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

November 20, 2012

IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF: TYLER L. STALLMAN, APPELLANT (PETITIONER),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, EX REL., WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT).



Appeal from the District Court of Niobrara County The Honorable Keith G. Kautz, Judge

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

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN*fn1 , HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Tyler L. Stallman was injured in a car accident that occurred in the course of her employment. After receiving a 22% permanent partial impairment award from the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Division (Division), she sought permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits. The Division denied her application stating that she had not complied with the statutory work search requirements. Ms. Stallman requested a contested case hearing. Both parties submitted motions for summary judgment. After a hearing, the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) concluded as a matter of law that Ms. Stallman had not timely submitted documentation showing she had sought work and granted summary judgment for the Division.

[¶2] Ms. Stallman sought review in the district court, which affirmed the OAH's ruling. She then appealed to this Court, claiming the OAH ruling granting the Division's summary judgment motion was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the evidence. Specifically, she asserts the Division improperly denied her application for benefits when she did not submit her work search documentation on the date it arbitrarily imposed-a date weeks before the statutory deadline for submitting her application. She contends the OAH erred in upholding the denial based upon its incorrect finding that she had failed to provide her work search documentation as required by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-405(h)(iii) (LexisNexis 2011).

[¶3] We hold that Ms. Stallman's work search submission was timely. We further hold that she is entitled to a hearing and the opportunity to present evidence showing that she actively sought work. We reverse the district court's order affirming the OAH's order granting the Division's motion for summary judgment and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

ISSUES

[¶4] Ms. Stallman states the issues for this Court's determination as follows:

I. Whether the decision by the Office of Administrative Hearings to grant the Wyoming Division of Workers' Compensation's Motion for Summary Judgment was arbitrary, capricious, not in accordance with the substantial evidence presented and contrary to Wyoming Statute.

II. Whether the decision by the Office of Administrative Hearings to deny Ms. Stallman's Motion for Summary Judgment was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to Wyoming Statute.

The Division asserts the OAH properly granted its motion for summary judgment, Ms. Stallman did not timely submit her application with the required documentation and it was not estopped from denying her claim.

FACTS

[¶5] In November of 2006, Ms. Stallman was working as a corrections officer for the Women's Center in Lusk, Wyoming. She was driving to Sheridan to pick up an inmate in the course of her employment when her vehicle slid on the ice, spun off the road and rolled. She suffered a broken pelvis, bruised lungs and other injuries. She applied for and received temporary total disability benefits until she was assigned a 22% permanent impairment rating and began receiving permanent partial impairment benefits.

[¶6] In October of 2009, Ms. Stallman underwent a functional capacity evaluation. The evaluating physician concluded she could return to light duty work but was not capable of performing the work required of a corrections officer. Ms. Stallman filed her application for PPD benefits on October 27, 2009. On November 4, 2009, the Division notified Ms. Stallman that her application was incomplete and asked her to submit documentation showing her efforts to find work. The notice informed her the Division must receive the information by December 23, 2009. Ms. Stallman did not submit the documentation on the date requested and, that same day, the Division issued a final determination denying her application on the ground that she was not actively seeking work. More specifically, the final determination stated:

Your work search does not contain a minimum of five (5) contacts per week over the course of [a] six (6) week period immediately preceding the date the application is filed or immediately following the date the application is filed with the Division. Wyoming Statute § 27-14-405(h)(iii).

[¶7] The Division advised Ms. Stallman that she had the right to object to the determination and request a contested case hearing. Ms. Stallman requested a hearing. Prior to the hearing date, the Division filed a motion for partial summary judgment in which it asserted Ms. Stallman had failed to submit proof of her work search as required, entitling it to judgment as a matter of law on her claim for PPD benefits.*fn2 Ms. Stallman filed a response to the Division's motion and moved for summary judgment in her favor on her claim for PPD benefits. In the meantime, she provided work search documentation to the Division.

[ΒΆ8] After a telephone hearing, the OAH entered an order finding that Ms. Stallman had failed to timely provide the required documentation and granting summary judgment for the Division. Ms. Stallman sought review in district court, which affirmed the denial of benefits. ...


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