College Community School District and EMC Insurance Company v. April Orris, No. 2-280 / 11-1848 (Iowa Court of Appeal)

 

The Claimant, April Orris, was employed as a middle school science teacher who chaperoned a field trip to the local roller skating rink on May 20, 2005. While on the trip, the Claimant fell and landed on her right wrist, arm, shoulder and back. She was treated at Mercy Care South and was placed in a sling and released with restrictions of no use of the right arm. The Claimant continued to treat with Dr. Pape and despite the treatment, she reported her right elbow pain progressively got worse. On April 20, 2006, the Claimant underwent an arthroscopic subacromial decompression with Dr. Pilcher. The Claimant reported the surgery increased her range of motion and decreased her shoulder pain, although her neck symptoms continued.

 

The Claimant resigned from her position with the College Community School District for reasons unrelated to her work injury. In August of 2006 she began a position with the Marion Independent School District. Four days after she began her employment, she began complaining of problems with her neck, shoulder and elbow. In February of 2007, the Claimant was discharged because she had exhausted her leave and failed to return to work. She then became a tutor.

 

The Claimant then began to treat with Dr. Bagheri, who noted she had symptoms consistent with fibromyalgia. The Claimant then saw Dr. Buck, an occupational medicine specialist in February of 2008 who placed the Claimant at maximum medical improvement and released her to light duty for six months and then full duty thereafter. He then assigned her an eight percent permanent impairment rating.

 

The Claimant underwent an independent medical examination in January of 2009 with Dr. Kuhnlein. He assessed the Claimant with an ten percent permanent impairment and stated he did not feel the Claimatn was capable of working full time, but felt she could work full time in the future.

 

At hearing, the deputy determined that the Claimant had sustained injuries and awarded her permanent partial disability benefits of thirty percent. On appeal, the commissioner affirmed the deputy’s decision. In support her motion for rehearing the Claimant argued that the agency had erroneously relied upon the opinion of Dr. Buck that Claimant’s fibromyalgia would be under control within six months. This motion was subsequently denied by the commissioner. On judicial review, the district court found the commissioner committed legal error in relying upon Dr. Buck’s prediction regarding the Claimant’s future condition when determining her industrial disability. The case was sent back to the commissioner for evaluation of the Claimant’s disability without consideration of her future consideration.

 

The Court began its analysis by stating that  in determining a scheduled or unscheduled award of workers’ compensation benefits, the workers’ compensation commissioner finds the facts “as they stand at the time of the hearing and should not speculate about the future course of the claimant’s condition.” The Court further stated that functional impairment and disability resulting from a scheduled loss must be determined at the time of the award and not based on any anticipated deterioration of function that may or may not occur in the future. The Court then noted that any future developments, including the worsening of a physical condition or a reduction in earning capacity, are properly addressed in review-reopening proceedings.

 

The Court then turned its attention to whether the agency improperly relied on the evidence regarding the Claimant’s future employment in its finding that she had suffered a thirty percent partial disability. The Court determined that the agency had not. The Court found that the agency had determined the Claimant was capable of full-time employment “in the sedentary to light categories” and found working as a teacher in a high school setting fit within the sedentary to light categories of labor. In making this determination, the deputy noted “Dr. Buck opined the Claimant was capable of resuming her duties as a teacher after a six month period of light duty to work.”

 

The Court, in their review of the record, found that the agency had not erronesouly relied on the opinion of Dr. Buck and that the agency had actually cited other evidence supporting the conclusion that the Claimant was capable of teaching full time. The additional evidence cited was the opinion of Dr. Kuhnleing that the Claimant was capable of working in light to sedentary categories, that the Claimant’s personal physician noted the Claimant needed a job where she could change positions and finally that Dr. Bagheri had never restricted the Claimant from working. Due to that evidence, the Court could not conclude that the agency relied on Dr. Buck’s opinion in its finding. The decision of the district court was thus reversed.