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State ex rel. Department of Workforce Services v. Clements

Supreme Court of Wyoming

May 29, 2014

STATE OF WYOMING, ex rel., DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES, WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
ERIN R. CLEMENTS, Appellee (Plaintiff)

Page 178

Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County. The Honorable Steven K. Sharpe, Judge.

Representing Appellant: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; John D. Rossetti, Deputy Attorney General; Michael J. Finn, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Finn.

Representing Appellee: George Santini of Ross, Ross & Santini, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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

OPINION

Page 179

KITE, Chief Justice.

[¶1] By statute, the Wyoming legislature limited awards of temporary total disability (TTD) benefits to twenty-four months but gave the Wyoming Worker's Safety and Compensation Division (the Division) discretionary authority to extend the time for those benefits in the event of extraordinary circumstances. The Division adopted a rule limiting any extension of TTD benefits to a maximum of twelve months. Erin R. Clements received the statutory maximum and the additional twelve months. She sought additional TTD benefits, which the Division denied. She filed a declaratory judgment action asking the district court to hold that the Division exceeded its authority when it limited the extension to twelve months. The district court concluded the Division exceeded its authority when it adopted a rule limiting TTD benefits to a total of thirty-six months under any circumstances. The Division appealed. We affirm.

ISSUE

[¶2] The issue for this Court to determine is whether the district court erred in holding that the Division exceeded its statutory authority by adopting a rule limiting additional TTD benefits to twelve months.

FACTS

[¶3] Ms. Clements was injured in November 2008 while working at Little America in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She applied for and received TTD benefits for twenty-four months, obtained an extension of TTD benefits for another twelve months and then applied for more TTD benefits. On July 6, 2012, the Division entered a final determination denying Ms. Clements' claim for additional TTD benefits because she had received all the TTD benefits to which she was entitled under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-404 (LexisNexis 2013) and Division rules. Ms. Clements objected to the determination and asked for a hearing.

[¶4] The matter was referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) for a contested case hearing. The OAH issued an order upholding the denial of Ms. Clements' claim for additional TTD benefits. Ms. Clements sought review of the denial in district court and also filed a complaint for declaratory relief, asserting the Division exceeded its authority when it adopted Chapter 7, Section 2(b) of the Workers' Compensation Division Rules. She argued that the rule contravened the legislative intent evident in § 27-14-404(a).

[¶5] The Division filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for declaratory relief. In support of the motion, the Division argued that Ms. Clements had not exhausted her administrative remedies and the relief she sought was foreclosed by this Court's holdings in State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div. v. Smith, 2013 WY 26, ¶ 17, 296 P.3d 939 (Wyo. 2013) and Picozzi v. State ...


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