Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Former School Librarian's Denial of Disability Upheld

The Supreme Court of Ohio, in a 5-2 decision, upheld the decision of the 10th District Court of Appeals, denying a request that State Teachers Retirement Board reinstate a former librarian's disability-retirement benefits.

The former junior high librarian applied to the STRS for disability-retirement in December 1987. Her attending physician diagnosed her with having chronic systemic viral syndrome and certified that she was, at least temporarily, incapacitated from her performance as a teacher. Additional examinations, requested by STRS, confirmed she was disabled. Thus, she was granted disability retirement in 1988.

Seventeen years later, in 2005, the retirement board requested the librarian's treating physician provide a report on her medical status. The treating physician noted her diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia; the doctor also noted that the librarian suffered from fatigue, muscle and joint pain, swollen glands, and a low-grade fever.

Again, the STRS retirement board ordered another physician to examine the librarian to determine whether her disability should be continued. While not disagreeing with any of the librarian's treating physician's diagnoses, the STRS physician concluded the librarian was not disabled because of her lack of objective abnormalities. The STRS physician certified that the librarian was capable of resuming regular full-time service similar to that from which she had retired and that disability benefits should cease. A recomendation was then made that the librarian's benefits should cease.

In response, the librarian was evaluated by another physician who again affirmed her treating physician's diagnosis. This physician went on to note that chronic fatigue syndrome was incapable of objective quantification.

The STRS physician, again not disagreeing with the librarian's physician, concluded that based on objective abnormalities, the librarian should return to work. As a result of the STRS physician's recommendations, the librarian's benefits were terminated.

The Supreme Court, in affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals below, held that the decision to terminate the librarian's benefits was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable. The Court found that the STRS could propertly consider the librarian's lack of objective abnormalities in finding she was not disabled.

The case should be cited State ex rel. Morgan v. State Teachers Retirement Bd. of Ohio,
121 Ohio St.3d 324

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