On appeal from the Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System, Docket No. 3-10-36721.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa and Reisner.
Appellant, Pamela Thomas, appeals from the April 13, 2010 final decision of the Board of Trustees of the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (Board) denying her application for accidental disability retirement benefits. Appellant, a corrections officer at the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC), sustained two work-related injuries to her left knee, one on June 12, 2003, and the other on November 18, 2006. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that the 2003 incident constituted a "traumatic event" as defined in Richardson v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System, 192 N.J. 189 (2007), but that the 2006 incident did not. The Board agreed with those determinations. However, the Board rejected the ALJ's further determination that appellant was totally and permanently disabled as a "direct result" of the 2003 accident and entitled to accidental disability.*fn1
We are satisfied from our review of the record that the Board's findings and conclusions are supported by substantial credible evidence, are not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, and accord with the controlling legal principles. We therefore affirm substantially for the reasons set forth by the Board in its April 13, 2010 final decision.
Appellant was born in 1965. Upon her employment at the JJC in 1995, she enrolled in the Police and Firemen's Retirement System. At the time of both injuries, appellant served as special assignment officer, whose duties included covering breaks for other corrections officers and responding to emergency calls.
On June 12, 2003, while training in the use of a bicycle as part of her job as a special assignment officer, appellant fell and injured her left knee while attempting to navigate an obstacle course. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), for which she underwent surgery on August 19, 2003. Her ACL was reconstructed. According to the undisputed medical testimony, the surgery was a success. After undergoing a lengthy period of physical therapy and rehabilitation, appellant was discharged from further medical care on January 31, 2005, and at that time returned to work at the JJC as a special assignment officer.
Appellant's physician recommended that she wear a knee brace on an intermittent basis. According to appellant, she wore it to work every day up to and including the day of her second injury on November 18, 2006. Plaintiff contended that although she was officially returned to full duty status, she was instructed by her supervisors not to run to emergencies, but to ride in a van. It was customary for officers to respond to emergencies either on foot or in a van, depending upon the distance required to be traveled.
In the intervening period between her return to work and her November 18, 2006 injury, appellant received no medical treatment for her knee. As part of the process of considering appellant's return to full duty status, she underwent a functional capacity evaluation in 2004, in which she surpassed the threshold required to perform the required functions of a corrections officer.
The human resource manager from the JJC, Lisa Bell, testified that, according to appellant's personnel file, she had not requested any kind of accommodation during the period between her two injuries, and no accommodation had been granted. Bell further testified that evaluation reports in appellant's file reflected that during the interim period her performance significantly exceeded the essential criteria and reflected that she "[r]eports and responds to all incidents." Appellant reviewed and signed these reports. Bell said there was nothing in appellant's personnel records indicating that she was unable to fully perform her job during the interim period.
On November 18, 2006, appellant was sitting in the cafeteria with other officers when an emergency code was called. Appellant rose from her chair, pivoted and began to run to respond to the call. Her left knee "gave out," causing her severe pain. She limped to the nearby van, in which she was transported to the scene of the emergency. However, she remained in the van at that location.
We have not been provided with medical records regarding the injury appellant suffered at that time. The medical experts for both sides described it as a twisting injury. Those experts also agreed that appellant did not re-injure the ACL, and that ...