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Rossignol v. Maine Public Employees Retirement System

Supreme Court of Maine

July 21, 2016

ROBERT D. ROSSIGNOL
v.
MAINE PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM

          Argued: June 10, 2016

         On the briefs:

          Mark A. Cloutier, Esq., Cloutier, Conley & Duffett, P.A., Portland, for appellant Robert D. Rossignol

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Christopher L. Mann, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Maine Public Employees Retirement System

         At oral argument:

          Mark A. Cloutier, Esq., for appellant Robert D. Rossignol

          Christopher L. Mann, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee Maine Public Employees Retirement System

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Robert D. Rossignol appeals from a judgment entered by the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Marden, J.) affirming the decision of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System (MPERS) Board of Trustees (the Board) to affirm the Executive Director's designee's denial of Rossignol's application for disability retirement benefits. Because the record does not compel the conclusion that Rossignol has a mental or physical incapacity that "is expected to be permanent" and makes it "impossible to perform the duties of [his] employment position, " 5 M.R.S. § 17921(1)(A), (B) (2015), we affirm.

         [¶2] Rossignol was employed as a special education teacher at Regional School Unit 14 Sebago Education Alliance (SEA) from August 2009 until June 2010. His last date in service was April 15, 2010, which was preceded by reports that he was not effectively controlling students in his classroom. On June 1, 2010, SEA notified Rossignol that it would not renew his probationary teaching contract.

         [¶3] In January 2011, Rossignol applied to MPERS for disability retirement benefits. See 5 M.R.S. § 17925 (2015). In his application, he alleged that he suffers from major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic attacks, which make it impossible for him to perform the duties of his position at SEA.[1] The Executive Director's designee ultimately denied Rossignol's application, [2] see 5 M.R.S. § 17105(2)(C) (2015), and Rossignol appealed to the Board, see 5 M.R.S. § 17451(1) (2015). In September 2014, after holding a hearing that ran over the course of several months, a hearing officer issued a recommended final decision, see 5 M.R.S. § 17106-A (2015), proposing a determination that Rossignol failed to establish that he was disabled pursuant to 5 M.R.S. § 17921(1), thereby affirming the Executive Director's designee's denial of disability retirement benefits.

         [¶4] In April 2015, the Board adopted the hearing officer's recommended final decision and denied Rossignol's application for disability retirement benefits on the grounds that (1) although the record demonstrated that he had major depressive disorder, he had not proved that the condition made it impossible for him to perform the essential duties of his employment as of his last date in service; and (2) he had failed to prove that as of that date, he had diagnosable conditions of generalized anxiety disorder or panic attacks. Rossignol filed a complaint for review of the Board's decision in the Superior Court, see 5 M.R.S. §§ 11001-11007 (2015); M.R. Civ. P. 80C, which affirmed the Board's decision. Rossignol appealed to us, arguing that the evidence compelled the Board to grant his application for disability retirement benefits.[3]

         [¶5] In order to qualify for disability retirement benefits, an applicant must demonstrate that he or she has a mental or physical incapacity that "is expected to be permanent" and that the incapacity makes it "impossible to perform the duties of [the applicant's] employment position." 5 M.R.S. §§ 17921(1)(A), (B), 17924(1) (2015).

         [¶6] On an appeal from intermediate appellate review of an administrative decision, "we review directly the original decision of the fact-finding agency, without deference to the ruling on the intermediate appeal by the court from which the appeal is taken." Anderson v. Me. Pub. Emps. Ret. Sys., 2009 ME 134, ¶ 2, 985 A.2d 501. As the fact-finder, the Board has the authority to determine the weight to be given to the evidence, and we will not substitute our judgment for the Board's. Id. ¶¶ 27-28; 5 M.R.S. § 11007(3). As the party seeking to vacate the Board's decision, Rossignol bears the burden of persuasion on appeal to demonstrate error below. Anderson, 2009 ME 134, ΒΆ 3, 985 A.2d 501. Because Rossignol bore the burden of proof before the ...


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