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Dillon v. Seattle Police Pension Board

filed: May 28, 1996.

TIMOTHY C. DILLON, APPELLANT,
v.
SEATTLE POLICE PENSION BOARD, RESPONDENT.



Superior Court County: King. Superior Court Cause No: 92-2-01095-0.SEA. Date filed in Superior Court: March 7, 1995. Superior Court Judge Signing: Judge James Bates.

Written by: Judge Anne Ellington, Concurred by: Judge Susan R. Agid and Judge Ronald E. Cox

Author: Ellington

ELLINGTON, J. -- Timothy Dillon appeals the Superior

Court's order affirming the Seattle Police Pension Board decision that his mental disability was not "incurred in the line of duty." Dillon argues the Superior Court erred when it affirmed the Board's decision because the Board incorrectly applied the law and its decision was not supported by substantial evidence. We agree the Board's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and reverse.

Dillon was a police officer with the Seattle Police Department. While off duty in 1985, he shot himself in the hand while cleaning his gun. As a result of his injury, he was granted a disability retirement. In March 1988, the Seattle Police Pension Board found Dillon to be physically and mentally capable of working as a patrolman and ordered him to return to duty, despite a statement from his treating physician that he did not have "the function, control and ability, with the hand injury, to protect himself or others."

Almost immediately, Dillon's ability to perform his duties was questioned by fellow police officers. Dillon himself did not believe he could perform, and became anxious and depressed. He sought psychiatric treatment.

In March 1990, Dillon was granted a six-month mental disability leave. Then, in August 1990, the Pension Board canceled Dillon's disability leave and ordered him to return to duty on a trial basis for 60 days. However, the Board's decision was reversed by the Director of the Department of Retirement Systems, who found that a preponderance of evidence supported Dillon's contention that he was mentally disabled. The Director remanded the case to the Board for a determination of whether Dillon's disability was incurred in the line of duty. The Board found that Dillon's disability was not incurred in the line of duty.

Dillon filed a petition in King County Superior Court for review of the Board's decision by writ of certiorari. The court affirmed the Board, finding Dillon failed to meet his burden of proving the decision of the Board was not

supported by substantial evidence or was otherwise contrary to law. This appeal followed.

On appeal from an administrative decision reviewed by writ of certiorari, this court must determine de novo (1) whether the Seattle Police Pension Board committed an error of law when it concluded Dillon's disability was not caused in the line of duty*fn1 and (2) whether the Board's decision was supported by substantial evidence. See RCW 7.16.120(3), (5); see also Hilltop Terrace Ass'n. v. Island Cy., 126 Wash. 2d 22, 29, 891 P.2d 29 (1995). Substantial evidence is evidence of a sufficient quantity "'to persuade a fair-minded, rational person of the truth of the finding.'" Id. at 34, quoting State v. Maxfield, 125 Wash. 2d 378, 385, 886 P.2d 123 (1994).

The statute does not define what constitutes an injury incurred in the line of duty, and no cases were found defining the phrase. However, an injury "incurred in the line of duty" is equivalent to an injury incurred "in the course of employment" as determined in workers' compensation cases.*fn2 Under workers' compensation laws, a worker who becomes disabled from an occupational disease is entitled to the same benefits as a worker who suffered an injury. RCW 51.32.180; see also Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Corp. v. McDowell, 58 Wash. App. 283, 285, 792 P.2d 1269 (1990). An occupational disease is "such disease or infection as arises naturally and ...


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