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Wallace v. Labor Commission

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 11, 2019

Gena L. Wallace, Petitioner,
v.
Labor Commission, Amangiri Resort, and Workers' Compensation Fund, Respondents.

          Original Proceeding in this Court

          Virginius Dabney and Stony Olsen, Attorneys for Petitioner

          Floyd W. Holm, Attorney for Respondents Amangiri Resort, and Workers' Compensation Fund

          Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Ryan M. Harris and Diana Hagen concurred.

          OPINION

          MORTENSEN, JUDGE

         ¶1 Gena L. Wallace seeks judicial review of the Utah Labor Commission's (Commission) order dismissing her claim for permanent total disability. We decline to disturb the Commission's decision.

         ¶2 In October 2011, Wallace, employed at Amangiri Resort in southern Utah, fell while descending some stairs as she was leaving the lobby to retrieve an item from a guest's car. She received medical care for her injuries. Subsequently, Wallace made a workers' compensation claim and asserted that the accident resulted in a permanent disability, preventing her from finding work. Respondents Amangiri Resort, the Commission, and Workers' Compensation Fund (collectively, WCF) denied that Wallace was permanently and totally disabled.

         ¶3 After an evidentiary hearing in January 2015, the administrative law judge (ALJ) referred Wallace's case to a medical panel, which issued a report in July 2016 (First MPR). The First MPR contained the following opinions: (1) Wallace can sit for "40-45 minute intervals over an 8 hour workday with 5 minute breaks standing or reclining between each interval"; (2) while Wallace's use of oxycodone does not prevent her from driving to and from work, she should not be assigned driving assignments as part of her work schedule; (3) Wallace is "able to focus and concentrate to receive instructions, remember those instructions and carry them out on a continual basis over an 8 hour workday"; (4) Wallace can perform workplace tasks involving bending, stooping, lifting objects, twisting, turning, sitting, walking, reaching, pushing, and pulling; (5) Wallace can manage her "low back pain in a light work setting" and "is able to work a light duty work assignment"; (6) Wallace "has the motor function to use her hands, arms, legs and feet in a coordinated pattern in the workplace"; and (7) "[l]ack of leg pain and radiculopathy[[1] allow [Wallace] to pursue light work activities and activities of daily living."

         ¶4 In August 2016, Wallace filed an objection to the First MPR. Wallace's objection included a letter from a physician (Medical Opinion) and a letter from a vocational expert (Vocational Opinion), both written in response to the First MPR. In November 2017, the medical panel issued a second report (Second MPR), substantially the same as the First MPR.[2] Wallace also filed an objection to the Second MPR.

         ¶5 In the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order denying compensation (ALJ Decision), the ALJ excluded from evidence the Vocational Opinion because it was not timely and did "not go to the medical panel objection but appear[ed] to be a back door attempt to place new evidence into the record which denies [WCF's] right of due process to counter the evidence." The ALJ also excluded the Medical Opinion because it was not timely and offered "duplicative and irrelevant" evidence.

         ¶6 Wallace sought review by the Commission. In its order affirming the ALJ Decision, the Commission agreed with the ALJ's exclusion of the Vocational Opinion and the Medical Opinion from evidence. Citing rule R602-2-1(H)(5) of the Utah Administrative Code, the Commission explained that "[l]ate-filed medical records may or may not be admitted at the discretion of the ALJ by stipulation or for good cause shown." The Commission further explained that Wallace had "not offered good cause for such evidence to be admitted." Specifically, the Commission stated, "[The Medical Opinion] is duplicative of [the physician's] other treatment notes and opinions already in the record." Regarding the Vocational Opinion, the Commission stated, "There is nothing in the record to suggest that [Wallace] could not have obtained and submitted [the Vocational Opinion] prior to the close of the evidentiary period, which occurred at the conclusion of the hearing on [Wallace's] claim." Wallace now seeks judicial review of the Commission's decision.

         ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶7 The first issue is whether the Commission violated its own rules when it declined to consider medical evidence submitted after a hearing. The standard of review for an agency's application and interpretation of its own rules is abuse of discretion. Brown & Root Indus. Service v. Industrial Comm'n of Utah, 947 P.2d 671, 677 (Utah 1997) ("When reviewing the Commission's application of its own rules, this court will not disturb the agency's interpretation or application of one of the agency's rules unless its determination exceeds the bounds of reasonableness and rationality."). "Thus, we will overturn the agency's interpretation only if that interpretation is an abuse of discretion." Id.

         ¶8 The second issue is whether the Commission's conclusion that Wallace was not limited in her ability to perform the essential functions of her prior work was supported by the evidence. "This is an issue of fact reviewed under a substantial evidence standard. Under this standard, we must uphold the Commission's factual findings if such findings are supported by substantial evidence based upon the record as a ...


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