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Debyah v. State ex rel. Dep't of Workforce Services

Supreme Court of Wyoming

July 17, 2015

IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF: BLAINE LEE DEBYAH, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, ex rel., DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES, WORKERS' COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellee (Respondent)

As Amended September 18, 2015.

Page 712

Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County. The Honorable W. Thomas Sullins, Judge.

For Appellant: R. Todd Ingram of Ingram | Olheiser, P.C., Casper, Wyoming.

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

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

OPINION

Page 713

FOX, Justice.

[¶1] Blaine Lee Debyah suffered a workplace injury and applied for permanent partial disability, which was denied by the Workers' Compensation Division (Division). Mr. Debyah requested a contested case hearing, and during discovery, the Division served a number of interrogatories and requests for production related to Mr. Debyah's work history since the time of his injury. In response, Mr. Debyah asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The hearing examiner compelled Mr. Debyah to answer the discovery, but Mr. Debyah consistently invoked the Fifth Amendment. The hearing examiner dismissed the contested case as a sanction for failing to comply with discovery. The district court affirmed the dismissal, and Mr. Debyah now appeals to this Court. We reverse and remand.

ISSUE

[¶2] Did the hearing examiner err in dismissing the contested case as a discovery sanction?

FACTS

[¶3] Mr. Debyah suffered a workplace injury to his back on October 8, 2009. He applied for, and received, temporary total disability benefits as a result of his injury.

[¶4] In 2011, the Division hired a private investigator who began surveillance on Mr. Debyah on November 17, 2011, which continued on and off for nearly a year. The investigator also interviewed a number of people who had contact with Mr. Debyah through his work. The private investigator discovered

Page 714

that Mr. Debyah had worked on a number of construction projects beginning in the fall of 2011 and extending through the end of the investigation, which he had not reported to the Division. The Division also received some information concerning Mr. Debyah's income, though such information seems to be speculative and incomplete.

[¶5] In the midst of the investigation, Mr. Debyah applied for permanent partial disability benefits, which the Division denied. Mr. Debyah requested a contested case hearing, and the case was referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). Mr. Debyah learned of the Division's investigation through the proceedings leading up to the contested case hearing.

[¶6] In preparation for the hearing, the Division served interrogatories and requests for production on Mr. Debyah, many of which requested information regarding Mr. Debyah's work history since his injury. Mr. Debyah objected to a number of the interrogatories and requests, asserting:

The request is overly broad, unduly burdensome, vague, ambiguous, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The only issues in this case are whether Mr. Debyah satisfactorily sought employment and whether his current impairments allow him to return to work at 95% or more of his pre-injury earnings capacity. Whether Mr. Debyah engaged in any manual labor activities going back over three years ago, both before and after his two lower back surgeries, and whether at the insistence of a creditor, for personal benefit, or otherwise, is not relevant to this hearing. The true purpose of this interrogatory is to intimidate Mr. Debyah and place him in fear of collection efforts or prosecution because Mr. Debyah was receiving TTD benefits at or near the time of his post-injury activities. The only issues at-hand, however, involve Mr. Debyah's current condition and his ability to return to 95% or more of his pre-injury earnings.

After sending a letter to Mr. Debyah's attorney requesting that the discovery be answered in full, the Division filed a motion to compel on February 5, 2013. The hearing examiner granted ...


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