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Pennsylvania State Corrections officers Ass'n v. Department of Corrections

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 15, 2014

Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (Lawrence Hogan), Petitioner
v.
Department of Corrections, Respondent

Submitted May 23, 2014

Publication Ordered October 15, 2014.

Appealed from No. DOC-PSCOA. State Agency: Department of Corrections.

Ian J. Blynn, Harrisburg, for petitioner.

Julie R. Tilghman, Assistant Counsel, Mechanicsburg, for respondent.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 1046

JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA) petitions this Court for review of the February 7, 2014 arbitration award (Award) denying Lawrence Hogan's (Claimant) petition for benefits under what is commonly known as the Heart and Lung Act (HLA).[1] For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

Claimant was employed with the Department of Corrections (DOC) as a Corrections Officer (CO) at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford (SCI-Graterford). On January 22, 2012, Claimant had reached the end of his 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, during which he had been assigned to tower four; COs assigned to tower watch duty are locked into the tower and must be unlocked in order to leave. He was relieved by Officer Atherholt, who unlocked the tower and offered to drive Claimant to his car, which Claimant had parked in a small area on SCI-Graterford grounds between tower four and tower five. (Transcript of March 29, 2012 HLA Arbitration Hearing (H.T.) at 16-17, Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 7a; Arbitration Opinion and Award (Award), Findings of Fact (F.F.) ¶ ¶ 3-5.) Claimant was dropped off at his vehicle prior to clocking out from his work shift or returning his paperwork, key or equipment; he gave the tower key to Officer Atherholt to be returned to the front gate. (F.F. ¶ ¶ 6-7.) Prior to getting into his car, Claimant stepped onto uneven pavement, turned his ankle, and fell to the ground. (F.F. ¶ 8.) Claimant then drove his car to the main entrance of SCI-Graterford, reported his injury to the shift commander, and was examined by the dispensary nurse; he was then driven to the hospital. (F.F. ¶ ¶ 9-10.) Claimant received a diagnosis on January 23, 2012 of an ankle sprain and was provided further medical treatment by various physicians over the ensuing months; he made two separate, unsuccessful attempts to return to light duty, and was unable to work until July 7, 2012. (F.F. ¶ ¶ 11-21.)

After Claimant's petition for HLA benefits was denied by DOC, PSCOA appealed on Claimant's behalf. A hearing was held before an arbitrator, who entered the Award denying HLA benefits after he found that Claimant's actions, which resulted in his ankle injury, were not " in the performance of duty" as required by HLA.[2] PSCOA appealed the Award to this Court.

In the Award, the arbitrator noted that since the HLA does not include a specific definition of what constitutes the " performance of duty," he was required to look to this Court for guidance regarding its meaning. The arbitrator stated:

In Mitchell v. [Pennsylvania State Police], 727 A.2d 1196 (Pa. Cmwlth. [1999]) the [C]ourt reviewed whether actions done, with supervisory permission, during a work shift, are in the ...

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