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

Supreme Court of Wyoming

March 31, 2014

ROBERT C. CARSON, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, ex rel., WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellee (Respondent)

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

For Appellant: Katherine L. Mead of Mead & Mead, Jackson, WY.

For Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; John D. Rossetti, Deputy Attorney General; Michael J. Finn; Senior Assistant Attorney General; and John A. Brodie, Assistant Attorney General.

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

OPINION

Page 1262

HILL, Justice.

[¶1] On January 19, 2006, Robert Carson and his passenger Hugh Sharp were involved in a serious car accident in Snake River Canyon. Carson sustained multiple injuries, including a severe head injury, and Sharp was killed in the accident. In 2007 the Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division (Division) denied Carson's claims for worker's compensation benefits because he failed to show that the injuries he sustained in the automobile accident arose out of and in the course of his employment with Metrocities Mortgage, LLC (Metrocities). After a contested case hearing, the Division's denial of benefits was upheld. Carson did not appeal this determination.

[¶2] Eight months after the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) denied Carson's claim for worker's compensation benefits, a jury sitting in a federal district court case brought by Hugh Sharp's widow against Carson for wrongful death found that Carson was acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. After the federal district court jury verdict, Carson sought to reopen this case contending there was newly discovered evidence to support that he was acting within the course of his employment at the time of the accident. After rulings by the district court and this Court, the OAH eventually affirmed its earlier

Page 1263

decision from 2008 that Carson was not acting within the course of his employment. We will affirm.

ISSUE

[¶3] Carson presents one issue for our review:

As a matter of law, did the OAH commit error when it failed to apply collateral estoppel to the issue of whether Robert Carson was in the course and scope of employment at the time of his injury?

FACTS

[¶4] On January 19, 2006, Robert Carson and his passenger Hugh Sharp were involved in a serious car accident in Snake River Canyon. Carson sustained multiple injuries including a severe head injury and was in a coma for one month. Sharp was killed in the accident.

[¶5] Originally this matter began as a worker's compensation claim filed on behalf of Robert Carson by his wife, Rachel Carson. Rachel filed a claim in which the theory was that the car accident occurred while he was in the course of his employment with Metrocities. The claim elaborated that Robert was traveling from his home in Alpine to Jackson to discuss a mortgage with Shane Gunderson and Trish Reynolds. The Division issued a final determination denying benefits.[1] A contested case hearing was held on June 28, 2007, after which the OAH found that claimant had not met his burden to prove he was acting within the course of his employment at the time of the accident. No appeal was taken from this decision.

[¶6] In the meantime, Sharp's widow filed a wrongful death action in federal district court against Carson and Metrocities. After a trial, a federal jury found that at the time of the accident Carson was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Metrocities and thus a judgment was entered against Metrocities under the theory of respondeat superior and in favor of Sharp's widow.

[¶7] On the basis of the federal judgment, in September of 2008 Carson submitted a Motion to Reopen Claim to the OAH. Carson based his motion on W.R.C.P. 60(b) and contended that there was newly discovered evidence that he was indeed acting within the course of his employment at the time of the accident. Carson specifically relied upon federal court testimony from Trish Reynolds who testified that she was scheduled to meet Carson in Jackson on the day of the accident. Without a hearing the OAH denied Carson's motion on October 29, 2008.

[¶8] Carson appealed to the district court. There, the court granted Carson's motion to supplement the record with (1) deposition testimony from Trish Reynolds; (2) federal trial testimony from two Metrocities employees; and (3) an agreement between Metrocities and Salt River Financial (which also employed Carson). The court also reversed the OAH's decision denying Carson's motion and directed the OAH to reopen Carson's claim.

[¶9] In response, the Division appealed to this Court. In State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div. v. Carson, 2011 WY 61, 252 P.3d 929 (Wyo. 2011) ( Carson I ), we concluded that the district court properly granted supplementation of the record but that the district court erred by ruling on the merits of Carson's motion to reopen rather than remanding the case to the OAH for that body to consider the motion in light of the supplemented record.

[¶10] Based upon this Court's decision and its remand to the OAH, the parties agreed that the OAH should decide the matter without further hearing. After due consideration, the OAH again denied Carson relief and affirmed its original September 27, 2007 order denying benefits. The OAH wrote:

48. A review of the foregoing supplemental materials does not change the decision in this case. Again, even with the supplemental materials, the only offered evidence of a causal connection between Carson's trip to Jackson on January 19, 2006, and his employment with Metrocities was the testimony of Gunderson and Reynolds that an appointment had been arranged in Jackson to discuss a refinance. The other suggestion that he may have

Page 1264

been distributing or picking up marketing materials is simply speculation.

49. The testimony of Reynolds and Gunderson is not deemed persuasive because,
a. their testimony is not consistent. As set forth above Gunderson testified that Reynolds was instrumental in setting up the meeting. Reynolds ...

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