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A Better Partnership
July 20, 2017

COA determines that public school employees are required to be deemed totally and permanently disabled by an independent medical advisor to receive disability benefits

In Escott v. Public School Employees’ Retirement Board, No. 333264, the Court of Appeals determined that the Public School Employees’ Retirement Board (“PSERB”) has no authority to grant non-duty disability retirement benefits to a public school employee unless and Independent Medical Advisor has deemed the employee totally and permanently disabled.
Pontiac School District employed Linda Escott until 2013 when she accepted a voluntary layoff. Escott applied for disability benefits due to a disease causing tunnel vision. Escott claimed that changes to the classroom, including technology and pedagogical changes, rendered her unable to continue teaching with the disability. PSERB assigned Dr. Henderson as the independent Medical Advisor on Escott’s disability benefits case. Dr. Henderson sent Escott to Dr. Thomas for an evaluation, and Dr. Thomas concluded that Escott’s condition did not limit her ability to perform her duties as a teacher. A statement by Dr. Henderson supported this conclusion, noting that Escott was also physically capable of doing the job duties of a teacher. As such, the PSERB denied Escott disability benefits.
Escott appealed the decision to the circuit court, arguing that the medical examination by Dr. Thomas was inadequate. The only vision test Escott was asked to perform was reading an eye chart without her glasses, and thus the circuit court agreed with Escott choosing to remand the matter to the PSERB. PSERB then appealed to the Court of Appeals.
To address this issue the Court of Appeals stated that they needed to interpret MCL 38.1386, which outlines the requirements for disability benefits for public school employees. The Court of Appeals determined that the language of MCL 38.1386(1)(d) is clear, and that in order to receive non-duty disability retirement benefits a party must be deemed totally and permanently disabled by an Independent Medical Advisor. No such certification was attained here, as after the analysis Dr. Thomas and Dr. Henderson both believed Escott was capable of performing her duties as a teacher. Therefore, the PSERB was obligated to deny Escott’s disability benefits. 

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