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Pella Corporation v. Diana Winn, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 14-0771

On February 4, 2011, Claimant, Diana Winn, filed two petitions with the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, both alleging she sustained a cumulative injury to her right shoulder. The first petition, numbered 5035646, claimed the injury occurred on November 16, 2010, the day she was suspended by her then employer, Pella Corporation. The second petition, numbered 5035647, alleged the injury occurred on June 1, 2010.

At the time of the arbitration hearing, Claimant was sixty-one years old. She had worked for Pella Corporation for thirty-four years. For the last ten years of her employment, Claimant had worked as a stock-keeper, requiring her to carry out different tasks, many involving the pushing and pulling of materials in the stock room.

During Claimant’s tenure with Pella Corporation, she suffered several injuries, including tearing a rotator cuff in her left shoulder in 2008. Claimant returned to work after that injury with restrictions, which essentially left her performing her job tasks with only her right arm. Eventually she began to have pain in her right shoulder, and on June 1, 2010, she saw her medical provider, Nurse Practitioner Katherine Todd, for treatment of her right shoulder pain. Nurse Todd diagnosed Claimant with “[r]ight arm and neck pain, most likely due to overuse due to the fact she cannot use her left arm.” Nurse Todd referred her to Dr. Cassim Igram, an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Igram ordered an MRI of Claimant’s right shoulder, which took place on July 13. The procedure revealed “a small full thickness rotator cuff tear” in Claimant’s right shoulder. Dr. Igram then referred Claimant to Dr. Scott Meyer, an orthopedic shoulder specialist. Dr. Meyer evaluated Claimant on August 27, 2010, and he agreed Claimant had a tear in the rotator cuff of her right shoulder.

On February 16, 2012, an arbitration hearing was held on Claimant’s petitions before a deputy workers’ compensation commissioner. The deputy entered her arbitration decision on September 19, 2012. She concluded Claimant sustained an injury to her right shoulder as a result of her employment with Pella Corporation. The deputy specifically found the date of Claimant’s “right shoulder injury was November 16, 2010 and not on June 1, 2010,” explaining the November date was “the date [Winn] discovered her condition was serious enough to have a permanent, adverse impact on her employment.” The deputy determined Claimant had a permanent partial disability in the amount of eighty percent and awarded Claimant permanent partial disability benefits.

Pella Corporation sought a rehearing, which was subsequently denied. It then appealed the deputy’s arbitration decision to the commissioner. The commissioner affirmed and adopted the deputy’s decision. Pella Corporation filed an application for rehearing, which the commissioner denied. Pella Corporation then filed a petition in district court seeking judicial review of the agency’s decision, asserting the decision was not based on proper findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Following a hearing in January 2014, the district court entered its ruling on judicial review affirming the agency in all respects but one. Like the commissioner, the court found the deputy commissioner was in the best position to assess Claimant’s credibility, and it concluded substantial evidence in the record supported both the deputy’s credibility finding and the agency’s determination that Claimant suffered an injury in the course of her employment with Pella Corporation. However, the district court agreed with Pella Corporation’s contention that the agency did not employ the proper legal test in determining the date of Claimant’s injury, and it remanded the case back to the agency “to determine the date of cumulative injury using the appropriate legal analysis stated in Herrera [v. IBP, Inc., 633 N.W.2d 284 (Iowa 2001)].” InHerrera, the Iowa Supreme Court clarified the analytical interplay between the cumulative injury rule and the discovery rule. Finally, the district court found the agency’s determination that Claimant sustained permanent partial impairment to her body as a whole in the amount of eighty percent was supported by substantial evidence and was not irrational, illogical, or unjustifiable. The court entered its ruling remanding “for a determination as to the date of the right-shoulder injury, and a reconsideration of [Winn’s] first claim for workers’ compensation benefits, file number 5035647.”

Following the district court’s final decision on judicial review, Pella Corporation appealed, and Claimant cross-appealed. Pella Corporation contends the district court erred by remanding the case to the agency for a determination of an injury date rather than dismissing the case altogether, and Claimant argues the court erred in remanding the case with the direction that the agency consider Pella Corporation’s section 85.23 defense. Pella Corporation asserts the court erred in affirming the agency’s conclusion that Claimant was credible and suffered a work-related injury. Pella Corporation also argues the district court erred in affirming the award of industrial disability benefits when the issue of entitlement to such benefits was not ripe for determination and because the agency award was not supported by substantial evidence and reflects error of law.

Because the Court of Appeals finds the district court erred in finding Pella Corporation’s untimely-notice defense should be considered on remand, the Court reverses on this issue. The Court affirms the decision of the district court in all other respects and remands the case to the district court with instructions on judicial review to remand to the commissioner for a date-of-injury manifestation analysis consistent with the Supreme Court’s directions inHerrera for purposes of benefit calculation.

Call Mark Bosscher or Lee Hook with any questions @ 515-243-2100.  We’d be happy to help, whether it be a quick or a complex issue!