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Megargee v. Public Employees' Retirement System

June 14, 2007

RUTH MEGARGEE, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from a Final Administrative determination of the Board of Trustees, Public Employees' Retirement System, PERS #479796.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 29, 2007

Before Judges S.L. Reisner and C.L. Miniman.

Ruth Megargee appeals from a final determination of the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS), issued April 20, 2006, denying her application for Accidental Disability Retirement benefits. See N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43. We affirm.

I.

This case is the most recent chapter in a long-running dispute between Megargee and her employer over her ability to perform her job as a Teacher 1 with the Department of Human Services, Office of Education. The history of this dispute was reviewed at length in our prior opinion affirming Megargee's termination from her position after a tenure hearing. In re Tenure Hearing of Ruth Megargee, No. A-5377-01 (App. Div. Feb. 18, 2004), certif. denied, 180 N.J. 354 (2004). We briefly summarize the facts essential to this appeal.

Megargee was employed as a teacher in a state agency that provides educational services "to students with a variety of disabilities, students who are at risk of failure and students who have left school before earning a high school diploma." In November 1997, she was injured in an incident with a student, and thereafter engaged in a long series of disputes with her employer over whether she was physically able to return to work and, if so, what assignment she would be given.

Megargee was restricted by her doctors from lifting more than forty pounds. She also did not want to teach certain types of students whom she considered either troublesome or dangerous to her. She suggested certain physical accommodations that would permit her to teach the types of students she wanted to teach. The employer offered her a different accommodation that would require her to do no lifting at all, but involved teaching students she did not want to teach. When Megargee refused to return to work in 2000, the employer filed tenure charges against her on May 11, 2000. Approximately two weeks later, on May 26, 2000, Megargee filed an application for an accidental disability retirement. However, pursuant to its regulations the PERS Board held consideration of that application in abeyance pending the outcome of the tenure charges. See N.J.A.C. 17:1-6.2(d).

After a lengthy administrative hearing on the tenure charges, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Law concluded that the employer had offered Megargee a reasonable accommodation that was within the scope of her job as a Teacher 1 and that would involve no lifting, that she had refused the accommodation, and that the tenure charges should be sustained. The Commissioner of Education adopted the ALJ's decision, and we affirmed the Commissioner's determination. In re Magargee, supra.

Thereafter, the PERS Board transmitted Megargee's pension claim to the Office of Administrative Law, where it was heard by ALJ Viscomi. Before ALJ Viscomi, the parties agreed to file motions for summary disposition. In deciding those motions, the ALJ determined that Megargee was collaterally estopped from relitigating the issues decided in the tenure hearing, and that based on the essential facts found in that proceeding Megargee was not disabled from performing her job as Teacher 1. The PERS Board adopted the initial decision. This appeal followed.

II.

On this appeal, Megargee raises the following issues:*fn1

POINT I: BECAUSE THE ISSUES DECIDED BELOW ARE STRICTLY LEGAL IN NATURE, THIS COURT SHOULD EXERCISE DE NOVO REVIEW ON APPEAL. POINT II: THE AGENCY'S IMPROPER RELIANCE ON COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL MANDATES REVERSAL. POINT III: BECAUSE PETITIONER CANNOT PERFORM ...


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