On appeal from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2009-2821.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 12, 2010
Before Judges Fuentes and Nugent.
William Rogers appeals from the final administrative determination of the Civil Service Commission (Commission) that denied him Sick Leave Injury (SLI) benefits for a back injury he sustained while working for The College of New Jersey (College). We affirm.
Rogers, a Project Specialist, sustained wrist and shoulder injuries on January 22, 2007, for which he received SLI benefits through December 16, 2007. His orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Anthony Petrosini, included in a September 11, 2007 letter concerning Rogers' shoulder surgery, the following recommendation:
The patient also reports non-work related injury to his low back .... With respect to his low back, he is having persistent pain, and we recommend an evaluation through his private insurance by one of our spine specialists. If pain is unrelenting, this may interfere with his ability to attend the shoulder surgery.
In 2008, Rogers returned to "light duty" at the College, his doctor having restricted him from lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling items greater than ten pounds. His "light duty" work included retrieving information from basement archives. Due to Rogers' physical restrictions, the College Director of Planning and Campus Architect arranged for student workers to pull the archived boxes off the basement shelves and put them on a table for Rogers to review, gave Rogers the students' schedules, and told him to wait until the students were available to assist him. Rogers ignored those instructions on March 25, 2008, when he retrieved a box from a basement shelf and injured his lower back, subsequently being diagnosed with a disc herniation at L5-S1.
Although the College initially denied benefits to Rogers because he failed to timely report the injury, the College notified him on August 13, 2008, that his workers' compensation claim had been accepted, but he was ineligible to receive SLI benefits because the back injury he sustained "was a result of a pre-existing condition aggravated by a work-related accident." The College based its denial of SLI benefits on Dr. Petrosini's September 11, 2007 letter. The College again denied Rogers SLI benefits in a letter dated December 3, 2008. Rogers disputed that he had a pre-existing lower back condition and appealed to the Commission on February 2, 2009.
Rogers provided extensive medical records in an attempt to support his claim. The records documented, among other things, that Rogers treated with a chiropractor in June and July 2000, from July through September 2002, and in November 2006 for low back pain in the left sacroiliac area. A lumbar MRI study that Rogers underwent on September 4, 2007, because of lower back pain, disclosed that Rogers had discogenic disease in the lower lumbar spine; marginal spurring throughout much of the lumbar spine; and some degree of disc space narrowing at L4-L5 and to a greater extent at L5-S1.
Rogers underwent another lumbar MRI study after his March 25, 2008 accident. That study disclosed disc dessication with disc space narrowing at L4-L5 and L5-S1 with corresponding mild facet osteoarthritis; mild diffuse bulging at the L4-L5 level with superimposed central disc protrusion; and a diffuse bulge at the L5-S1 level with superimposed disc protrusion extending from the posterior midline to the left posterolateral aspect and into the neural foramen. The radiologist's interpretation of the MRI study included the "impression" of degenerative disc disease at L4-5 and L5-S1.
On this evidence, the Commission determined that Rogers was ineligible for SLI benefits under N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.6(c)(2), which provides:
2. Pre-existing illnesses, diseases and conditions aggravated by a work-related accident or condition of employment are not compensable when such ...