May the Commission Determine Issues Not Mentioned By the Parties

Haulcy v. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

On April 23, 2014, Plaintiff was maneuvering a 55-pound tire at work when she felt pain in her lower back.  Plaintiff began working modified duty on April 24, 2014.  Defendant-Employer (“Goodyear”) had a 90-day modified duty policy.  Plaintiff worked modified duty until that policy expired on August 4, 2014.  At that time, Goodyear prohibited Plaintiff from working because she had not been released full duty nor had she been assigned permanent restrictions to allow a job match.  Goodyear began paying Plaintiff disability payments from an employer-funded accident-and-sickness (“A&S”) disability plan.  Plaintiff ultimately returned to work with Goodyear on November 4, 2015 earning her pre-injury wages.

At hearing, the Deputy Commissioner concluded that Plaintiff sustained a compensable incident and was entitled to retroactive indemnity benefits for the time she was out of work.  The A&S disability payments were not addressed in the Deputy Commissioner’s Opinion and Award.

Goodyear appealed to the Full Commission.  The Full Commission concluded that Goodyear was entitled to a credit for the A&S disability payments they provided Plaintiff.

On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the Full Commission lacked jurisdiction to award a credit to Goodyear because Goodyear failed to preserve the credit issue.  Specifically, it was noted that Goodyear did not list their entitlement to a credit as an issue in the pretrial agreement, but rather only requested the Deputy Commissioner to determine what benefits Plaintiff was entitled to receive.  Plaintiff further argued that Goodyear failed to raise the credit issue in their Form 44, Application for Review by the Full Commission.

Our Court of Appeals held that the Full Commission has jurisdiction to amend a Deputy Commissioner’s Opinion and Award even if an issue is not specifically raised by either party.  The Full Commission has a duty and responsibility to decide all matters in controversy between the parties.  With this responsibility comes the power to amend a Deputy Commissioner’s award even if the issue in question was not adequately presented to the Deputy Commissioner.

The Court of Appeals acknowledged that Rule 701 of the Workers’ Compensation Rules requires the Form 44 to “state the grounds for… review… with particularity” and that “[g]rounds for review not set forth in the Form 44… are deemed abandoned[.]”  However, the Court of Appeals clarified that Rule 701 does not limit the power of the Full Commission to review or modify the findings of fact found by a Deputy Commissioner.  Accordingly, the Full Commission has jurisdiction to amend a Deputy Commissioner’s award by making findings on an issue and adjudicating that issue even if the issue was not raised by either party on appeal.

“Practice Point”

The best practice is to list all issues in the pretrial agreement to be determined by the Deputy Commissioner.  Similarly, it is also best practice to list all issues in the Form 44 to be reviewed by the Full Commission.  However, the Haulcy decision establishes that the Full Commission can still amend a Deputy Commissioner’s award even if the issue was not specifically included in the pretrial agreement or raised with particularity on the Form 44.