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In the Matter of the Worker's Compensation Claim of andrea L. v. State of Wyoming

February 25, 2011

IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF ANDREA L. MCCALL-PRESSE, AN EMPLOYEE OF WYOMING WOMEN'S BUSINESS CENTER: ANDREA L. MCCALL-PRESSE, APPELLANT (CLAIMANT),
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, Justice.

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

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] Andrea L. McCall-Presse (the appellant) alleged an injury arising from exposure to a chemical cloud while driving in the course of her employment. The Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division (the Division) denied benefits to the appellant for her alleged injuries. The case was referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) for a contested case hearing, after which the OAH denied benefits. The appellant now appeals from the district court's affirmance of the OAH's denial of benefits. Finding substantial evidence in the record to support the OAH's denial, we will affirm.

ISSUE

[¶2] Was the OAH's decision denying benefits to the appellant supported by substantial evidence?

FACTS

[¶3] On April 14, 2008, as part of her employment with the Wyoming Women's Business Center (WWBC), the appellant was driving to Lyman, Wyoming, to meet with a client.*fn1 According to the appellant, as she was driving on Interstate Highway 80 (I-80) west of Rock Springs, Wyoming, she noticed a chemical cloud being pulled through the car vents. The appellant allegedly inhaled some of the chemicals which she claimed caused immediate problems with her eyes, skin, nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, and lungs. The appellant pulled her car over to the side of I-80, rolled her windows down to get fresh air, and flushed her eyes with water. The appellant did not notice any other cars pulling over as she had. The appellant did not call anyone for help, nor did she seek medical treatment that day. At some point, the appellant continued toward Lyman to meet with her client.

[¶4] Upon returning to Cheyenne, Wyoming, on April 15, 2008, the appellant called the Poison Control Center, which advised her to go to the emergency room. The appellant went to the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center emergency room on April 16, 2008, complaining of gas exposure. A chest x-ray revealed "[m]ild hyperinflation [of the lungs], otherwise unremarkable chest." The treating physician, Dr. Michael Means, diagnosed the appellant with "[p]ossible gas exposure" and "[i]nhalation." On April 18, 2008, the appellant filled out a Wyoming Report of Injury, which was signed by her supervisor, Rosemary Bratton. In the months following the alleged incident, several other physicians evaluated the appellant. More will be said about the examinations and subsequent reports prepared by these physicians in the discussion section.

[¶5] In a Final Determination dated May 9, 2008, the Division denied the appellant's claim. The Division concluded that there was no evidence linking the appellant's alleged injury to her employment. The appellant timely objected to the Division's denial and requested a hearing. The matter was referred to the OAH and a contested case hearing was held on March 3, 2009, and June 15, 2009.*fn2 On July 15, 2009, the OAH issued its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order, denying the appellant's claim for worker's compensation benefits. Specifically, the OAH concluded that the appellant proved that she suffered an injury, but failed to prove that the injury was causally related to her employment. Details regarding the evidence presented and the OAH's specific findings and conclusions will be discussed below. The appellant appealed the OAH's decision to the district court which affirmed the OAH's decision on June 3, 2010. This timely appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶6] Our review of agency action is governed by W.R.A.P. 12.09(a) and the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act, found at Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-3-114(c) (LexisNexis 2009). We give no special deference to the district court's findings and conclusions, but rather we review the case as if it came directly from the administrative agency. State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div. v. Kaczmarek, 2009 WY 110, ¶ 7, 215 P.3d 277, 280 (Wyo. 2009); Newman v. State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div., 2002 WY 91, ¶ 7, 49 P.3d 163, 166 (Wyo. 2002). When factual findings are challenged, as they are in this case, "we will affirm those findings if they are supported by substantial evidence." Newman, 2002 WY 91, ¶ 26, 49 P.3d at 173. We have said the following regarding the use of the substantial evidence test:

Thus, in the interests of simplifying the process of identifying the correct standard of review and bringing our approach closer to the original use of the two standards, we hold that henceforth the substantial evidence standard will be applied any time we review an evidentiary ruling. . . . If the hearing examiner determines that the burdened party failed to meet his burden of proof, we will decide whether there is substantial evidence to support the agency's decision to reject the evidence offered by the burdened party by considering whether that conclusion was contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence in the record as a whole. See, Wyo. Consumer Group v. Public Serv. Comm'n of Wyo., 882 P.2d 858, 860-61 (Wyo. 1994); [Bd. of Trustees, Laramie County Sch. Dist. No. 1 v.] Spiegel, 549 P.2d [1161,] 1178 [(Wyo. 1976)] (discussing the definition of substantial evidence as "contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence"). If, in the course of its decision making process, the agency disregards certain evidence and explains its reasons for doing so based upon determinations of credibility or other factors ...


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