Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 100

Summary of Decision issued August 27, 2008

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Case Name: Decker v. State, ex rel., Wyoming Medical Commission

Citation: 2008 WY 100

Docket Number: S-07-0051

Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County, the Honorable Michael N. Deegan, Judge.

Representing Appellant: Bill G. Hibbler of Bill G. Hibbler, PC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: Patrick J. Crank, Wyoming Attorney General; John W. Renneisen, Deputy Attorney General; Steven R. Czoschke, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Kristi M. Radosevich, Assistant Attorney General.

Facts/Discussion: This is the second appeal in Decker’s effort to be awarded worker’s compensation benefits. Decker made a claim for worker’s compensation benefits for an allegedly work related aggravation of symptoms associated with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). The Division denied the claim. The case was referred to the Medical Commission for hearing. After a hearing before a medical hearing panel, the Medical Commission upheld the denial.
Violation of due process:
Decker questioned the procedure followed by the Medical Commission hearing panel on remand. Decker asserted that the hearing panel’s order was void because it did not comply with Wyoming’s Public Meetings Act (PMA). He argued that the Commission violated his rights when the hearing panel did not deliberate its decision in a public meeting. The legislature created the Commission and empowered it to assemble medical hearing panels solely as necessary to hear medically contested worker’s compensation cases. The Commission attempts to individualize panels by appointing commission members with expertise relevant to the circumstances of the case being heard. As a consequence, multiple medical hearing panels may exist at any given time or none may exist because there are no outstanding medically contested cases to be heard. A medical hearing panel is a transitory body, existing and operating exclusively under the auspices of the Medical Commission and does not fall within the definition of “agency” as used in the PMA.
Decker suggested that the Commission violated his due process rights on remand by not allowing him to present additional evidence. The Court’s mandate did not require the case be reopened to allow additional evidence. It only required the Commission to enter a new order more thoroughly explaining the reason for its denial of benefits based on the evidence adduced at the hearing so the Court could review its decision.

Substantial evidence:
Decker argued that the decision of the Commission was not supported by substantial evidence. The Commission’s decision was essentially that the initial diagnosis of wrist tendonitis was correct and the condition completely resolved within a few months. The Court reviewed the record and stated that the evidence when viewed in the context of the record as a whole was not substantial. The Court stated that the evidence supporting a finding that Decker’s original complaints were symptoms of TOS was overwhelming. The symptoms fell well within the rubric of TOS.
The remaining question was whether Decker adequately proved his TOS symptoms were caused by his work effort. The Commission concluded that Decker’s work effort was not a materially aggravating factor for two primary reasons: the symptoms did not begin until after he had been working for over seven years and the symptoms did not improve after he quit working. The Court noted that the most obvious change was Decker’s change in employment which required him to work longer hours without an assistant. The second issue brought into question the possible existence of other aggravating factors. There was testimony that the progression of symptoms of TOS is unpredictable. The Court found that the heavy reliance of the Commission on what they deem to be an increase in symptoms for the purpose of determining causation to be lacking in evidentiary support. Several doctors opined that the repetitive overhead exertion was an aggravating factor in his complaints. The Commission decided to discount the opinions on causation because they did not have all the relevant, accurate patient history. The court disagreed as regarding Dr. Schabauer who had received and reviewed the complete medical history before continuing to opine that Decker suffered from TOS which was aggravated by his overhead work activities.

Holding: The Medical Commission followed the proper procedures on remand from Decker I. The Public Meetings Act did not require the Medical Commission to allow Decker to attend new deliberations as argued by Decker. There was also no requirement for the Medical Commission to reopen the hearing for the taking of additional evidence. The Medical Commission was well within its discretion to simply enter a new, more thorough order explaining its position and reasoning.
The decision of the Medical Commission denying benefits to Decker for a work-related aggravation of symptoms related to TOS is not supported by substantial evidence when viewed on the record as a whole. The order denying benefits is hereby reversed.

Reversed and remanded.

J. Golden delivered the decision.

J. Kite dissenting, with J. Voigt joining: The Justices would have held that the Commission panels fit the statutory definition of “agency” under § 16-4-402(a)(ii). Deliberations of a panel constitute a “meeting” under § 16-4-402(a)(iii) where “action” is taken. Therefore, the deliberations of the Commission’s hearing panels must be held in conformity with the requirements of the PMA.

Link: .

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. Please note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you pinpoint cite to a quote, you should cite to this paragraph number rather than to any page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library.]

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