Appeal from the District Court of Sweetwater County. The Honorable Jere A. Ryckman, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kite, Justice
Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.
[¶1] Kevin Taylor appeals the district court's order affirming the Medical Commission's (the Commission) determination that he failed to meet his burden of proving his 2007 chiropractic treatment was related to a 1991 work related injury. Mr. Taylor maintains that the Commission was collaterally estopped from considering evidence of a pre-existing condition that could have been presented by the State ex rel. Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division (the Division) in a 1998 contested workers' compensation case. We affirm, concluding that the Commission was not collaterally estopped from considering such evidence and, in any event, its decision to deny benefits was supported by substantial evidence even if the disputed evidence is ignored.
[¶2] Mr. Taylor presents a single issue on appeal, which he phrases as a statement:
The findings of fact and conclusions of law are not in accordance with the law due to reliance on evidence which is barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.
The Division phrases the issue differently:
When an administrative hearing in 1998 result[ed] in an award of benefits for [Mr.] Taylor's chiropractic care in 1998, does the doctrine of collateral estoppel prevent the Division from considering his current claims for additional chiropractic care?
[¶3] Mr. Taylor was injured in 1991 when he was emptying water buckets while working as a housekeeper for Hillhaven Nursing Home*fn1 in Rock Springs. He reported that he had injured his left shoulder and upper back. The Division concluded that injury was compensable and allowed payment of his medical claims, including chiropractic care.
[¶4] The Division continued to pay for Mr. Taylor's chiropractic treatments until 1998, when it denied some claims on the grounds that the treatment was not related to his 1991 work injury. The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) held a contested case hearing and concluded that his chiropractic treatment was related to the 1991 injury and "until further medical evidence would warrant a change, [Mr. Taylor] is entitled to receive medical benefits for continuing chiropractic care received twice per month."
[¶5] Mr. Taylor continued to receive chiropractic treatment until 2007, when the Division again denied payment on the basis that the 1991 injury had been resolved and any further treatment would be due to a pre-existing medical condition and/or natural aging. Mr. Taylor objected to the Division's final determination and the matter was referred to the Commission for a contested case hearing. After a hearing, the Commission hearing panel concluded that Mr. Taylor had not satisfied his burden of proving his chiropractic treatment in 2007 was related to the 1991 work injury.
[¶6] The Commission's decision was based upon Mr. Taylor's lengthy and complicated medical history involving numerous accidents, both before and after the 1991 work accident. Prior to his work-related accident, Mr. Taylor injured his neck and left shoulder in a motor vehicle accident in 1987 and received chiropractic treatment and surgery on his left shoulder. As part of litigation resulting from that accident, a physician authored a letter in 1988 which stated:
[Mr. Taylor] has received . . . a whiplash injury of his cervical spine with concomittant [sic] tension headaches, and a sprain/strain syndrome of his thoracic and lumbar spine. I think that this whiplash injury and the sprain/strain are not of a permanent nature and they will eventually improve. However, I feel that the injury to his shoulder is of a permanent nature and the prognosis of that is unknown at this time.
[¶7] After the contested case hearing in 1998, Mr. Taylor was involved in a number of accidents, including a serious automobile accident in July 1999. According to the record, Mr. Taylor reported a whiplash injury and complained of back pain in 2000. A series of tests showed significant problems in his cervical spine. On August 15, 2000, neurosurgeon John H. Schneider, M.D. performed an anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion with plating at the C5-6 level. After the surgery, Mr. Taylor experienced additional neurological problems and eventually had a second fusion of the cervical spine at the C6-7 level.
[¶8] As part of the litigation arising from the 1999 car accident, Kyle Norris, M.D. stated in 2002 that he believed Mr. Taylor's chiropractic treatment "would continue to be related to his original Workers' Compensation injury." Mr. Taylor's neurosurgeon, Dr. Schneider, also opined:
With regard to Mr. Taylor's neck post-motor vehicle accident, the structural anomalies threatening the nervous system have now been alleviated [by the surgeries]; however, he has had continued myofascial neck discomfort that will likely be permanent and require rehabilitation ...