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Schwab v. JTL Group, Inc.

Supreme Court of Wyoming

November 4, 2013

In the Matter of the Worker's Compensation Claim of Joseph A. SCHWAB, Appellant(Respondent),
v.
JTL GROUP, INC., d/b/a Knife River, Appellee(Petitioner).

Page 791

Representing Appellant: Jeff S. Meyer, Murane & Bostwick, LLC, Casper, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: John M. Kuker, The Kuker Group LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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

VOIGT, Justice.

[¶ 1] The appellant sought worker's compensation benefits for a low back injury sustained during the course of his employment. The Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division (Division) at first denied the claim, but subsequently issued a redetermination finding the injury to be compensable and awarding benefits. The redetermination advised the parties they had fifteen days from the time of mailing to object and request a hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). The employer, however, did not file an objection until four days after the deadline had expired. Based upon the employer's untimely objection, the OAH granted the appellant's summary judgment motion without holding a contested case hearing, determining the undisputed facts established the employer failed timely to file its objection and request for hearing. The district court reversed and remanded the case to the OAH for further proceedings, finding genuine issues of material fact existed regarding the employer's ability to avoid strict application of the objection deadline. The appellant now appeals to this Court, challenging the order of the district court. Although the district court's order reversing and remanding to the OAH for further proceedings is not an appealable order pursuant to W.R.A.P. 1.05, we will consider the merits of the case by converting the appeal to a petition for writ of review. We reverse and reinstate the OAH decision.

ISSUE

[¶ 2] Did the OAH err by granting summary judgment in favor of the appellant due to the employer's untimely objection to a redetermination issued by the Wyoming Workers' Compensation and Safety Division?

FACTS

[¶ 3] After sustaining a low back injury on the job, the appellant submitted a Wyoming Report of Injury to the Division on September 14, 2011. Lacking information, the Division issued an Initial Review: Notice of Lack of Information notifying the appellant, inter alia, that the Division needed the Report of Injury to be signed by the employer and additional information was required concerning the claimed injury. The employer

Page 792

completed the requested information and objected to the appellant's claim for worker's compensation benefits. The employer also submitted a separate letter objecting to the claim.

[¶ 4] The Division issued a Final Determination on October 19, 2011, denying the appellant's claim and payment of benefits for several reasons, including that the Division had received no objective medical documentation substantiating the injury. The Final Determination provided notice to the parties that either could object and request a hearing, but that they had fifteen days to do so. The appellant timely objected to the Final Determination and requested a hearing.

[¶ 5] On December 1, 2011, pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-601(k)(vi) (LexisNexis 2013), the Division issued a Redetermination, advising the parties that the Division " either received additional information or re-reviewed the original information regarding [the appellant's] claim and has determined that [it] can now approve payment of benefits for [the appellant's] low back injury...." Importantly, the Redetermination advised that either party could object and request a hearing. In accordance with Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-601(k)(iv), the Redetermination required any objection to be made within fifteen days from the date the Redetermination was mailed by the Division. Otherwise, the Redetermination would not be subject to further administrative or judicial review, consistent with Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-601(k)(vi). [1] Specifically, the Redetermination states:

Either the injured worker or the employer may object to this determination and request a hearing. Affected parties have a right to a hearing before a hearing examiner as provided by the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act and to legal representation. The Division must receive a written request for hearing on or before December 16, 2011. If a timely written request is not filed with the ...

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