PAUL W. KNOLL Petitioner
MAINE PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM Respondent
DECISION ON APPEAL
to Rule 80C of the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure, Petitioner
Paul W. Knoll appeals from a decision of the Respondent Maine
Public Retirement System (MPERS) denying his application for
disability retirement benefits.
the court are Petitioner's and Respondent's briefs as
well as Petitioner's reply brief and the administrative
record. The court elects to decide this case without oral
argument, See M.R. Civ. 80C(1) (oral argument to be
scheduled "[V]nless the court otherwise directs."
See also Lindemann v. Comm'n on Governmental Ethics
& Election Practices, 2008 ME 187, ¶ 26, 961
A.2d 538 (Rule 80C permits court to direct that oral argument
not be scheduled).
on the entire record, the court affirms the decision of MPERS
and denies the appeal.
Paul W. Knoll was employed as the assistant principal at
Memorial Middle School in South Portland when he began
experiencing headaches, fatigue, dizziness and confusion in
2001. (R. at 36.6). These symptoms interfered with his
ability to focus, read, and learn. (R. at 36.6). He had
difficulty with memory and attention span. (R. at 36.6).
After Mr. Knoll began experiencing these symptoms, other
school employees complained of similar symptoms. (R. at
school was examined for mold and the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health ("NIOSH") performed
a health hazard evaluation. (R. at 36.6). A report dated
December 17, 2003 stated that the building Mr. Knoll worked
in had a history of odors and known water incursions and that
there were sporadic indoor air quality problems. (R. at
36.6). However, private consultants and the Maine Department
of Labor investigated the building and did not find mold
amplification. (R. at 36.6).
Knoll was evaluated by a number of medical professionals,
many of whom concluded that Mr. Knoll could not return to
work as assistant principal at Memorial Middle School. (R at
36.7). Mr. Knoll stopped working in October 2002. (R. at
1, 2003, Mr. Knoll applied to Maine Public Employees
Retirement System ("MPERS") for disability
retirement benefits. (R. at 36.3). After reconsideration of
an initial denial, Mr. Knoll's application was approved
by decision of the Executive Director dated July 19, 2005,
based on a finding that Mr. Knoll was incapacitated by the
condition of cognitive disorder, not otherwise specified
(NOS), as of October 17, 2002. (R. at 36.7). The application
was denied as to any history of fungal/mold allergy and
adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression. (R. at
discontinuing his work at the school in 2002, Mr. Knoll
worked in several different capacities. (R. at 36.7). He
worked in website design, for a publisher packing books, and
at Royal Bean Coffee Shop serving coffee and pastries. (R. at
14.157, 36.7). He worked in the field of dowsing, also
referred to as geomancy. (R. at 14.151-52, 36.7). He has
maintained a website and blog and offered workshops and
personal services in the area of shamanism including shamanic
journeying and shamanic energy and healing. (R. at 14.153-55,
14.177, 36.7). He has produced and self-published a CD on
shamanic practices. (R. at 177-78). On the occasions Mr.
Knoll was able to find paid work in dowsing or shamanism, he
offered his services at rates of $50.00 to $100.00 per hour.
(R. at 36.7).
Knoll has also worked at SaviLinx, a call center in
Brunswick, Maine. (R. at 36.7). He began in February 201* as
the lead agent on a contract with DHL. (R. at 36.7). He
worked 2-3 hours per day and his responsibilities included
scheduling his call team of six or seven people,
communicating with DHL on a daily basis about the team's
performance, and managing the team to address any issues. (R.
at 36.7). At the end of the contract with DHL, Mr. Knoll was
assigned to work on a contract with General Dynamics. (R. at
36.7). Mr. Knoll made eight business trips to Mississippi for
SaviLinx for the purpose of conducting interviews and
training sessions for General Dynamics. (R. at 36.7). At
SaviLinx he worked mainly in the human resources area,
presenting orientation sessions and team building
presentations. (R. at 36.7). Daniel Murray, an employee of
SaviLinx working with Mr. Knoll, testified that Mr. Knoll is
"very good at what he does" and "prompt and
punctual". (R. at 36.7).
addition, Mr. Knoll has developed and presented a story,
based on a life experience, that was broadcast nationally on
Moth Radio, which is affiliated with Maine Public Radio and
National Public Radio. (R. at 14.167-68). He submitted an
online application for his story, and after it was accepted,
he spent about two months working with the Moth Radio
producers on refining the story. (Id.) He then told
the story onstage at the State Theater in Portland, and the
story was later broadcast. (Id.)
2004, Mr. Knoll sought treatment with Richard G. Doiron,
Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Portland, Maine, and
continued to see Dr. Doiron twice a year for the next 10
years. (R. at 14.80). As far as the record shows, Mr. Knoll
has not obtained treatment for cognitive disorder, at least
in recent years, from anyone besides Dr. Doiron. (R. at
S6.8). Dr. Doiron's psychotherapy notes from September
29, 2005 through October 8, 2013 were admitted into evidence.
(R. at 36.8). Dr. Doiron has noted multiple times that his
diagnosis of Mr. Knoll for cognitive disorder NOS was
secondary to, or a consequence of, toxic encephalopathy
(fungal/mold exposure). (R. at S6.8). Dr. Doiron also treated
Mr. Knoll for depression and stress. (R. at 36.8).
required by statute, 5 M.R.S. § 17929(2)(B)(1), the
MPERS has conducted periodic reviews of Mr. Knoll's case
to determine whether he remains eligible for disability
retirement benefits. On July 5, 2006, July 29, 2008, and July
1, 2010, after reviewing Mr. Knoll's condition, MPERS
approved Mr. Knoll's continuation of benefits, based on
findings by MPERS that Mr. Knoll continued to be unable to
engage in "substantially gainful activity"
consistent with his training, education or experience and
average final compensation. (R. at 56.3).
after a review that began in September, 2013, the Executive
Director through a designee ("the EDD") issued a
decision dated October 9, 2014 finding that Mr. Knoll had not
shown that he continued to be unable to engage in substantial
gainful activity. Mr. Knoll appealed this determination on
October 27, 2014. (R. at 36.3).
hearing was held before hearing officer Jonathan B.
Huntington on May 20, 2015. (R. at 36.3). Mr. Knoll was
represented by attorney Mark A. Cloutier and MPERS was
represented by attorney Anedra C. Gregori. (R. at 36.3). Mr.
Knoll testified, along with five witnesses on his behalf. (R.
hearing, Dr. Doiron testified that Mr. Knoll's cognitive
disorder condition had not changed since 2006, although he
also acknowledged that Mr. Knoll's cognitive function had
improved over time. (R. at 14.68-70, 14.80-81, 36.8). Also,
although he testified that Mr. Knoll was capable of working
the job Mr. Knoll then had at SaviLinx, on the schedule Mr.
Knoll then had, but no more. (R. at 14.74, 14.79), Dr. Doiron
has not placed any limitations on Mr. Knoll's work
capacity. (R. at 14.79). Dr. Doiron has not conducted any
recent testing or assessment of Mr. Knoll's condition,
but has relied on Mr. Knoll's reports to him of
difficulty with energy and attention span as well as
sensitivity to substances in the environment. (R. at 14.75,
Maria Bordeaux also testified at the hearing. She has been
married to Mr. Knoll for two years and did not know Mr. Knoll
before the onset of his cognitive disorder. (R. at 36.8). Ms.
Bordeaux and Mr. Knolls went through orientation at SaviLinx
together. (R. at 36.9). Ms. Bordeaux testified that Mr. Knoll
needed to have information repeated, that he took notes, and
that he was slower than the rest of the group. (R. at 36.9).
She testified that he became mentally overwhelmed and
fatigued and left work early on several occasions. (R. at
36.9). He also left early when a scent "set him off'
and he would have a difficult time concentrating on the task
at hand. (R. at 36.9). He was given his own cubicle, and then
his own office to accommodate his difficulties with
concentration, and he was permitted to work from home. (R. at
May 20, 2015 hearing, she testified that when Mr. Knoll
worked at SaviLinx, he was fatigued and confused with
impatience, irritability, and difficulty finding words, and
took frequent naps. (R. at 36.8). She further testified that
he was not seeing a doctor regularly and he was not taking
medication. (R. at 36.9). His treatment regimen was eating
healthy, exercising every day and meditating. (R. at 36.9).
She testified that his ability to function cognitively had
worsened since they met. (R. at 36.9).
Safford-Garret, human resources manager at SaviLinx,
testified at the May 20, 2015 hearing. (R. at 36.9). She
testified that Mr. Knoll did not do his own paperwork
associated with his trips to Hattiesburg because it was not
his strength and it tended to overwhelm and fluster him. (R.
at 36.9). He was paid $16.50 per hour at SaviLinx. (R. at
36.9). If he were able to work full time, then a
full time job at SaviLinx would be offered to him. (R at
J. Fitzpatrick, a vocational rehabilitation and job placement
counselor, performed a vocational assessment and evaluation
of employability of Mr. Knoll. (R. at 36.9). Fitzpatrick
assumed, for the purposes of the report, that Mr. Knoll had
the limitation stated in Dr. Doiron's note on July 9,
2013, that Mr. Knoll was able to work 2-3 hours per day, two
days a week. (R. at 36.9). Based upon his evaluation,
Fitzpatrick concluded that Mr. Knoll was not a suitable
candidate for employment earning remuneration in the range of
$57, 148.53 and above. (R. at 36.9). On the other hand,
although his report stated that Mr. Knoll was "not
released to full-time work, " (R. at 14.301), he also
acknowledged that this was based on his interpretation of Dr.
Doiron's notes, (R. at 14.105), which, in turn, as noted
above were based on Mr. Knoll's twice-yearly visits with
hearing, the MPERS staff presented a vocational assessment
from Daniel Casavant, who, like Mr. Fitzpatrick, has a
background in vocational rehabilitation. (R. at S.S49-50).
Mr. Casavant reached a conclusion different from Mr.
Fitzpatrick, namely that Mr. Knoll was employable and
qualified for a variety of jobs, including ...