Bennett v. Admr., Ohio Bureau of Workers' Comp.

Decision Date05 December 2012
Docket NumberNo. 2011–0902.,2011–0902.
Citation134 Ohio St.3d 329,982 N.E.2d 666
PartiesBENNETT, Appellant, v. ADMR., OHIO BUREAU OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION et al., Appellees.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Kennedy, Purdy, Hoeffel & Gernert, L.L.C., and Paul E. Hoeffel, for appellant.

Michael DeWine, Attorney General, Alexandra T. Schimmer, Solicitor General, Elisabeth A. Long and Matthew P. Hampton, Deputy Solicitors, and Joshua W. Lanzinger, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee Administrator, Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

CUPP, J.

[Ohio St.3d 330]{¶ 1} This appeal presents issues regarding the scope of a workers' compensation appeal in common pleas court pursuant to R.C. 4123.512. Specifically, we must resolve whether in that proceeding to determine a claimant's right to participate in the workers' compensation fund, the court is limited to considering those issues that were specifically determined by the Industrial Commission below, or whether the de novo nature of the proceeding obligates the claimant to present and the court to consider all the evidence necessary for determining the claimant's right to participate.

{¶ 2} For the reasons that follow, we hold that the de novo nature of an R.C. 4123.512 appeal proceeding puts at issue all elements of a claimant's right to participate in the workers' compensation fund. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

I. Facts and Procedural History

{¶ 3} On February 28, 2006, appellant, Mark A. Bennett, was involved in an automobile accident while en route to the central office of his employer, Goodremont's, Inc., in Toledo. About a month later, Bennett filed a claim with the Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) for injuries to his head, neck, and back that he claimed to have suffered in the accident, along with his statement that he had been treated for a concussion and multiple disk herniation.1 Bennett claimed that his main office was in his home and that therefore, he was on company business when he was injured en route to his employer's office. Goodremont's denied certification of the claim, asserting that the accident occurred while Bennett was commuting to work, and therefore, “his workday had not yet begun.”

{¶ 4} The BWC issued an initial order disallowing the claim, stating, “The employee did not sustain an injury in the course of and arising out of employment. The employee was going to or coming from work.” Upon Bennett's administrative appeal of that order, a district hearing officer for the Industrial Commission held a hearing and affirmed the order of the BWC disallowing the claim. Bennett appealed that order also, but a staff hearing officer for the Industrial Commission upheld the disallowance of the claim. Under R.C. 4123.511(E), the Industrial Commission declined to hear Bennett's further appeal. Its order informed Bennett of the opportunity to appeal to the common pleas [Ohio St.3d 331]court pursuant to R.C. 4123.512, adding that decisions as to the extent of disability are not appealable.

{¶ 5} Bennett then filed an R.C. 4123.512 petition in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, seeking a determinationof his right to participate in the workers' compensation fund. Goodremont's and the administrator of the BWC filed separate motions for summary judgment, both asserting that Bennett's participation in the fund was foreclosed by the “coming-and-going rule” and that any injuries Bennett suffered while commuting to the office did not occur “in the course of, and arising out of” his employment pursuant to R.C. 4123.01(C). SeeRuckman v. Cubby Drilling, Inc., 81 Ohio St.3d 117, 119, 689 N.E.2d 917 (1998), paragraph one of the syllabus. The trial court accepted those arguments and granted the motions for summary judgment, determining that the coming-and-going rule barred Bennett's participation in the workers' compensation fund.

{¶ 6} Bennett appealed that ruling to the Sixth District Court of Appeals. The appellate court concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate, because viewed in a light most favorable to Bennett, the facts could support Bennett's claim that he had no fixed place of work and therefore had not been commuting on the day of the accident. The court reversed and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. Bennett v. Goodremont's, Inc., 6th Dist. No. L–08–1193, 2009-Ohio-2920, 2009 WL 1719355, ¶ 20.

{¶ 7} Upon remand, the trial court held a bench trial, at which the BWC administrator asserted in his opening statement that Bennett had to show both an injury proximately caused by the accident and that he had been on company business at the time of the injury. But Bennett presented his case only on his contention that his worker's compensation claim was not barred by the coming-and-going rule. The BWC administrator then immediately moved for a directed verdict, arguing that because Bennett had failed to provide any evidence of a compensable medical condition or injury and failed to establish through expert medical evidence a causal connection between the accident and the injury, Bennett had not sustained his burden to establish every element of his workers' compensation claim.

{¶ 8} Bennett opposed the motion by arguing that the nature of the injuries was not ripe for litigation and that the sole question before the court was whether the injury occurred in the course of Bennett's employment. The trial court took the directed-verdict motion under advisement. The administrator then presented evidence that Bennett had been commuting to work when the accident occurred and therefore could not participate in the workers' compensation fund. At the close of trial, the court ordered briefing on the issue of the scope of its review in the R.C. 4123.512 appeal.

[Ohio St.3d 332]{¶ 9} The trial court later granted the administrator's motion for a directed verdict. The trial court first concluded that Bennett had not been commuting at the time of the accident and therefore he was not precluded from participating in the workers' compensation fund. But the court then held, “Bennett did not present medical evidence to establish a compensable injury nor a causal relationship between such an injury and his accident” and so he “failed to establish he is entitled to participate in the workers' compensation fund.”

{¶ 10} The Sixth District Court of Appeals affirmed. Bennett v. Goodremont's, Inc., 6th Dist. No. L–10–1185, 2011-Ohio-1264, 2011 WL 941322, ¶ 1. That court first reviewed precedent establishing that (1) a trial court in an R.C. 4123.512 appeal from the Industrial Commission's denial of a workers' compensation claim has a duty to determine the claimant's right to participate in the workers' compensation fund in a trial de novo, citing Ward v. Kroger Co., 106 Ohio St.3d 35, 2005-Ohio-3560, 830 N.E.2d 1155, ¶ 8–9, (2) a trial court has no discretion to remand the case to the Industrial Commission because “de novo” by definition precludes remand, (3) a trial court's decision pursuant to R.C. 4123.512 is based on the evidence presented to the court, not the evidence that was presented to the Industrial Commission, and (4) the claimant's right to participate in the fund is predicated on showing by a preponderance of the evidence both that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment and that a causal relationship existed between the injury and the harm or disability. Id. at ¶ 11–12.

{¶ 11} The appellate court then applied that precedent to reject Bennett's claim that the trial court erred in placing the burden on him to establish any injury-relatedness or causation in his R.C. 4123.512 appeal because those issues were not considered in the administrative rulings. The court accordingly rejected Bennett's accompanying contention that the court should have remanded the cause to the Industrial Commission after ruling that the accident occurred in the course of his employment. The appellate court reiterated that a de novo proceeding precludes remand and held that Bennett's failure to establish a causal relationship between the accident and the claimed injury justified the trial court's grant of the administrator's directed-verdict motion. Id. at ¶ 13–14.

{¶ 12} Bennett's alternative argument, that he did present and/or the court could infer sufficient evidence of injury and its causation to create a question of fact on the issues was also rejected by the appellate court. Id. at ¶ 20. It held that Bennett had “failed to claim a specific injury for which he was seeking a right to participate in the fund, or provide any expert medical testimony showing a proximate causal relationship between any alleged injuries and his automobile accident.” Id. at ¶ 21.

{¶ 13} We accepted Bennett's appeal under our discretionary jurisdiction for review of a single proposition of law. [Ohio St.3d 333]Bennett v. Goodremont's, Inc., 129 Ohio St.3d 1487, 2011-Ohio-5129, 954 N.E.2d 661. That proposition asserts, “The only issue(s) to be considered in an R.C. 4123.512 appeal are those which were determined in the administrative order appealed.”

II. Analysis

{¶ 14} Under Civ.R. 50(A)(4), a motion for a directed verdict should be granted if “the trial court, after construing the evidence most strongly in favor of the party against whom the motion is directed, finds that upon any determinative issue reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion upon the evidence submitted and that conclusion is adverse to such party.” Because a motion for a directed verdict presents a question of law, appellate review of a trial court's decision on the motion is de novo. White v. Leimbach, 131 Ohio St.3d 21, 2011-Ohio-6238, 959 N.E.2d 1033, ¶ 22;Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 95 Ohio St.3d 512, 2002-Ohio-2842, 769 N.E.2d 835, ¶ 4.

{¶ 15} Bennett's essential argument is that the trial and appellate courts erred in their view of the scope of his R.C. 4123.512 appeal and that once the trial court determined...

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