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State of Wyoming, Ex Rel v. Leonard A. Singer

March 30, 2011

STATE OF WYOMING, EX REL.,
WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, APPELLANT (PETITIONER),
v.
LEONARD A. SINGER, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT).



W.R.A.P. 12.09(b) Certification from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable Scott W. Skavdahl, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, 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] Appellant, Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division, challenges an order from the Office of Administrative Hearings granting permanent total disability benefits to Leonard Singer. The Division contends the award should have been reduced by the amount of the award Mr. Singer previously received for his permanent partial impairment. The Division challenged the hearing examiner's ruling in district court and the appeal was certified to this Court. We reverse.

ISSUE

[¶2] The Division presents the following issue:

Did the hearing examiner, as a matter of fact and law, misinterpret and misapply Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 27-14-405 and 27-14-406 in concluding the legislature did not intend for previous physical impairment awards to be deducted from permanent total disability awards granted pursuant to the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act?

FACTS

[¶3] This case involves the relationships among permanent partial impairment, permanent partial disability, and permanent total disability awards. Mr. Singer experienced a work-related injury in 2002 and received workers' compensation benefits related to the injury. In 2003, it was determined that Mr. Singer had a 30 percent whole body permanent partial impairment due to his injury and he accepted a permanent partial impairment award of $22,118.45 from the Division. In 2004, he received a permanent partial disability award of $49,009.94 as a result of the same injury. In 2009, the Division determined that Mr. Singer was entitled to a permanent total disability award of $202,000.80 due to the progression of his injury.

[¶4] The Division reduced Mr. Singer's permanent total disability award by $49,009.94 for the previous permanent partial disability award and by $22,118.45 for the previous permanent partial impairment award. The award was also discounted due to Mr. Singer's election to receive the award in lump-sum. The resulting amount of $115,159.18 was paid to Mr. Singer. Mr. Singer agreed that his previous permanent partial disability award should be deducted, but objected to the deduction of his previous permanent partial impairment award. The matter was referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings for a contested case hearing. The hearing examiner concluded that the Division had incorrectly reduced Mr. Singer's permanent total disability award by the amount paid to Mr. Singer for his previous permanent partial impairment award. The Division petitioned for review by the district court. The district court certified the matter to this Court pursuant to W.R.A.P. 12.09(b), and we accepted the case for review.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶5] The facts in this case are not in dispute. We are presented solely with a question of statutory interpretation. When the issue is one of interpretation and application of law, we give no deference to an agency's decision:

The interpretation and correct application of the provisions of the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act are questions of law over which our review authority is plenary. Conclusions of law made by an administrative agency are affirmed only if they are in accord with the law. We do not afford any deference to the agency's determination, and we will correct any error made by the agency in either interpreting or applying the law.

Ball v. State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div., 2010 WY 128, ¶ 18, 239 P.3d 621, 627 (Wyo. 2010) (quoting State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div. v. Faulkner, 2007 WY 31, ¶ 10, 152 P.3d 394, 396 (Wyo. 2007)). In other words, we review de novo an agency's conclusions of law. Dale ...


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