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Wright v. Public Employees' Retirement System

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

May 31, 2013

HOPE WRIGHT, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, Respondent-Respondent.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted December 4, 2012

On appeal from the Board of Trustees, Public Employees' Retirement System, PERS No. 2-1019796.

Hope Wright, appellant pro se.

Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Robert H. Stoloff, Assistant Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Alvarez and St. John.

PER CURIAM

Appellant Hope Wright appeals from the final decision of the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System (Board), which denied her application for accidental disability retirement benefits. Following our review of the arguments advanced on appeal, in light of the record and applicable law, we affirm.

I.

The record discloses the following facts and procedural history leading to the administrative determination under review.

In February 1997, Wright began working for the Englewood Board of Education as a non-certified computer specialist. On July 26, 2006, Wright injured her hand when she was standing in the bathroom at work and a bathroom stall door fell towards her. Wright allegedly lifted her left arm to protect herself and a small metal piece from the top of the door pressed into her hand between her palm and thumb. Due to the incident, Wright says that she suffers pain, drops things, and cannot do things she used to be able to do with both her hands. Additionally, she wears a brace for support and takes over-the-counter medication for pain.

As a result of the incident, Wright filed an application for accidental disability retirement benefits with the Board. In her application, Wright claimed she was permanently disabled as a result of the July 26, 2006 incident. Thereafter, Wright's employer, the Englewood Board of Education, filed an employer certification for disability retirement. The Board referred Wright for an independent medical examination which was performed by Dr. Jeffrey Lakin. Dr. Lakin concluded that Wright was "not totally and permanently disabled from the performance of her job duties." On June 18, 2008, the Board denied Wright's application. Wright appealed the Board's decision and the Board transferred the matter to the Office of Administrative Law pursuant to N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 to -15 and N.J.S.A. 52:14F-1 to -13 where it was filed for determination as a contested case. Hearings were conducted before an administrative law judge (ALJ), and, on October 14, 2011, the ALJ issued an initial decision affirming the Board's denial of Wright's petition and dismissing Wright's appeal. Exceptions were filed by Wright and reply exceptions were filed by the Deputy Attorney General. The Board adopted the initial decision and recommendations of the ALJ. This appeal ensued.

II.

Established precedents guide our task on appeal. Appellate review of an administrative agency decision is limited. See In re Herrmann, 192 N.J. 19, 27 (2007). The burden is on Wright in her appeal to demonstrate grounds for reversal. McGowanv. N.J. State Parole Bd., 347 N.J.Super. 544, 563 (App. Div. 2002); see also Bowden v. Bayside State Prison, 268 N.J.Super. 301, 304 (App. Div. 1993) (holding that "[t]he burden of showing the agency's action ...


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