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State ex rel. Tessier v. State Teachers Retirement System

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

June 13, 2017

State ex rel. Maria Tessier, Relator,
v.
State Teachers Retirement System, Respondent.

         IN MANDAMUS

         On brief:

          Rachel C. Wilson, for relator.

         On brief:

          Michael DeWine, Attorney General, John J. Danish, and Mary Therese J. Bridge, for respondent.

          DECISION

          BROWN, J.

         {¶ 1} Relator, Maria Tessier, has filed an original action requesting this court issue a writ of mandamus ordering respondent, State Teachers Retirement System, to vacate a decision of the chair of the medical review board declaring void relator's second or subsequent application for disability benefits and to enter an order that the second application be processed and considered.

         {¶ 2} Pursuant to Civ.R. 53 and Loc.R. 13(M) of the Tenth District Court of Appeals, this court referred the matter to a magistrate. On February 27, 2017, the magistrate issued the appended decision, including findings of fact and conclusions of law, recommending that this court issue a writ of mandamus ordering respondent to vacate its decision declaring that the second application is void and to consider the application in due course. No objections have been filed to that decision.

         {¶ 3} Finding no error of law or other defect on the face of the magistrate's decision, this court adopts the magistrate's decision as our own, including the findings of fact and conclusions of law contained therein. In accordance with the magistrate's recommendation, relator's request for a writ of mandamus is granted.

         Writ of mandamus granted.

          KLATT and BRUNNER, JJ., concur.

         APPENDIX

         Rendered on February 27, 2017

         IN MANDAMUS

         MAGISTRATE'S DECISION

          MAGISTRATE KENNETH W. MACKE JUDGE.

         {¶ 4} In this original action, relator, Maria Tessier, requests a writ of mandamus ordering respondent, State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio ("STRS") to vacate the September 2, 2015 decision of the chair of the medical review board ("MRB") that declared void relator's second or subsequent application for disability benefits that was received by STRS on July 30, 2015, and to enter an order that the second application be processed and considered in due course. Findings of Fact:

         {¶ 5} 1. On May 19, 2014, relator completed a disability benefit application on a form provided by STRS. Relator indicated on the form that she had been employed by the Olmsted Falls City Schools as a "speech language pathologist."

         {¶ 6} Section 4 of the form asks the applicant to list specific diagnoses or conditions that are causing disability. In response, relator listed five diagnoses: (1) "Fibromyalgia, " (2) "Depression and anxiety, " (3) "Migraines and recent concussion, " (4) "Hypothyroidism, " and (5) "Asthma."

         {¶ 7} Section 5 of the form asks the applicant to identify her attending physician or physicians. In response, relator identified Virginia Vatev, M.D., and clinical psychologist Debra Goran, Ph.D.

         {¶ 8} 2. STRS received the disability benefit application on May 22, 2014.

         {¶ 9} 3. Earlier, on April 21, 2014, Dr. Vatev completed an "Attending Physician's Report" on a STRS form. This was also received by STRS on May 22, 2014.

         {¶ 10} 4. On June 3, 2014, MRB Chair Earl N. Metz, M.D., advised a four-month period of psychiatric treatment before STRS proceeds with the disability benefit application.

         {¶ 11} 5. By letter dated June 4, 2014, STRS informed relator:

The STRS Ohio medical qualification for disability states that your condition must incapacitate you from the performance of duty for at least 12 months from the date your completed application was received. At this time the Medical Review Board concluded that your condition might improve within the 12 month period following receipt of your application.
After reviewing your attending physician report, the Medical Review Board determined that you must secure psychiatric treatment for four months before further consideration of your application for disability benefits. The Retirement System cannot assume financial responsibility for such treatment. Following four months of treatment, you should request your doctor to furnish this office with a report regarding the treatment provided and progress you have made.

         {¶ 12} 6. On June 17, 2014, psychiatrist Diana Dale completed an Attending Physician's Report. The form asks the physician to identify the "[p]rimary medical condition" for which treatment is being provided. In response, Dr. Dale wrote "Severe Major Depression."

         {¶ 13} On the form, Dr. Dale certified that in her opinion, relator is incapacitated for the performance of duty and that the disability "may be" considered to be permanent. STRS received Dr. Dale's report on June 23, 2014.

         {¶ 14} 7. By letter dated June 25, 2014, STRS informed relator that her disability benefit application was being processed. Relator was informed that STRS had selected psychiatrist Joel Steinberg, M.D., and Deborah Venesy, M.D. (physical medicine) to each perform an independent medical examination.

         {¶ 15} 8. On July 9, 2014, at the request of STRS, relator underwent a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation performed by Dr. Steinberg. In his 22-page narrative report, Dr. Steinberg states as follows beginning at page 21 of his report:

MENTAL STATUS EXAM:
APPEARANCE & BEHAVIOR: Ms. Tessier was clean and well groomed. She had large eyes, giving her an attractive appearance. She was wearing the knee brace on her left leg. She hobbled as she walked, but she did not use ambulatory aids. While seated, she sat with her left leg fully extended at the knee with her foot resting on another chair. Other than the fading skin rash and her moderate obesity, there were no distinguishing physical characteristics. Ms. Tessier's facial expressions included several episodes of brief tearfulness and frequent socially-appropriate smiling. Eye contact was good. Motor activity fell in the normal range. There were no specific mannerisms.
SPEECH: Ms. Tessier's speech was clear and offered at a normal cadence, pitch and volume. Although it is true that she spoke Italian before English, English is also one of her native languages. There were no traces of any sort of accent.
EMOTIONS: Ms. Tessier's mood was labile and included, as mentioned, episodes of tearfulness. Her affect was mood-congruent and appropriate.
THOUGHT: Ms. Tessier's thoughts were well organized. There was a suitable abundance of ideas. No pathologic associations were noted. In particular, there were no distortions, delusions or ideas of reference. She did not describe depersonalization events.
Ms. Tessier described her house as having been Martha Stewart level of organization and cleanliness, suggesting that she has some mild obsessive features, but none were apparent in the interview. She did not describe any phobias. She clearly has multiple and excessive somatic concerns. She did not report suicidal and/or homicidal ideation.
PERCEPTIONS: Ms. Tessier did not report illusions or hallucinations.
SENSORIUM & INTELLECT: Ms. Tessier was alert. She was fully oriented to time, place, person, situation and circumstance. She transported herself from the Olmsted Falls area to my office alone. Her concentration seemed okay. She worked at a normal pace through the testing. She had arrived at about 8:10 or 8:15 a.m., spent 85 minutes with me and left the office at approximately 1 p.m. There were some disturbances in the office while she was here, but she kept working. Her memory for immediate, recent and remote events appeared to be intact. Her fund of knowledge was good. Her ability to abstract was estimated to fall at the higher end of the average range or perhaps beyond that. Her judgment about matters other than her health appeared to be sound. Her insight was fair. Her attitude toward me was good.
DISCUSSION: Ms. Tessier has had psychiatric symptoms for most of her life and she has been receiving mental health care for most of her adult life. She herself views her most pressing problem as that of fibromyalgia. In my opinion, she has a chronic dysthymic problem with superimposed episodes of Major Depressive Disorder, but these problems have not prevented her from working in the past. I believe that she is in a very difficult situation struggling with management and having been "demoted", as she put it. While it is easy to understand why she might want to leave her position under those circumstances, it does not appear to me that ...

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