August 16, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Administrative Fire Chief Engaged in Fire Protection Duties Under FPPA

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Dolan v. Fire & Police Pension Association on Thursday, April 20, 2017.

FirefighterInjuryOccupational Disability BenefitsFire and Police Pension AssociationPolicemen’s and Firemen’s Pension Reform ActFire ChiefAmended Complaint.

Dolan joined North Metro Fire Rescue in 1986, and in 2007, he sustained an injury that prevented him from passing the physical tests for firefighting duties. After approximately two years of attempted rehabilitation, North Metro terminated Dolan. Dolan promptly filed for occupational disability benefits with the Fire and Police Pension Association (FPPA).

While working for North Metro, Dolan also worked for the Elk Creek Fire Protection District: he was Elk Creek’s paid fire chief from 1998 through 2003; he returned as a volunteer in 2008; and in 2010, he was again hired as a paid fire chief.

Dolan initially received disability benefits, but these were later revoked based on a finding that because his position at Elk Creek had involved fire protection, he was ineligible for benefits under the Policemen’s and Firemen’s Pension Reform Act (the Act). A hearing officer recommended that Dolan repay the benefits he received after he signed his employment contract with Elk Creek in 2010, and the FPPA’s Board of Director’s (Board) affirmed the recommendation. Dolan filed for C.R.C.P. review of the Board’s decision in district court and also asserted several common law claims against FPPA. The district court affirmed the Board’s decision. Dolan then moved to amend his complaint, which was denied as untimely, and a trial was held on his remaining common law claims. The court found for FPPA and entered final judgment against Dolan.

On appeal, Dolan argued that the Board and the district court misapplied the law in discontinuing his disability benefits because, since his termination from North Metro, he was never re-employed in a position directly involved with the provision of fire protection under the Act. Re-employment in a full-time salaried position that directly involves the provision of fire protection precludes a firefighter from collecting disability benefits. Because Dolan acted in a command capacity at the scenes of fires and accidents, the hearing officer concluded it was not necessary to find that he was involved in “hands on” firefighting or medical care to conclude that his position was directly involved with the provision of fire protection. The Board adopted the hearing officer’s conclusions of fact and law that Dolan’s duties as Elk Creek fire chief directly involved fire protection. Because nothing in the Act suggests that re-employment at a position directly involved with the provision of fire protection must be limited to physically fighting fires, the district court and the Board did not misapply the law in determining that Dolan was no longer eligible for disability benefits after re-employment at Elk Creek.

Dolan also argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to amend his complaint when it determined his claim was untimely. Dolan sought leave to amend his complaint on August 30, 2013, approximately one year after he filed his initial complaint, seven months after the district court initially found in favor of the FPPA, and four months after the district court finalized its C.R.C.P. 106 order. Because Dolan presented the district court with an as-applied challenge to the FPPA regulations, the court correctly determined that claim was time barred by C.R.C.P. 106(b). Further, even if Dolan’s claim presented a facial challenge to the FPPA regulations, the court’s denial of his claim was not error because Dolan failed to show that his delay in bringing the claim was justified.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.