Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 133

Summary of Decision September 20, 2011

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Case Name: State ex rel. Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division v. Cave

Citation: 2011 WY 133

Docket Number: S-10-0126

URL: http://wyomcases.courts.state.wy.us/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=464401

Appeal from the District Court of Sublette County, Honorable Marvin L. Tyler, Judge

Representing Appellant (Respondent/Objector): Bruce A. Salzburg, Wyoming Attorney General; John W. Renneisen, Deputy Attorney General; James Michael Causey, Senior Assistant Attorney General

Representing Appellee (Petitioner/Employee): Donna D. Domonkos, Cheyenne, Wyoming

Date of Decision: September 20, 2011

Facts: Appellee Shannon Cave suffered a work-related injury and was awarded temporary total disability (TTD) benefits during her recovery. She received an offer of temporary light duty work from her employer, which she rejected. As a result of her refusal to accept what the Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division (Division) deemed a bona fide offer of light duty work, the Division reduced her TTD benefits in accordance with Wyo. Stat. 27-14-404(j) (2011) to one-third of the previously authorized amount. The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) upheld the reduction of TTD benefits. On review, the district court reversed the OAH decision, and the Division appealed to this Court.

Issues: Whether the Hearing Examiner’s determination that Appellee had rejected a bona fide light duty offer and, therefore, had to receive a reduction in her temporary total disability benefits was supported by substantial evidence.

Holdings: Wyo. Stat. 27-14-404(j) (2011) statute does not define what a bona fide offer is other than to list certain terms that must be included in the written offer, such as wage and start date. It is the meaning of the term “bona fide offer” that is the primary point of contention in this appeal.

Appellee has taken the position that the evidence concerning the actions and statements by her supervisor and her fear of retribution by him should have compelled the hearing examiner to conclude that the offer of light duty work was not bona fide. Appellee acknowledges that, on the surface, the light duty job offer appears to be bona fide in that it took into consideration every physical limitation she had and accommodated those limitations. However, she claims the offer was based on incomplete information regarding her supervisor’s prior threats and actions, as well as his criminal activity, and, therefore, the offer was fundamentally unfair and not bona fide. On the other hand, the Division has taken the position that the non-medical factors cited by Appellee are irrelevant and that the hearing examiner properly determined, given the evidence, that the offer tendered was bona fide.

After careful review of the record, it cannot be said that the hearing examiner’s legal conclusions were erroneous as a matter of law. Nor can it be said that the hearing examiner’s determination was contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Therefore, it can be concluded that the hearing examiner properly determined that the offer of light duty employment tendered to Appellee was bona fide.

As a final matter, Appellee contends, as the district court found, that the OAH’s decision is not in accordance with the law because the hearing examiner failed to consider the principles of contract law, specifically the doctrine of “anticipatory repudiation.” However, Appellee’s reliance on that doctrine in this case is misplaced. Anticipatory repudiation concerns a renouncement of a contractual obligation or duty, which necessarily requires the existence of a contract. Here, Appellee did not accept her employer’s offer of light duty employment and, consequently, no contract or contractual obligation was created which could be repudiated. Appellee’s contention of error in this regard is simply without merit.

The district court improperly substituted its judgment for that of the hearing examiner when it reversed the OAH decision reducing Appellee’s TTD benefits. The OAH decision was supported by substantial evidence and was not otherwise arbitrary, capricious or contrary to law. Consequently, the matter is reversed and remanded to the district court with directions the case be returned to the OAH for reinstatement of the order reducing Appellee’s TTD benefits.

J. Golden delivered the opinion for the court.

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