Friday, March 11, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 45

Summary of Decision March 11, 2011

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

Case Name: Mahaffey v. State ex rel. Wyo. Workers’ Safety and Comp. Div.

Citation: 2011 WY 45

Docket Number: S-09-0091


Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County, The Honorable Scott W. Skavdahl, Judge

Representing Appellant (Respondent): Donna D. Domonkos, Cheyenne, Wyoming

Representing Appellee (Petitioner): Bruce A. Salzburg, Wyoming Attorney General; John W. Renneisen, Deputy Attorney General; James M. Causey, Senior Assistant Attorney General

Date of Decision: March 11, 2011

Facts: After suffering a compensable work-related neck injury, Appellant applied for permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits in accordance with the Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Act. The Workers’ Compensation Division (Division) denied the application and Appellant requested a hearing. Following the hearing, the Office of Administrative Hearing’s (OAH) awarded him benefits, determining that Appellant was unable to drive due to his injury; the only available jobs paying a comparable wage identified by the vocational evaluator required driving; and therefore, he was unable to return to work at a wage comparable to his pre-injury earnings. The Division appealed the award to the district court, contending that the only factor preventing him from driving was that he had lost his driver’s license as a result of his arrest for DUI. The district court reversed the OAH decision, and Appellant appealed to this Court. After the appeal was filed, Appellant passed away and the personal representative of his estate was substituted as the party of record.

Issues: Whether the OAH’s decision was supported by substantial evidence or whether the OAH abused its discretion or acted arbitrarily, capriciously or not in accordance with the law when it awarded benefits.


The district court improperly substituted its judgment for the fact finder’s when it reversed the OAH decision awarding Appellant benefits. Although the evidence in this case may be subject to different interpretations, substantial evidence was presented to support the OAH’s determination that Appellant was not able to drive on a regular basis because of his injury. The OAH decision was not otherwise arbitrary, capricious or contrary to law. The Court reversed and remanded to the district court with directions the case be returned to the OAH for reinstatement of the order awarding benefits to Appellant.

C.J. Kite delivered the opinion for the court.

J. Golden filed a dissenting opinion.

The dissenting opinion concluded that the hearing examiner had not carefully weighed all of the material evidence and had not resolved the conflicts in that evidence, providing the Court no rational basis upon which to conduct its appellate review of the hearing examiner’s decision. The Dissent would reverse the order of the district court, remand the case to that court with directions to vacate the order denying benefits, and would direct the district court to remand the case to the OAH for supplemental findings of fact and conclusions of law.

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