On petition for review of a decision of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in PSOB claim no. 2004-110.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michel, Chief Judge
Before MICHEL, Chief Judge, NEWMAN, and PROST, Circuit Judges.
Opinion for the court filed by Chief Judge MICHEL. Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge NEWMAN.
The Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) denied the claim of Susan Juneau and her three children (Claimants) for benefits under the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Act (the PSOB Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3796 et seq. Because the BJA correctly determined that Mrs. Juneau's deceased husband did not suffer a "personal injury" as contemplated by the PSOB Act, this court affirms.
The City of Albany, Georgia, employed John Ross Juneau as the Safety Chief at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport, a position that required Mr. Juneau to be a law enforcement officer certified by the State of Georgia. In addition to his employment as the airport Safety Chief, Mr. Juneau also worked part time as a security guard for Dillard's, Inc., a department store located in the Albany Mall.
On March 2, 2003, while working at Dillard's, Mr. Juneau noticed two people who he believed were shoplifting. As Mr. Juneau approached the suspects, they began to flee, and a chase on foot ensued. After chasing the suspects out of the store and across the Albany Mall parking lot, Mr. Juneau caught one suspect and brought him to an interview room at Dillard's for interrogation. After sitting down, Mr. Juneau slumped over in his chair and lost consciousness. Mr. Juneau was taken to a hospital, but he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving there.
Mr. Juneau's death certificate lists his cause of death as "[c]omplications of coronary atherosclerotic disease . . . in a background of insulin dependent diabetes mellitus." An autopsy was performed by Dr. Anthony Clark, the same doctor who completed the death certificate; Dr. Clark's autopsy report listed the same cause of death as the death certificate and stated that "no evidence of significant recent or remote traumatic injuries" was present.
After Mr. Juneau's death, his wife and children applied to the Georgia State Indemnification Commission, which ultimately held that, because Mr. Juneau had died in the line of duty, his estate should receive benefits from the State of Georgia. Key in the Georgia State Indemnification Commission's decision was an opinion from the Georgia Attorney General considering whether "an off-duty law enforcement officer [who] is working as a security guard and [who] dies from a heart attack pursuing shoplifters" could be said to have died "in the line of duty."
The Claimants also applied to the BJA for benefits under the PSOB Act, which provides a one-time cash payment to survivors of "a public safety officer [who] has died as the direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty." 42 U.S.C. § 3796(a). In October 2004, the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) Office denied this claim on two grounds: (1) Mr. Juneau was serving as a private security guard rather than as a public safety officer at the time of his death, and (2) Mr. Juneau's death was not the result of a traumatic injury. On the latter point, the PSOB Office relied on the decision of this court's predecessor in Smykowski v. United States, 647 F.2d 1103 (Ct. Cl. 1981), to find that Mr. Juneau's death, resulting from "a chronic, congenital, or progressive disease or other condition," was not a death resulting from a "personal injury," as that term is used in the PSOB Act.
In February 2005, Claimants appealed the initial determination to a hearing officer. The hearing officer heard testimony from Mr. Juneau's wife and from employees of Dillard's and the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. He also received documentary evidence from Dr. Clark, who had performed the autopsy on Mr. Juneau; Dr. Laurence T. Crimmins, Mr. Juneau's family physician; and two physicians from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Dr. Dzuy Nguyen and Dr. Craig Mallak. Dr. Nguyen and Dr. Mallak agreed with Dr. Clark that "Mr. Juneau died from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, a natural process." Dr. Crimmins, though, argued that he believed that Mr. Juneau "died as a result of trauma, specifically the trauma to his body caused by the chase and apprehension of the shoplifting suspect in the minutes before his collapse."
In March 2007, the hearing officer reversed the October 2004 determination, finding both that "the physical nature of the lengthy chase . . . as well as the energy exerted while chasing the suspect . . . were substantial factors contributing to John Ross Juneau's death" and that, "when Mr. Juneau exited the doors of Dillard's, he was acting within the scope of his duties as a State of Georgia law enforcement officer, not as a security guard." Having thus disposed of both problems found in the initial determination, the hearing officer held that Mr. Juneau's survivors were "eligible for coverage under the [PSOB] Program."
In October 2008, the director of the BJA reviewed the hearing officer's decision. The director agreed with the hearing officer that Mr. Juneau was a "public safety officer" within the meaning of that term as used in the PSOB Act, but the director reversed the hearing officer's determination that Mr. Juneau died as a result of an "injury," as that term is used in the PSOB Act. Because the director's finding that Mr. Juneau did not die as the result of an injury required denial of ...