Brown v. Claims Mgmt. Res. Inc.

Decision Date22 February 2017
Docket NumberCase Number: 113609
Citation391 P.3d 111
Parties Rodney Stanley BROWN, Petitioner, v. CLAIMS MANAGEMENT RESOURCES INC., Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co., and The Workers' Compensation Commission, Respondents.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

Bob Burke, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Petitioner.

H. Leo Austin and T.R. Banks, Ada, Oklahoma, for Petitioner.

Jodi W. Dishman and Andrew J. Morris, McAfee & Taft, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Respondents Claims Management Resources, Inc. and Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co.

Brandy L. Inman, Latham, Wagner, Steele & Leehman, P.C., Tulsa, OK, for Respondents Claims Management Resources, Inc. and Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co.

V. Glenn Coffee and Denise Davick, Glenn Coffee & Associates, P.L.L.C., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Amicus Curiae State Chamber of Oklahoma.

COMBS, C.J.:

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 1 Petitioner Rodney Stanley Brown (Brown) was employed by Respondent Claims Management Resources (CMR) as a claims adjuster. On March 25, 2014, Brown suffered personal injury to his left knee. At the time Brown was injured, he had finished performing job functions, clocked out, was leaving the office for the day when he was injured while descending an interior stairwell. Brown's work area was on the second floor of the building where he worked, and CMR occupied the entire floor. Brown was unable to conclusively identify any factor that might have caused his fall.

¶ 2 Brown had a designated parking area and a key card he had to use both to access the parking area and the building itself. The card was not necessary, however, for Brown to access the stairwell to leave the building, or to leave the stairwell once inside the building. While Brown testified that CMR owned the building, he also testified that there were other tenants and that once inside the building those other tenants had access to the stairwell in which Brown was injured. CMR offered no evidence to refute Brown's testimony that CMR owned the building, but agreed other tenants were also on the premises and had access to the stairwell. It is also undisputed that CMR had instituted a wellness program encouraging employees to use the stairs. However, use of the stairs was not a requirement. Brown had access to an elevator that he could have used instead of the stairwell, but testified he used the stairwell because of the wellness program.

¶ 3 While admitting an injury occurred, CMR asserted Brown's injury was not compensable within the meaning of the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA), 85A O.S. 1 - 125. CMR contested compensability on the following grounds: 1) Brown's injury was not compensable pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 2(9)(b)(3) because Brown was not performing employment services at the time of the injury; and 2) the injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 2(13)(c), which excludes from the definition of course and scope of employment any injury occurring in a parking lot or other common area adjacent to an employer's place of business before the employee clocks in or otherwise begins work for the employer or after the employee clocks out or otherwise stops work for the employer.

¶ 4 A hearing on the matter was held before the Administrative Law Judge on September 25, 2014. After considering the parties' stipulations, evidence, and arguments, the Administrative Law Judge concluded that Brown had failed to meet his burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he suffered a compensable injury within the meaning of the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act. Specifically, the Administrative Law Judge determined:

The Claimant's stairwell fall on March 25, 2014 after clocking out and while leaving work for the day was not an injury arising out of and in the course of employment. The Claimant was not engaging in activity carrying out the Respondent's purpose and in furtherance of the affairs or business of the Respondent when the accident occurred. He was not performing any employment services as an insurance coordinator at the time of the fall. Any injury sustained from the fall was excluded from the definition of "course and scope of employment" in 85A O.S., 2(13) and from the definition of compensable injury set forth in 85A O.S., 2(9).

Order Denying Compensability, pp. 3–4.

¶ 5 Brown sought review of the order by the Workers' Compensation Commission, asserting: 1) that he was engaged in employment services at the time of his injury; 2) he was not in a common area adjacent to CMR's place of business, as he was in CMR's building; 3) CMR created the risk; and 4) 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 2(9)(b)(3) and 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 2(13)(c) were unconstitutional because they denied him an adequate remedy. A hearing was held before the Workers' Compensation Commission on January 20, 2015. At the hearing, the Workers' Compensation Commission determined that it could not determine constitutional issues. In an order issued on January 21, 2015, the Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed the determination of the Administrative Law Judge.

¶ 6 On January 30, 2015, Brown filed a Petition for Review with this Court. After briefing, the matter was assigned to the Court of Civil Appeals on June 18, 2015. On appeal, Brown asserted that 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 2(13)(c) must not exclude any injury occurring in a parking lot or other common area adjacent to an employer's place of business because ingress and egress to a worker's jobsite is an integral part of performing employment services. If it does exclude such injuries, Brown argued it is arbitrary, capricious, and violative of public policy. Brown further argued that the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act violates Okla. Const. Art. 2, 6 by leaving him with no adequate remedy, and deprives him of due process pursuant to Okla. Const. Art. 2, 7.

¶ 7 In an opinion issued on May 2, 2016, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the order of the Workers' Compensation Commission. The Court of Civil appeals examined 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 2(9)(a) and 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 2(13)(c), and determined that Brown's injury which occurred in CMR's building stairwell after he clocked out for the day, was not in the course and scope of employment because it occurred in a common area adjacent to the employer's place of business and was therefore not a compensable injury. The Court of Civil Appeals further determined that a temporal boundary exists for course and scope of employment and therefore the fact that Brown had clocked out for the day prevented his injury from being in the course and scope of employment pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 2(13)(c). Finally, the Court of Civil appeals considered Brown's constitutional claims concerning Okla. Const. Art. 2, 6 & 7 and determined a litigant has no vested right in any particular statutory remedy, and further that the Oklahoma Constitution imposes no limitation on the legislature's authority to change existing law and abolish rights and remedies for causes of action accruing in the future.

¶ 8 Brown filed his Petition for Certiorari to the Court of Civil Appeals with this Court on May 13, 2016. The Court granted Brown's petition on October 31, 2016, and the matter was assigned to this office on November 1, 2016.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 9 In the realm of workers' compensation, the law in effect at the time of the injury controls both the award of benefits and the appellate standard of review. Vasquez v. Dillard's, Inc. , 2016 OK 89, ¶ 25 n.60, 381 P.3d 768 ; Holliman v. Twister Drilling Co. , 2016 OK 82, ¶ 5, 377 P.3d 133 ; Williams Companies, Inc. v. Dunkelgod , 2012 OK 96, ¶¶ 14–18, 295 P.3d 1107. Brown's injury occurred on March 25, 2014. Appellate review of the judgment in this matter is governed by 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 73, which provides in pertinent part:

C. The judgment, decision or award of the Commission shall be final and conclusive on all questions within its jurisdiction between the parties unless an action is commenced in the Supreme Court of this state to review the judgment, decision or award within twenty (20) days of being sent to the parties. Any judgment, decision or award made by an administrative law judge shall be stayed until all appeal rights have been waived or exhausted. The Supreme Court may modify, reverse, remand for rehearing, or set aside the judgment or award only if it was:
1. In violation of constitutional provisions;
2. In excess of the statutory authority or jurisdiction of the Commission;
3. Made on unlawful procedure;
4. Affected by other error of law;
5. Clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, material, probative and substantial competent evidence;
6. Arbitrary or capricious;
7. Procured by fraud; or
8. Missing findings of fact on issues essential to the decision.

¶ 10 Brown alleges both legal error concerning statutory interpretation and constitutional claims. The issues of a statute's constitutional validity and of its construction and application are questions of law subject to de novo review. Lee v. Bueno , 2016 OK 97, 381 P.3d 736 ; Butler v. Jones ex rel., State ex rel., Okla. Dep't of Corrections , 2013 OK 105, ¶ 5, 321 P.3d 161 ; Gilbert v. Security Finance Corp. of Okla , 2006 OK 58, 152 P.3d 165. Under that standard on appeal, this Court assumes plenary, independent, and non-deferential authority to reexamine the lower tribunal's legal rulings. Lee , 2016 OK 97, ¶ 6, 381 P.3d 736 ; Crownover v. Keel , 2015 OK 35, ¶ 12, 357 P.3d 470 ; Butler , 2013 OK 105, ¶ 5, 321 P.3d 161.

¶ 11 The interpretation and application of the statutes at issue in this cause, however, also implicates 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 78(c)(5). The language of this provision is similar to that used by this Court concerning its review of factual matters in other administrative proceedings. See Okla. Dept. of Public Safety v. McCrady , 2007 OK 39, ¶ 10, 176 P.3d 1194 (order subject to reversal if agency's findings were clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, material, probative and...

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