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State of Wyoming, Ex Rel., Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation v. Robert C. Carson

April 12, 2011

STATE OF WYOMING, EX REL., WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, APPELLANT (RESPONDENT),
v.
ROBERT C. CARSON, APPELLEE (PLAINTIFF).



Appeal from the District Court of Teton County The Honorable Nancy J. Guthrie, 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 (Division), appeals the district court's reversal of a decision by the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) denying a Motion to Reopen Claim submitted by Robert Carson. The Division contends the district court erred in supplementing the record pursuant to W.R.A.P. 12.08 and in ordering that Mr. Carson's worker's compensation claim be reopened pursuant to W.R.C.P. 60(b). The Division also contends the hearing examiner did not abuse her discretion in denying Mr. Carson's Motion to Reopen Claim. We affirm the district court's decision to supplement the record, reverse the order to reopen Mr. Carson's claim, and remand to the district court with instructions to remand to the OAH for consideration of the supplemented record.

ISSUES

[¶2] 1. Whether the district court erred when it granted Mr. Carson's motion to supplement the record pursuant to W.R.A.P. 12.08.

2. Whether the district court erred when it reversed the OAH's decision to deny Mr. Carson's Motion to Reopen Claim without remanding to the agency for consideration of the supplemented record.

3. Whether the hearing examiner abused her discretion in determining that Mr. Carson's Motion to Reopen Claim should be denied.

FACTS

[¶3] On January 19, 2006, Mr. Carson was involved in a car accident in the Snake River Canyon between Alpine and Jackson, Wyoming. The accident resulted in the death of Mr. Carson's passenger and severe injuries to Mr. Carson, including head injuries which affected his memory of the events leading up to the accident. Mr. Carson was transported to a hospital in Salt Lake City and remained in a coma for over a month. While Mr. Carson was still in a coma, his wife submitted a Wyoming Report of Injury form to the Workers' Safety and Compensation Division indicating that he had experienced a work-related injury as a result of the accident on January 19, 2006, while in the course of his employment with Metrocities Mortgage, LLC (Metrocities). On February 28, 2006, the Division issued a final determination denying worker's compensation benefits to Mr. Carson. The final determination stated several reasons for the decision to deny benefits, including the fact that Mr. Carson's injury did not meet the definition of "injury" under the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act because he had not proven that the injury arose out of and in the course of his employment with Metrocities.

[¶4] Metrocities objected to the Division's final determination and requested a contested case hearing before the OAH. During the time that Mr. Carson's worker's compensation claim was pending before the OAH, however, a wrongful death action was filed against Mr. Carson in federal district court by his passenger's widow. This action alleged that Metrocities was vicariously liable for Mr. Carson's negligence due to the fact that Mr. Carson was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Metrocities at the time of the accident. Metrocities withdrew its objection to the Division's final determination in the worker's compensation case.

[¶5] At the contested case hearing in the worker's compensation case, Metrocities argued that Mr. Carson's claim should be denied. Based on the deposition testimony of Shane Gunderson and other information learned after the accident, Mr. Carson claimed he was traveling to Jackson to refinance a house for Mr. Gunderson and Patricia Reynolds. Mr. Gunderson's deposition was introduced at the hearing but Ms. Reynolds' deposition was not taken and she did not testify. On September 26, 2007, the OAH issued an order upholding the Division's decision to deny benefits, finding that Mr. Carson had failed to establish that his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment with Metrocities. The hearing examiner noted that Mr. Gunderson's deposition testimony was not credible and that there was no evidence to establish any other connection between Mr. Carson's trip to Jackson and his employment with Metrocities. Mr. Carson did not appeal the OAH's decision.

[¶6] In May of 2008, approximately eight months after the decision by the OAH upholding the denial of worker's compensation benefits to Mr. Carson, the jury sitting in federal court found that Mr. Carson was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Metrocities at the time of the accident. Mr. Carson subsequently filed a motion to reopen his worker's compensation claim under W.R.C.P. 60. Rule 60(b)(2) states that a court may relieve a party from a final judgment based on "newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b)." Mr. Carson argued that the judgment entered in federal court and the testimony of Ms. Reynolds constituted newly discovered evidence under W.R.C.P. 60(b)(2) that warranted relief from the order upholding the Division's final determination. He submitted a copy of the federal jury verdict form with his motion, but did not provide copies of transcripts or other evidence from the federal court proceedings. Mr. Carson also argued that judicial estoppel should operate to prevent Metrocities from opposing his worker's compensation claim after having initially assisted him in filing the claim.

[¶7] Mr. Carson's motion was assigned to the same hearing examiner who had previously issued the order upholding the Division's decision to deny benefits. Neither the Division nor Metrocities responded to Mr. Carson's motion. No hearing on the motion was held. On October 29, 2008, the hearing examiner issued an Order Denying Motion to Reopen, finding that Mr. Carson did not provide an explanation, aside from noting his memory loss prior to and after the accident, as to when or how Ms. Reynolds' testimony was discovered or why it could not previously have been discovered.

[ΒΆ8] Mr. Carson appealed the hearing examiner's decision to district court and filed a motion to supplement the record pursuant to W.R.A.P. 12.08. The district court granted Mr. Carson's motion and supplemented the record with (1) the deposition and federal trial testimony of Ms. Reynolds, (2) the federal trial testimony of two Metrocities employees, and (3) a subscription agreement between Metrocities and Salt River Financial, a company affiliated with Metrocities that also employed Mr. Carson. The district court reviewed this evidence and determined that Mr. Carson's case should be reopened, noting ...


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