State News : Texas

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A litigant is entitled to judicial review of a final decision of the Division of Workers’ Compensation, but judicial review is limited to the “issues” decided by the DWC Appeals Panel. In the case ofState Office of Risk Management v. Martinez, the Texas Supreme Court explained what an “issue” is for purposes of judicial review.
Edna Martinez was an employee of the State of Texas, who was injured at her home. The disputed issues defined by the benefit review officer were whether Martinez sustained a compensable injury and whether she had disability. At the CCH, Ms. Martinez alleged the injury occurred while working from home. The State Office of Risk Management (SORM), on behalf of the State agency, argued the injury was not in the course and scope of employment because Martinez violated an agency policy by working from home and because the injury did not involve an instrumentality of the employer. The DWC Appeals Panel reversed the hearing officer, determining the injury did occur in the course and scope of employment. SORM filed a petition for judicial review, alleging it is relieved from liability because Martinez violated a statute by working from home. Both SORM and Martinez filed motions for summary judgment. SORM argued Martinez did not sustain an injury in the course and scope of employment while at home because working from home was prohibited by law. Martinez argued that SORM could not raise this “issue” because it was not first presented to the Division and, as such, was not an “issue” on which judicial review was sought. The trial court granted SORM’s motion and denied Martinez’s. The San Antonio Court of Appeals reversed and determined the trial court had no jurisdiction over SORM’s petition because the statutory-violation ground was not first presented to the Division. The question for the Supreme Court was, for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), what is an “issue” on which judicial review is sought by a party?
Citing the Act, the Supreme Court explained that the “final decision of the appeals panel regarding compensability or eligibility” describes the “issues” on which the trial court may render judgment. Those “issues” are defined by the benefit review officer at the outset of the dispute and proceed through the dispute resolution process with the same definition. Because the issue is defined at this early stage, the “issue” is not – and cannot be – a point of error as can be waived in an appellate context. Nor is an “issue” an argument that must be raised at this early stage. Applying this framework, the Court explained that the relevant “issue” on which judicial review was sought was whether the Claimant was injured in the course and scope of employment. The “issue” was not each argument refuting this point, such as the statutory-violation ground raised by SORM. Because the statutory-violation ground is an argument that Martinez was not in the course and scope of employment, SORM could present the argument for the first time on appeal. State Office of Risk Management v. Martinez, No. 16-0337 (Tex. Dec. 15, 2017).
-Dan Price, Stone Loughlin & Swanson, LLP.