a beat to patrol, but when driving in a patrol car in uniform, he was expected to undertake ordinary enforcement actions, and did so on a number of occasions. The PAO is not a limited duty position, and a PAO could be assigned to perform road duty. Beckley performed well in his position as a PAO.

In 2006, Beckley was evaluated by a chiropractor, Dr. Erich Parks, in connection with a workers’ compensation claim. Dr. Parks concluded that, as a result of his injuries to his upper extremities and lower back, Beckley could not “continue in his occupation since he has preclusions which cause him to be unable to fulfill the 14 critical activities, required by CHP.”[2] Of those tasks, Dr. Parks concluded Beckley was unable safely to extract a 200-pound victim from a vehicle and lift, carry, and drag the victim 50 feet; physically subdue and handcuff a combative subject; change a flat tire; drive for extended periods of time; and run up and down stairs.

Either the State Compensation Insurance Fund or CHP’s disability and retirement section reviewed the chiropractor’s report, informed Beckley’s commanding officer that Beckley “ ‘could not perform the 14 critical tasks, ’ ” and instructed the commanding officer to “ ‘send [Beckley] home.’ ” The commanding officer did so. Beckley asked if he could continue to work as a PAO, and was told he could not do so because CHP officers had to be able to perform the 14 critical tasks at any time. Beckley was sent home on leave, and later took service retirement.

It is undisputed that in his job as PAO, Beckley was not required to perform any of the 14 critical tasks regularly, although he performed a few of the tasks on rare occasions during his time as PAO.

Beckley applied for industrial disability retirement. At a hearing on his application, Beckley presented evidence from three chiropractors that he was unable to carry out all of the 14 critical tasks. This evidence included the report of Dr. Parks, who had evaluated Beckley in connection with his workers’ compensation claim. According to Dr. Parks, Beckley had suffered two distinct industrial injuries. The first involved “cumulative trauma to his upper extremities, ” including carpal tunnel syndrome. The second was the injury to Beckley’s lower back, in which a “chronic degenerative condition... was aggravated by a sudden twist when exiting a patrol car.” Dr. Parks concluded Beckley had lost approximately half of his pre-injury capacity for fine motor control of his hands and for lifting, and that he “should be precluded from doing heavy ...


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