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Leavitt v. State ex rel. Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division

Supreme Court of Wyoming

August 12, 2013

In The Matter of the Worker's Compensation Claim of:
v.
STATE of Wyoming ex rel. WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellee (Respondent). Kristi LEAVITT, Appellant (Petitioner),

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Representing Appellant: Robert A. Nicholas, Nicholas Law Office, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Michael Finn, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Jackson M. Engels, Assistant Attorney General.

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

DAVIS, Justice.

[¶ 1] Appellant Kristi Leavitt experienced lower back pain after shoveling snow just before Christmas of 2009. She filed a claim

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for benefits with the Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division, contending that her pain was causally related to a compensable back injury she had suffered in 1996. The Division denied the claim, and the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) upheld that decision after holding a contested case hearing. The district court for the First Judicial District affirmed the OAH ruling. We affirm the district court.

ISSUES

[¶ 2] Leavitt raises four issues which we reorder and restate as follows:

1. Was the OAH decision contrary to law?
2. Did the hearing examiner act arbitrarily and capriciously or abuse his discretion?
3. Were the hearing examiner's findings of fact sufficient?
4. Was the OAH decision supported by substantial evidence?

FACTS

[¶ 3] While working as a public information officer for the State of Wyoming's tourism office in February of 1996, Leavitt escorted ten journalists to various stops along the route of a ten-day dogsled race in western Wyoming. The trip required her to drive approximately 2,000 miles and to load and unload her passengers' heavy winter luggage at eight or nine hotels along the route. Midway through the trip, Leavitt began to experience unrelenting back pain.

[¶ 4] When she returned to Cheyenne, she sought chiropractic care for her pain. After approximately a week of unsuccessful treatment, Leavitt's chiropractor referred her to Dr. Vincent Ross, a family practitioner with a certificate of additional qualification in sports medicine. Dr. Ross provided pain medication and physical therapy. Conservative treatment by both practitioners provided Leavitt little relief, and an MRI was ordered. The study revealed a herniated disc at the L5-S1 level of the lower back. Dr. Carlton Reckling, an orthopedic surgeon, performed a partial discectomy (disc removal) and decompression on March 20, 1996.

[¶ 5] After recuperating from the surgery, Leavitt began a roughly nine-month course of post-operative rehabilitation managed by Dr. Ross and provided by his office. She experienced marked gains in strength and flexibility, as well as a marked decrease in pain and discomfort. She was soon able to adequately control her pain with Ibuprofen, even though her job duties required her to fly frequently and to ...


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