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In re Worker's Compensation Claim of Vinson

Supreme Court of Wyoming

October 21, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF MICHAEL VINSON:
v.
MICHAEL VINSON, Appellee (Petitioner). TATA CHEMICALS SODA ASH PARTNERS, LTD, Appellant (Respondent),

          Appeal from the District Court of Sweetwater County The Honorable Nena James, Judge.

          Representing Appellant: Stephen Kline, Kline, McCorkle, LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: Donna Domonkos, Domonkos Law Office, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.

          Fox, Justice.

         [¶1] Michael Vinson injured his hand on his employer's premises and contracted a serious bacterial infection. His employer, Tata Chemicals Soda Ash Partners, Ltd. (Tata), contested whether the infection was a compensable injury under the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act. The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) concluded Mr. Vinson's infection was not compensable. Thirty-five days later, Mr. Vinson filed a petition for review in district court, and the district court reversed the OAH order. Tata appeals, arguing the district court lacked jurisdiction. We remand with instructions to determine whether excusable neglect extended the time to file the petition for review.

         ISSUE

         [¶2] Did the district court have jurisdiction over Mr. Vinson's petition for review?

         FACTS

         [¶3] Michael Vinson worked for Tata, a trona mining company, for over 30 years. One Friday, Mr. Vinson scraped his knuckle on a locker as he was getting ready to leave the mine. By Sunday, he was incoherent and his "hand and arm were all swollen up almost to the elbow." Mr. Vinson's family took him to the local hospital where he was quickly life flighted to a hospital in Salt Lake City. The scrape on Mr. Vinson's hand had developed a serious infection called necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria. The infection caused septic shock and acute kidney injury, and required Mr. Vinson to undergo aggressive antibiotic therapy, multiple surgical debridements, and skin grafting.

         [¶4] Mr. Vinson applied for worker's compensation benefits, and the Department of Workforce Services, Workers' Compensation Division (Division) deemed his injury compensable. Tata objected, arguing Mr. Vinson's medical condition did not meet the definition of injury in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-102(a)(xi). The Division referred the claim to the OAH for a contested case hearing, and the parties moved for summary judgment. On January 30, 2018, the OAH served an order concluding Mr. Vinson's injuries were not compensable because they were "excluded from coverage by the communicable disease exclusion." Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-102(a)(xi)(A).

         [¶5] On March 6, 2018, Mr. Vinson petitioned the district court for judicial review. Without addressing the timeliness of the petition, the district court reversed the OAH order, concluding that Mr. Vinson's "infection was a compensable consequence of the original work-related scrape injury." Tata timely appealed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶6] The existence of subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that "we review de novo pursuant to the inherent power, and the duty, to address jurisdictional defects on appeal." Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue, 2007 WY 62, ¶ 6, 155 P.3d 1041, 1043 (Wyo. 2007) (alteration and quotation marks omitted) (quoting Sheridan Ret. Partners v. City of Sheridan, 950 P.2d 554, 556 (Wyo. 1997)). The decision of whether to extend the time for filing a petition for review based on a showing of excusable ...


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