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Crochet v. Calcasieu Parish Police Jury

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

April 12, 2017

TODD CROCHET
v.
CALCASIEU PARISH POLICE JURY, ET AL.

         APPEAL FROM THE OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION - District 03 PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 14-03253 CHARLOTTE BUSHNELL, WORKERS' COMPENSATION JUDGE

          Jeffrey Charles Napolitano Juge, Napolitano, Guilbeau, Ruli and Frieman, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Calcasieu Parish Police Jury

          Kevin Louis Camel Cox, Cox, Filo, Camel & Wilson, LLC, COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: Todd Crochet

          Court composed of Marc T. Amy, Billy Howard Ezell, and Shannon J. Gremillion, Judges.

          SHANNON J. GREMILLION JUDGE.

         Defendant/appellant, the Calcasieu Parish School Board (CPSB) appeals the judgment in favor of plaintiff/appellee, its employee, Mr. Todd Crochet, which denied its claimed offset for disability benefits and awarded Mr. Crochet penalties and attorney fees. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand with instruction for the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) to enter a judgment consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Crochet injured his left leg and ankle on March 2, 1998, while working with a power saw clearing a right-of-way in the course and scope of his employment with CPSB. He received weekly indemnity benefits of $348.58 until September 18, 2014, when CPSB reduced them to $251.72 because of its contributions on Mr. Crochet's behalf to the Parochial Employees Retirement System (PERS). Until then, Mr. Crochet had received disability benefits from PERS in the amount of $932.75; however, this amount had changed through the years of his disability. On June 25, 2015, CPSB suspended Mr. Crochet's benefits, claiming a credit for $42, 232.19 in past disability benefits paid by PERS.

         Mr. Crochet opposed the reduction and suspension of his weekly indemnity. The matter proceeded to trial. The parties submitted the matter on stipulations, exhibits, and briefs.

         One of the exhibits introduced at trial was the deposition of Mr. Gary S. Curran of G.S Curran & Co., Ltd., which provides actuarial consulting for all nine statewide retirement plans, including, of course, PERS. Mr. Curran testified that PERS is divided into two plans, Plan A and Plan B. Each plan has a separate trust into which contributions are paid. Plan A is a defined-benefit plan that incorporates tenure-based retirement, disability retirement, and survivor benefits, the latter two of which Mr. Curran termed "ancillary benefits."

         Sixty-two parishes participate in Plan A, and about 200 entities in all, including CPSB, participate in the plan. Payments into the PERS plans are not allocated to individual employees; however, the employees' contributions to PERS are tracked. Each governmental entity's annual contribution is fixed as a percentage of its total payroll, and the payments are made periodically. Allocations are also contributed by the State general fund, and a portion is funded by ad valorem taxes. These amounts and proportions change yearly. In establishing the rate each governmental entity must contribute, PERS makes no attempt to differentiate between tenure-based retirement and the ancillary benefits. The employee contributes between 9.25% and 9.5%, and that has consistently been the case since 1980. In 2015, employers contributed 10.5% of their total payrolls to fund PERS, and employees contributed 9.5%.

         At trial, documents were introduced that showed the contributions, by percentage, between the employers and the employees, to PERS, from 1988 through 2001, the years Mr. Crochet contributed to PERS. Those showed that the following percentages were paid by employers:

1988
7.15%
1989
7.15%
1990
8.50%
1991
8.25%
1992
9.25%
1993
8.75%
1994
8.25%
1995
8.00%
1996
7.25%
1997
7.75%
1998
7.75%
1999
7.75%
2000
7.75%
2001
7.75%

         CPSB calculated the reduction of Mr. Crochet's weekly indemnity by comparing the proportion of his contribution, 9.5%, with the average of its contribution, 7.95%. That produced a percentage of the reduction of Mr. Crochet's benefits of 45.56%. Therefore, it reduced his weekly indemnity benefits by $96.86. The WCJ ruled in Mr. Crochet's favor, reinstated his weekly indemnity, and awarded him penalties of $8, 000.00 and attorney fees of $20, 000.00. CPSB appeals this judgment and argues that the ...


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