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State ex rel. Wyoming Department of Workforce Services v. Beazer

Supreme Court of Wyoming

November 23, 2016

STATE OF WYOMING, ex rel., WYOMING DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES, WORKERS' COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellant (Petitioner)
v.
CODY BEAZER, Appellee (Employee) and HORSLEY COMPANY, LLC, Appellee (Respondent/Employer).

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

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

          Representing Appellee, Cody Beazer: No appearance.

          Representing Appellee, Horsley Company, LLC: William G. Hibbler, Bill G. Hibbler, PC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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

          BURKE, Chief Justice.

         [¶1] Appellant, Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division, challenges an order from the Office of Administrative Hearings granting summary judgment to Appellee, Horsley Company, LLC, on the issue of whether the Division was entitled to recover payments made to Horsley's employee. The Division appealed that decision and the district court affirmed. The Division also claims the district court and the OAH erred in awarding attorney's fees to Horsley. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] The Division presents three issues, which we condense and restate as follows:

1. Did the hearing examiner err in concluding Horsley was entitled to summary judgment because the Division was estopped from seeking reimbursement for benefits awarded to Horsley's employee?
2. Did the hearing examiner and the district court err in awarding attorney's fees to Horsley?

         Horsley raises two additional issues, which we also restate:

1. Is the Division's challenge to summary judgment moot because it has failed to challenge all bases for the grant of summary judgment?
2. Does this Court have jurisdiction to consider the challenge to the award of attorney's fees to Horsley by the OAH and the district court?

         FACTS

         [¶3] Horsley Company, LLC, is a Florida contractor that was hired to install a baggage handling system at the airport in Jackson, Wyoming. Prior to commencing work on the project, Horsley applied for a workers' compensation account with the Workers' Safety and Compensation Division. Horsley's application noted that it had private workers' compensation insurance for employees not residing in Wyoming. In response to Horsley's application, the Division created a "pending" workers' compensation account and required Horsley to submit a certificate of insurance demonstrating coverage for all non-resident employees. Horsley subsequently submitted a certificate of insurance indicating that it had a workers' compensation and employer liability insurance policy for workers residing in states outside Wyoming, including Utah.

         [¶4] In October, the Division sent Horsley a letter stating that it had received proof of coverage from Horsley's insurance carrier and that Horsley's pending workers' compensation account for non-resident employees had been closed: "The Wyoming Workers' Safety & Compensation Division has received Proof of Coverage from your insurance carrier stating that you have coverage for your employees while performing work in Wyoming. Therefore, your pending account has been closed and you do not have Workers' Compensation coverage through Wyoming." In December, the Division sent Horsley a second letter stating that "We are pleased to notify you that we accept your existing coverage for your employees coming into Wyoming from other locations." In this letter, the Division noted that a Wyoming Workers' Compensation account had been activated to cover Wyoming resident employees.

         [¶5] In June 2010, the claimant, Cody Beazer, was injured in the course and scope of his employment with Horsley.[1] The injury occurred while Mr. Beazer was working on the airport project in Wyoming. Following Mr. Beazer's injury, there was confusion as to whether the claim would be handled by the Division as a Wyoming Workers' Compensation claim or by Horsley's insurance covering out-of-state employees. On July 7, a Division employee informed Mr. Beazer that his claim was being handled by the Division. A couple days later, a representative of Horsley's insurance company informed Horsley that she had spoken with the Division's representative and they had "figured out . . . that coverage is actually in Wyoming for this claim, under the Horsley Company. Therefore, the claim I was handling will now be denied and the WY claim is active." The representatives of the Division and Horsley's insurance company concluded that Mr. Beazer had established residency in Wyoming. The record is not clear as to how this determination was made. Apparently, it was erroneous. It is undisputed that Mr. Beazer was not a resident of Wyoming during his employment with Horsley. The record indicates that Mr. Beazer was, at all times relevant to this action, a resident of Utah.

         [¶6] In August 2010, the Division sent Horsley a Notice of Case Cost Liability stating that Horsley had failed to comply with the Worker's Compensation Act because it had not filed an "employee report" for the period in which Mr. Beazer's injury occurred.[2]The notice stated that, as a result, Horsley was liable to the State for all payments made to Mr. Beazer. The Division subsequently explained that "wages for Cody Beazer should have been reported, and a premium paid, to be in compliance with the [Act]." In September, the Division sent Horsley a Case Cost Liability Billing Statement, which provided that "Under W.S. 27-14-203(a) you are liable for an amount equal to all the medical and indemnity payments made on behalf of an employee who was injured when your account was delinquent in Worker's Compensation reporting or payment or both."[3]

         [¶7] Horsley began making payments to the Division.[4] However, it subsequently filed an objection, pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-605(a), to all additional medical and impairment or disability payments. That matter, which was assigned Case No. C-102, was ultimately referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings for a contested case hearing. Horsley also filed a petition objecting to the Division's determination that it was required to reimburse the Division for payments made to Mr. Beazer under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-203(a). That matter was also referred to the OAH and was docketed as Case No. C-103. The OAH subsequently consolidated the cases and stayed further action in Case C-102 until the issue of Horsley's liability under Section 203(a) was resolved.

         [¶8] Horsley subsequently moved for summary judgment in Case C-103 claiming that it had complied with the Worker's Compensation Act and was not liable under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-203(a). It also claimed the Division was estopped from recovering benefits paid to Mr. Beazer. Following a hearing, the OAH granted the motion. It determined that Horsley had complied with the Worker's Compensation Act in all respects, and was not liable for payments made to Mr. Beazer by the Division. It also concluded the Division was estopped from recovering amounts paid to Mr. Beazer because it accepted Horsley's proof of insurance and closed Horsley's Wyoming Workers' Compensation account with respect to non-resident employees. The Division filed a petition for review of the OAH's summary judgment in district court. That matter was docketed as Case No. 16773.

         [¶9] On October 20, 2014, Horsley submitted a request for attorney's fees pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-602(d), relating to its petition for modification of benefits in Case C-102.[5] The OAH granted the request on October 30, 2014. In a separate order issued the same day, the OAH determined that, because Horsley had been found not to be liable for payment to the Division, its request for relief in Case C-102 was moot. The Division sought reconsideration of the order, claiming that Horsley was not entitled to an award of attorney's fees because its request for modification of benefits did not involve "compensability of an injury" as required under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-602(d). The OAH denied the motion. The Division then filed a petition for review of that Order. It was docketed in the district court as Case No. 16884. The district court consolidated the appeals.

         [¶10] While the Division's appeals were pending, Horsley submitted a request for attorney's fees in Case C-103. In response, the OAH issued an order staying its decision on the motion until the pending appeals were resolved. The request ...


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