State News : Iowa

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Brandon Lee Wegner v. Hormel Foods Corporation, Court of Appeals of Iowa, No. 14-0300

Claimant, Brandon Lee Wegner, worked for Hormel Foods Corporation and sustained an on-the-job injury on March 23, 2009.  Following a hearing, a deputy commissioner issued an arbitration decision accepting Hormel’s proposed weekly compensation rate over Claimant’s proposed rate, which, in the deputy’s view, was based on “unreliable,” “scissored snippets of original documents mashed together.” The deputy also summarily denied Claimant’s request for penalty benefits based on the claimed unreasonable rate calculation. Because Claimant had not reached maximum medical improvement, the deputy deferred ruling on permanent benefits, and also elected to defer consideration of any issues relating to temporary partial disability benefits.

On intra-agency appeal, the commissioner adopted the deputy’s decision. Claimant sought judicial review. The district court affirmed the commissioner’s decision. Claimant appealed following the denial of his motion for enlarged findings and conclusions. Claimant contends (A) the commissioner failed to set forth sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Iowa Code section 17A.16(1), (B) the commissioner erred in determining his weekly compensation rate; (C) the commissioner erred in denying him penalty benefits arising from the compensation rate; and (D) the commissioner erred in bifurcating claims for past temporary disability benefits until he reached maximum medical improvement.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judicial review decision affirming the commissioner’s workers’ compensation decision. The Court found both the deputy commissioner and the commissioner complied with Iowa Code section 17A.16(1) (2013) because they explicated their reasons for rejecting Claimant’s proposed rate calculations, denying penalty benefits based on the compensation rate, and deferring consideration of temporary disability benefits and penalties arising from the payment of these benefits. The Court emphasized that step-by-step reasoning in an agency decision is not essential, as long as it is possible to determine what evidence was considered and why certain evidence was credited over other evidence.

Additionally, the Court found the commissioner’s findings on the issue of Claimant’s weekly compensation rate are supported by substantial evidence. The deputy commissioner accepted Hormel’s proposed rate over Claimant’s proposed rate because Claimant’s exhibit did not appear to be a complete record. The Court also found the record contains substantial evidence to support the commissioner’s implicit findings in declining to award Claimant penalty benefits. Finally, the Court found the commissioner acted well within his discretion in deciding to defer consideration of issues relating to the past award of temporary benefits, given that the parties had stipulated Claimant has yet to reach maximum medical improvement and agreed “[e]ntitlement to permanent disability [was] not ripe for determination.”

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!