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Jacobs v. State

September 25, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF: KIRK JACOBS, APPELLANT (CLAIMANT),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, EX REL., WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT).



Appeal from the District Court of Albany County The Honorable Jeffrey A. Donnell, Judge.

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

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

[¶1] Kirk Jacobs (the appellant) injured his toe in a work-related accident in 1982. He received workers' compensation benefits for a number of conditions related to this accident for many years, including payments for treatment of chronic abdominal pain. In 2003, the Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division (Division) entered a Final Determination denying further benefits for chronic abdominal pain. The appellant challenged that action and the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) determined that the appellant's claim was barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Finding that the OAH erred in applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel, we reverse and remand.

ISSUES

[¶2] 1. Did the OAH properly conclude that the appellant's claim for benefits relating to chronic abdominal pain was barred under the doctrine of collateral estoppel?

2. Did the OAH lack jurisdiction to decide the compensability of the appellant's claim because compensability was not challenged pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-605 (LexisNexis 2009)?

FACTS

[¶3] This matter began in 1982, when the appellant sustained a work-related toe injury. This appeal is the fourth time the appellant has been before this Court since the original injury. See State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Comp. Div. v. Jacobs, 924 P.2d 982 (Wyo. 1996) (Jacobs I); Jacobs v. State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div., 2004 WY 136, 100 P.3d 848 (Wyo. 2004) (Jacobs II); Jacobs v. State ex rel. Wyo. Med. Comm'n, 2005 WY 104, 118 P.3d 441 (Wyo. 2005) (Jacobs III). In the present appeal, the appellant challenges the denial of benefits for chronic abdominal pain, which pain he insists was related to the original toe injury. The OAH determined that the question of whether the abdominal pain was related to the toe injury had already been conclusively decided, and thus the appellant's claim was barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel. To properly review this decision, we must briefly examine the history of the appellant's claims to determine whether that issue has been decided.

[¶4] In Jacobs I, the OAH awarded the appellant non-professional home health care benefits. That award was reversed on appeal. Jacobs I, 924 P.2d at 984. While the compensability of the appellant's chronic abdominal pain was not presented to, or decided by, the OAH, our opinion recognized that the appellant was suffering from such symptoms. We said:

In September of 1982, Jacobs suffered a work-related injury to his right little toe. In February of 1983, Jacobs experienced an allergic reaction to an antibiotic used to treat an infection which had developed in his right foot. The reaction manifested itself as colitis and nerve damage which left Jacobs with severe chronic pain and intermittent inability to accomplish the activities of daily life without assistance.

Id. at 983.

[¶5] Jacobs II began in 2001, when the appellant sought benefits for lung and knee problems, claiming they were related to his original injury. Jacobs II, 2004 WY 136, ¶ 4, 100 P.3d at 849. The Division denied benefits and referred the matter to the Wyoming Medical Commission ("Commission") for a hearing. Id. In his opening statement, the appellant's attorney set forth the issues to be presented in the hearing as follows:

These claims, at least to the best of our knowledge, involve two separate medical issues. The first of these issues concerns [the appellant's] entitlement to supplemental oxygen and related medical costs to this treatment.

The second issue, in essence, that needs to be decided here concerns the arthritic and actual bone-on-bone condition of [the appellant's] knees.

Although the knee and lung claims were the only two issues before the Commission, the question of whether the appellant's chronic abdominal pain was related to the original injury was raised at this hearing and discussed in the Commission's findings of fact and conclusions of law in connection with the Commission's consideration of the compensability of the knee and lung claims.

In this case [the appellant] contends that as a result of this injury he developed an infection in his toe which was treated with Keflex and the Keflex caused abdominal pain which has required his continued use of narcotic pain medication. As a result of his need for large amounts of narcotic pain medication, he has developed breathing and pulmonary problems requiring treatment. Obviously critical to this inquiry is whether the abdominal pain and consequent need for medication is related to the work injury. [The appellant] contends the issue of causation of abdominal pain has been previously determined and ...


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