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In the Matter of the Worker's Compensation Claim of v. Signal Mountain Lodge

February 22, 2013

IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF: NICOLLE HEIKKILA, AN EMPLOYEE OF SIGNAL MOUNTAIN LODGE, APPELLANT (PETITIONER)
v.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN LODGE, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT).



Appeal from the District Court of Teton County The Honorable Timothy C. Day, Judge

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

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, VOIGT, BURKE, and DAVIS, 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] The Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division (Division) determined that Nicolle Heikkila, the appellant, suffered a compensable injury while employed by Signal Mountain Lodge. The lodge filed an objection to that determination and requested a hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). The appellant filed a motion to dismiss that objection on the grounds that the objection had been improperly filed. The OAH denied that motion and determined that the appellant had not suffered a compensable injury. The appellant filed a petition for review to the district court, arguing that her motion to dismiss was improperly denied. The district court affirmed the decision of the OAH and, after an additional appeal by the appellant, we affirm the decision of the district court.

ISSUE

[¶2] Did Signal Mountain Lodge properly file an objection to the Division's Final Determination of Compensability?

FACTS

[¶3] Signal Mountain Lodge is a resort located in Grand Teton National Park. The real property upon which the resort rests is owned by the National Park Service. The lodge is operated by Rex and Ruth Maughan, doing business as Signal Mountain Lodge, under a concessionaire's agreement with the park service. Signal Mountain Lodge has made contributions pursuant to the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act (the Act).

[¶4] The appellant was employed as a housekeeper at Signal Mountain Lodge from April 28, 2009 through May 28, 2009. The appellant filed a Wyoming Report of Injury on October 28, 2009. That report indicated that her injury occurred on May 24, 2009. The Division determined that the injury was compensable and issued a Final Determination of Compensability to that effect on December 3, 2009. Signal Mountain Lodge filed a timely objection and request for a hearing on December 11, 2009. That objection was filed personally by Linda Hornbeck, the director of human resources, payroll, and benefits at Forever Living Products International, Inc., a company owned by Rex Maughan.

[¶5] The appellant filed a motion to dismiss Signal Mountain Lodge's objection, arguing that Signal Mountain Lodge is not an appropriate party to the action. The appellant continued that only a "party" may file an objection, and because Signal Mountain Lodge is not a "natural person, artificial person, or other legal entity" it cannot be a "party." In the alternative, the appellant argued that, even if the owners qualify as employers, the objection was not filed by the owners personally, but rather by their representative. The hearing examiner denied that motion, ruling that the Maughans are persons and therefore may be party to the action and that there is no prohibition against allowing an agent or representative to file an objection. The OAH also concluded that the appellant did not have a compensable injury and did not uphold the Division's Final Determination. The appellant petitioned the district court for a review of that decision, but only challenged the OAH's determination that Signal Mountain Lodge was a proper party to the action. The district court affirmed that decision, and the appellant now appeals to this Court.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶6] The issue we are addressing is whether Signal Mountain lodge properly filed an objection to the Division's Final Determination of Compensability.

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 ...


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