DISABILITY RETIREMENT (GOV’T) – “Residual functioning capacity”; “treating physician rule” rejected: Kentucky Retirement Systems v. Sandra Bowens (SC 4/23/2009)

Kentucky Retirement Systems v. Sandra Bowens
2007-SC-000509-DG April 23, 2009
Opinion by Justice Scott. All sitting; all concur.

Kentucky Retirement Systems denied employee’s application for disability retirement and she sought judicial review in Franklin Circuit Court— which affirmed the Board’s decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and vacated in part.

The Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the Court of Appeal’s decision that held that KRS 61.600 implicitly requires that the cumulative effect of the claimant’s ailments be considered when determining the claimant’s “residual functioning capacity.” In this case, the Hearing Officer had fragmented claimant’s several ailments and determined that no single condition permanently prevented claimant from being able to work. The Supreme Court held that failure to apply the “cumulative effect rule” rendered the Board’s decision arbitrary. However, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ adoption of the federal “treating physician rule” which states that the opinions of treating physicians should be given greater weight than opinions of non-examining physicians as long as the treating physician’s opinions were supported by substantial evidence. The Court held such a rule was not within the state’s statutory scheme and infringed upon the well-settled principle that the trier of fact may give evidence the weight it deems appropriate. The case was remanded back to the Board for further review of evidence under the “cumulative effect” standard.

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