Ayala v. Robert J. Meyers Farms, Inc., 071219 IDSCCI, 46186
|Opinion Judge:||BRODY, JUSTICE.|
|Party Name:||MARIO AYALA, Claimant-Appellant, v. ROBERT J. MEYERS FARMS, INC., Employer, and STATE INSURANCE FUND, Surety, Defendants-Respondents.|
|Attorney:||Stephan, Kvanvig, Stone & Trainor, Twin Falls, for appellant. L. Clyel Berry argued. Augustine Law Offices, PLLC, Boise, for respondents. Paul J. Augustine argued.|
|Judge Panel:||Chief Justice BURDICK, Justices STEGNER, MOELLER, and Justice Pro Tem WALTERS CONCUR.|
|Case Date:||July 12, 2019|
|Court:||Supreme Court of Idaho|
Appeal from the Idaho State Industrial Commission.
The Idaho State Industrial Commission's findings of fact, conclusions of law and order dated April 9, 2018, order on motion for reconsideration dated June 22, 2018, and order on motion for reconsideration, modification and consolidation dated June 22, 2018 are set aside and this case remanded for a new hearing.
Stephan, Kvanvig, Stone & Trainor, Twin Falls, for appellant. L. Clyel Berry argued.
Augustine Law Offices, PLLC, Boise, for respondents. Paul J. Augustine argued.
This is a worker's compensation case. Mario Ayala was injured while driving a company truck in 2009, and was injured again in 2013 after falling from a ladder. The Industrial Commission assigned his claims to a referee for a hearing. After the hearing, but before the referee issued "recommended findings and determination" in accordance with Idaho Code section 72-717, the Industrial Commission reassigned the case to itself over Ayala's objection. Citing the referee's backlog of cases and a need for efficiency, the Industrial Commission issued an order finding that Ayala's low-back condition was not causally related to his 2009 truck wreck, that he was not totally and permanently disabled under the odd-lot worker doctrine, and that he suffered disability of 40% of the whole person inclusive of impairment of his 2009 and 2013 industrial accidents. We set aside the Commission's findings of fact, conclusions of law and order because Ayala was denied due process when the Industrial Commission reviewed Ayala's claims and issued a decision without the referee's recommended findings and determination. We also set aside the Industrial Commission's post-hearing order on motion for reconsideration dated June 22, 2018 and order on motion for reconsideration, modification and consolidation dated June 22, 2018 and remand this case for a new hearing.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Mario Ayala was sixty-five years old at the time his worker's compensation claims went to hearing. He was born to a rural family in Mexico in 1951, where he completed only the third grade. At eight-years-old, he dropped out of school to help his father with plowing and caring for animals on a farm. He moved to the United States in 1974 in pursuit of a better life and became a citizen of the United States in 1992. He has lived in Bruneau, Idaho since moving to the states, and has worked primarily on farms. Since 1995, he has worked as a foreman for Meyers Farms on a 1, 250 acre tract that produces potatoes, corn, and alfalfa.
In October, 2009, Ayala was driving a work truck to get a replacement part for farm equipment. A tire on the truck blew out, causing the vehicle to swerve back and forth, striking guardrails on both sides of the road. Not wearing a seatbelt, Ayala was thrown about inside of the vehicle and was injured.
Ayala filed a complaint for worker's compensation benefits arising out of the truck wreck in November 2012. There is no dispute that as a result of the collision he sustained injuries to his neck, left shoulder, and left elbow, each of which required surgery. What is in dispute is whether Ayala sustained an injury to his lower back. The State Insurance Fund and Meyers Farms claim that, at most, the collision resulted in the temporary aggravation of pre-existing arthritis and that any present need for surgery was not the result of an industrial accident. While Ayala's claim for benefits was pending, he fell from a ladder while working and injured his right knee, requiring him to undergo total knee replacement surgery. He filed another complaint for benefits.
The Industrial Commission assigned Ayala's claims to a referee who then consolidated the matters for hearing. The referee conducted a hearing on October 26, 2016 where Ayala and Morgan Meyers, a principal of the employer, testified. After the hearing was over, the parties, in accordance with Industrial Commission rules of procedure, conducted post-hearing depositions of expert witnesses and submitted final briefing. The referee finally took the matter under advisement on November 3, 2017.
About two months later, the Industrial Commission sent a letter to counsel for both parties informing them that the referee was facing a backlog of cases. The letter explained that the Commission was concerned about a delay and was willing to make its decision based on the record adduced. The letter also explained that if the parties were not willing to have the Commissioners do the review without the benefit of the referee's recommendations, the matter would be handled by the referee in due course: The Commissioners are concerned about the delay this will cause in getting a decision out. The Commissioners are willing to write this decision on the record adduced to expedite moving this along. If you are willing for the Commissioners to do so, we will reassign the case and will proceed accordingly. If not, resolution of the case will be handled by Referee Powers in due course.
Ayala declined the Commission's offer, with Ayala's lawyer stating in a letter that, "the decision rendered would . . . be absent the consideration of Mr. Ayala's observational credibility which I believe to be an important consideration in this case."
On April 9, 2018, without any recommendations from the referee, the Commission issued a seventy-one page decision on Ayala's claims. Before addressing the merits of Ayala's claims, the decision explained that the Commission's duty to manage a docket in a timely fashion supported its decision to overrule Ayala's objection to the...
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