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Flethez v. San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

April 22, 2015

FRANK FLETHEZ, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT ASSOCIATION, Defendant and Appellant.

[REVIEW GRANTED BY CAL. SUPREME COURT]

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Bernardino County No. CIVDS1212542, David Cohn, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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COUNSEL

Arias & Lockwood and Christopher D. Lockwood for Defendant and Appellant.

Faunce, Singer & Oatman, Mark Ellis Singer and Edward L. Faunce for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

McDONALD, J.

On February 1, 2000, following his last day of work as an employee of San Bernardino County (County), Frank Flethez underwent surgery for a work-related spinal injury he suffered in 1998. In 2008, he filed an application with the San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association (SBCERA) for work-related disability retirements benefits. SBCERA granted his request for disability benefits, beginning as of 2008, but did not grant him retroactive benefits for the period before the date of his application. Flethez filed a petition for writ of mandamus seeking retroactive disability retirement benefits beginning July 15, 2000. The trial court issued a judgment granting his petition and awarding him Civil Code section 3287, subdivision (a), [1] (section 3287(a)) prejudgment interest on the retroactive benefits to which the judgment provided he was entitled. On appeal, SBCERA contends the trial court erred by awarding Flethez section 3287(a) prejudgment interest on his retroactive benefits beginning July 15, 2000, because SBCERA could not have granted those benefits until he filed an application for disability retirement and submitted evidence showing his entitlement to those benefits in 2008. Based on our interpretation of section 3287(a) and consideration of relevant case law and the facts in this case as discussed below, we conclude the trial court erred by awarding Flethez prejudgment interest on his retroactive disability benefits before payments of those benefits were due and before his right to recover those payments became vested under section 3287(a).

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FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 1990, Flethez became an employee of County. He worked as an equipment operator from 1991 until 2000. In 1998, he was injured while performing his job duties. After his last day of work on January 28, 2000, he underwent spinal surgery for that 1998 injury. He underwent additional surgeries in 2001 and 2002 and received physical therapy through 2004.

On June 12, 2008, Flethez filed an application with SBCERA for disability retirements benefits, but it was rejected for omission of a signed medical records authorization. On July 16, 2009, he filed a complete application, including a signed medical records authorization and a supporting physician's report. On August 5, 2010, based on its staff's recommendation, SBCERA granted Flethez's application for disability retirement benefits, effective as of the date of his initial application in 2008. Flethez requested a formal administrative hearing limited to the issue of the appropriate starting date for his retirement benefits. On December 15, 2011, the administrative hearing was held and the hearing officer subsequently issued proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a recommended decision. On October 4, 2012, SBCERA adopted the hearing officer's proposed decision and maintained the effective date of June 12, 2008, for the beginning of Flethez's disability retirement benefits.

Flethez filed the instant petition for writ of mandamus pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5, seeking a writ ordering SBCERA to set aside its decision and grant him service-connected disability retirement benefits effective as of July 15, 2000, with interest at the legal rate on all retroactive amounts. On November 21, 2013, the trial court entered a judgment granting Flethez's petition, stating that a peremptory writ of mandate had been issued by the court commanding SBCERA to grant him service-connected disability retirement benefits retroactive to July 15, 2000, the day after the last day he received regular compensation pursuant to Government Code section 31724. The judgment also ordered "payment of interest at the legal rate on all retroactive amounts. Those interest payments total $132,865.37." SBCERA timely filed a notice of appeal "limited to the issue of interest."

DISCUSSION

I

Standard of Review


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