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Horn-Dalton v. State ex rel Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division

February 5, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF KATHLEEN HORN-DALTON, AN EMPLOYEE OF SOUTHWEST WYOMING REHABILITATION CENTER: KATHLEEN E. HORN-DALTON, APPELLANT (PETITIONER),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, EX REL., WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT).



Appeal from the District Court of Sweetwater County, The Honorable Jere A. Ryckman, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Voigt, Chief Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Appellant, Kathleen Horn-Dalton, claims that the district court erred when it upheld an Office of Administrative Hearings' (OAH) decision in favor of the Workers' Safety and Compensation Division (Division), which determined that Appellant was not eligible for benefits. The district court upheld the OAH's dismissal of Appellant's claim because it found that Appellant did not timely file her claim and that Appellant was not eligible for benefits because she did not prove that her illness was work related. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] 1. Was the OAH's finding that Appellant's claim was untimely supported by substantial evidence?

2. Was the OAH's conclusion that Appellant failed to prove that her untimely filing did not prejudice her employer or the division against the great weight of the evidence, and did the OAH properly apply the statutory presumption to deny Appellant's claim?

3. Was the OAH's finding that Appellant failed to prove that her injury was work related against the great weight of the evidence?

FACTS

[¶3] Appellant began work for the Southwest Wyoming Rehabilitation Center (SWRC) in August of 1975. Appellant served as Executive Director and later President of the organization. In 1999, relations between Appellant and the Board of Directors of SWRC began to deteriorate. There were several unpleasant confrontations and the Board attempted to fire Appellant while she was out of town. The Wyoming Attorney General's office intervened in 2000 because the Board was not operating according to its own corporate requirements and the Board was reorganized. However, relations between Appellant and the Board continued to deteriorate. The tension came to a head at a Board meeting in September of 2003, in which two Board members accused Appellant of a number of improprieties related to her position. Appellant became physically ill after the meeting and vomited several times. Several Board members resigned after the meeting, including those who had been most aggressive toward Appellant. In June of 2004, the Board requested Appellant's resignation.

[¶4] Appellant testified that, although she had been experiencing "pain and physical problems" for some time, she experienced increasing exhaustion and body aches after the September 30 meeting. Appellant left for a vacation shortly after the meeting. During her vacation, she fell and injured her knee in a grocery store. After the fall, Appellant experienced severe and increasing pain in her neck, back and hips. She sought relief from a series of orthopedic physicians, believing her symptoms to be a result of the fall. In March of 2004, Appellant visited a nurse practitioner for a regular checkup. The nurse practitioner informed Appellant that her symptoms were consistent with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, and referred Appellant to a specialist. Appellant's nurse practitioner also provided Appellant with several prescriptions to manage her symptoms.

[¶5] Appellant was not able to get an appointment with a fibromyalgia specialist for several months. Appellant testified that she mentioned that she had fibromyalgia in a phone call with the corporate attorney for SWRC before she was asked to resign, and believed she had informed the human resource director of her condition in a conversation about her work schedule. Appellant filled out a Report of Injury dated July 15, 2004, claiming that her hostile work environment had caused stress-related illness, including fibromyalgia, depression, panic attacks, and anxiety disorder.*fn1 In late 2004, a specialist confirmed the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶6] The standards of review for administrative decisions are set forth in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-3-114(c) (LexisNexis 2007) as follows:

(c) To the extent necessary to make a decision and when presented, the reviewing court shall decide all relevant questions of law, interpret constitutional and statutory provisions, and determine the meaning or applicability of the terms of an agency action. In making the following determinations, the court shall review the whole record or those parts of it cited by a ...


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