Jose Sanchez v. Celadon Trucking Services, No 2-1091 / 12-0895, Court of Appeals of Iowa

 

The Claimant was injured in a motor vehicle accident in the course and scope of his employment with the employer. He settled a third party suit against the drive at fault for $200,000. The employer was reimbursed on its lien for workers’ compensation benefits already pain. As there were funds remaining after payments of this lien, the employer retained a lien for future workers’ compensation payments it would become liable to pay. After hearing, the Claimant was awarded 25% industrial disability.

 

The Claimant filed a review reopening proceeding seeking additional compensation alleged that his physical condition had worsened and his industrial disability had increased. The Claimant also sought an adjudication on the issue of the employer’s remaining lien.

 

At hearing, the deputy found the claimant lacked credibility and that factor combined with the conflicting medical opinions in regards to his physical condition, led the deputy to conclude that the Claimant had not suffered any change of condition and there was no worsening of his earning capacity. The amount of the lien asserted by the employer was also adjudged to be correct. These findings were affirmed by the commissioner.

 

The Claimant then appealed the decision to the district court, who concluded that substantial evidence supported the finding that the claimant had no sustained a worsening of his physical condition. The district court also agreed that the calculation of the employer’s lien was correct. The Claimant then appealed to the Court of Appeals.

 

The Court affirmed the decision of the district court stating that substantial evidence supported the agency’s determination. In so doing the Court opined that their review waslimited to determining whether substantial evidence supports the decision the agency made and they would no reweigh the evidence to see if supported a different decision.

 

Debra Cooper v. Kirkwood Community College, No. 2-1080 / 11-1755, Court of Appeals of Iowa

 

This was the second time that this case had been on appeal for the Court of Appeals. The Claimant had filed a petition on March 4, 2003 alleging a work related injury on March 18, 2001. The employer answered raising the affirmative defenses that the claimants’ claims were barred as she did not give 90 days notice and that the statute of limitations had passed. After hearing in 2005, the deputy concluded that the claimant had failed to sustain her burden of proof that she suffered an injury arising out of and in the course of her employment. As such, the deputy did not address the affirmative defenses raised by the employer.

 

Both parties filed for rehearing as the employer wanted the deputy to address its affirmative defenses. Rehearing was granted and the deputy ultimately affirmed the prior decision. On appeal to the commissioner, the decision was affirmed as well. The case was appealed to the district court which remanded the case to the agency for fact finding regarding the employer’s affirmative defenses. On remand to the agency, a decision was entered finding that the claimant’s claim was barred by the 90 day notice provision but not the statute of limitations.

 

The decision was then appealed to the district court which found it had subject matter to hear the case as it was found to be appealed from a final agency decision. The district court then found that substantial evidence supported the finding of the agency. The district court also affirmed the agency’s findings regarding the claim being barred by notice provisions but not the statute of limitations.

 

This case was appealed to the Court of Appeals which found the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case as the Claimant had to wait for a resolution of the employer’s filing for rehearing prior to filing for judicial review. The case was remanded for dismissal of the district court petition.

 

The district court dismissed the Claimant’s petition for judicial review on April 26, 2010. Following inaction by the agency on the employer’s motion for rehearing, Claimant filed a second petition for judicial review of the agency decision twenty-eight days later, on May 24, 2010. The employer filed a motion to dismiss asserting the petition for judicial review was not timely filed. The court denied the employer’s motion and affirmed the agency decision, finding the claimant failed to prove an injury arising out of and in the course of her employment. The court also found that the claimant did not provide the employer timely notice of her injury. This decision was appealed to the Court of Appeals.

 

The employer first argued that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case as the Claimant filed her petition for judicial review more than two and a half years after the time limit set forth in the Iowa Code. The Court noted that failure to file within the manner proscribed by statute deprives the Court of subject matter jurisdiction. The employer arguedthat the second petition for judicial review was untimely since the application for rehearing was filed in 2007, and the petition for judicial review was not filed until 2010, after dismissal of the first petition by the district court. The Court of Appeals did not agree with this argument.

 

The Court indicated that because the initial petition for judicial review was taken filed before a final agency decision was issued, the claimant’s appeal was provisional or conditional—i.e., interlocutory in nature. The Court went on to note that Iowa Code 17A.19(3) requires the thirty-day time limit to file an appeal to begin from the issuance of an “agency’s final decision.” The Court pointed out that previous Iowa Supreme Court precedent held that the 30 day time limit did not apply to petitions for judicial review from interlocutory actions. The Court held that the twenty-day window until an application for rehearing is “deemed to have been denied” was tolled and the thirty-day time limit to petition for judicial review was stayed pending the decision by our court and subsequent dismissal by the district court. Ultimately the Court found the Claimant’s second petition for judicial review was filed after the application for rehearing was deemed denied and twenty-eight days after dismissal by the district court and agreed with the district court that the petition for judicial review was timely; thus the Court had subject matter jurisdiction.

 

After finding subject matter jurisdiction existed, the Court proceeded to the merits of the Claimant’s appeal. The Court first noted that as the Claimant had alleged that the Commissioner applied the improper legal standard, that the decision would only be disturbed if the application of the law was irrational, illogical or wholly unjustifiable. The claimant contended that the words “claimant must prove that her work was the probable cause,” used in the decision applied the wrong legal standard to her case—a tort causation standard—and thereby reversible legal error was committed.

 

The Court first noted that the standard for an injury to be connected to employment is that the injury must be caused by or related to the working environment or the conditions of the employment. The Court stated that whether an injury has a direct causal connection with the employment or arose independently thereof is essentially within the domain of expert testimony; and the Commissioner may accept or reject expert opinion on the matter.

 

The Court then examined this particular case and found that the commissioner carefully weighed the expert testimony, noting “[n]o doctor has specifically opined that claimant’s work activities as of March 2001 were a substantial factor in causing her underlying condition to become symptomatic” and that “[n]o doctor has opined that [the claimant’s myofacial pain, depression, and fibromyalgia] standing by themselves were caused by or aggravated by claimant’s work.” The commissioner concluded evidence of causation was lacking. The commissioner, applying the law to the facts, found no connection between Cooper’s work at Kirkwood and her injuries. Due to this, the Court could not find that the agency’s application of law to the facts was not irrational, illogical or wholly unjustifiable.

 

Ultimately the Court found that the finding made by the agency was supported by substantial evidence and affirmed the decision.

 

 

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