Cinram Mfg., Inc. v. W.C.A.B.

Decision Date21 July 2009
Docket NumberNo. 37 MAP 2008.,37 MAP 2008.
Citation975 A.2d 577
PartiesCINRAM MANUFACTURING, INC. and PMA Group, Appellants v. WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (HILL), Appellees.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Sheilah Anne Siobhan Tone, Esq., Swartz Campbell, L.L.C., Scranton, for Cinram Manufacturing, LLC and PMA Group.

Amber Marie Kenger, Esq., Richard C. Lengler, Esq., for Workers' Compensation Appeal Board.

Edward F. Pietrowski, Esq., Pietrowski & Pietrowski, P.C., Scranton, for Brian Hill.

BEFORE: CASTILLE, C.J., and SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY and GREENSPAN, JJ.

OPINION

Justice SAYLOR.

Appeal was allowed primarily to address whether, during a termination proceeding a workers' compensation judge may correct a notice of compensation payable to subsume injuries not specifically contemplated by the original notice. The question arises because, on the one hand, governing statutory provisions plainly direct that a notice of compensation payable may be corrected at any time and in the context of any petition filed by either of the parties. See 77 P.S. § 771. However, the opinion in Jeanes Hospital v. WCAB (Hass), 582 Pa. 405, 872 A.2d 159 (2005), suggests a review petition must be filed by the claimant as a necessary prerequisite to such an amendment.

In March 2004, the appellee, Brian Hill ("Claimant"), sustained a work-related injury, or, more precisely, an aggravation of a pre-existing medical condition, while in the employ of appellee, Cinram Manufacturing, Inc ("Employer"). Employer issued a notice of compensation payable (the "NCP") identifying the injury as "lumbar strain/sprain," and Claimant received workers' compensation benefits. In August 2004, Employer filed a petition to terminate these benefits alleging a full recovery, which Claimant disputed.

The parties presented conflicting evidence to a workers' compensation judge (the "WCJ"). Significantly, Claimant's evidence supported the finding of an aggravation of a pre-existing disc herniation resulting in nerve impingement, medical conditions beyond the lumbar strain and/or sprain which was the subject of the notice of compensation payable. The WCJ credited Claimant's evidence, denied termination, and directed amendments to the NCP to conform it to his findings. In this effort, the WCJ did not reference Jeanes Hospital.

Employer lodged an appeal in the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board. Included among its claims was the argument that the WCJ lacked authority to amend the NCP, because Claimant never filed a petition to review it. See Jeanes Hosp., 582 Pa. at 421, 872 A.2d at 169 (indicating that, where a notice of compensation payable does not correctly reflect the actual injury or enumerate all of the injuries sustained in a work-related incident, "a claimant must file a Petition to Review Notice of Compensation Payable, which is treated like a claim petition"). The Board affirmed, holding that the NCP was properly amended under Section 413(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act,1 which authorizes modification of a notice of compensation payable at any time upon proof of an inaccuracy, as follows:

A workers' compensation judge may, at any time, review and modify or set aside a notice of compensation payable and an original or supplemental agreement or upon petition filed by either party with the department, or in the course of the proceedings under any petition pending before such workers' compensation judge, if it be proved that such notice of compensation payable or agreement was in any material respect incorrect.

77 P.S. § 771 (emphasis added). The Board referenced Jeanes Hospital in support of its decision, but did not discuss the language discussing the requirement of a review petition filed by the claimant.

On further appeal, a divided three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court affirmed. See Cinram Mfr'g, Inc. v. WCAB (Hill), 932 A.2d 346 (Pa.Cmwlth.2007). The majority applied the plain language of Section 413(a), see id. at 348-49; whereas, the dissent invoked the review-petition requirement, as supported by the pertinent language in Jeanes Hospital. See Cinram Mfr'g, 932 A.2d at 349 (Pellegrini, J., dissenting).

We allowed appeal primarily to address the correctness of Jeanes Hospital's directive as applied to corrective amendments. Our present, plenary review of this legal issue is encompassed within the appellate standard of review pertaining to administrative adjudications. See Griffiths v. WCAB (Seven Stars Farm, Inc.), 596 Pa. 317, 328-29, 943 A.2d 242, 248-49 (2008).

I.

Employer relies on Jeanes Hospital and Commercial Credit Claims v. WCAB (Lancaster), 556 Pa. 325, 728 A.2d 902 (1999), to support the requirement of a review petition. Employer highlights the concern, attributed to Commercial Credit, that, if a workers' compensation judge is permitted to amend a notice of compensation payable to add injuries in the course of any proceeding, then a claimant will remain perpetually eligible to receive compensation by serially and belatedly alleging new injuries. See id. at 332-33, 728 A.2d at 905. Employer develops this line of argument as follows:

Increasingly, defense counsel is seeing claimants defending against termination by presenting medical testimony of injury to a completely different body part. As a result, employers are put in the untenable position of attempting to "`prove a negative' by establishing that the [new injury] bore no causal relationship to the work-related accident", which is not only "fundamentally unfair", but also effectively reverses the claimant's long-settled burden to prove all elements of a claim. As a practical matter, the employer may have no choice but to withdraw the termination petition and petition the [j]udge to compel the claimant's attendance at another independent medical examination which addresses the newly implicated body part. Such Order is discretionary with the judge regardless of the time which has elapsed since the previous examination, so, at a minimum, alleging a new injury in termination proceedings indefinitely prolongs the claimant's receipt of benefits.

Brief for Employer at 16 (quoting Commercial Credit, 556 Pa. at 332, 728 A.2d at 905 (citations omitted)).

Claimant's response centers on the plain language of Section 413(a). He distinguishes Jeanes Hospital factually, on the ground that the claimant there had filed a petition to review a notice of compensation payable describing injuries to the lower back to subsume a shoulder injury, a thoracic condition, fibromyalgia, and depression. See Jeanes Hospital, 582 Pa. at 408, 872 A.2d at 160. One of Claimant's perspectives is that the lumbar sprain/strain described in the notice of compensation payable is sufficiently similar to disc herniation and nerve impingement in the lower-back area to justify a departure from Jeanes Hospital's prescription for a specialized petition filed by the claimant. More broadly, Claimant attempts to draw a bright-line distinction between adding an injury, even where the additional injury was present as of the issuance of the notice of compensation payable, and correcting a notice. See Brief for Claimant at 15 ("It is only when the [notice of compensation payable] does not reflect all of the actual injuries sustained by a claimant in a work-related accident, or does not enumerate all of the injuries sustained in a work-related incident that a claimant must file a petition to review notice of compensation payable.").2

Apparently in the alternative, Claimant advances a line of reasoning found in Sears Logistic Services v. WCAB (Preston), 937 A.2d 1151 (Pa.Cmwlth.2007). There, the Commonwealth Court indicated that Section 413(a) permits a WCJ to amend a notice of compensation payable in the context of any proceeding initiated by either party if it is proven that the mistake in the notice relates to a fact or condition existing at the time of the notice's issuance. See id. at 1155 (citing Samson Paper Co. & Fidelity Engraving v. WCAB (Digiannantonio), 834 A.2d 1221 (Pa.Cmwlth.2003)). According to Claimant, a claimant may be deprived of relief under Section 413(a) based on the failure to file a review petition only if he presents no evidence that there was a material mistake in the notice of compensation payable as of the time of its issuance. Claimant's essential position along these lines is also supported by the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, which has filed an amicus brief, highlighting that our resolution of the question presented is of significant importance to workers' compensation practice and procedure.

This Court's opinion in Jeanes Hospital addressed Commonwealth Court precedent which had required claimants to file a claim petition when seeking to expand the scope of a notice of compensation payable to subsume additional injuries. See, e.g., Jeanes Hosp. v. WCAB (Hass), 819 A.2d 131 (Pa.Cmwlth.2003); Zippo Mfr'g Co. v. WCAB (Louser), 792 A.2d 29, 33 (Pa. Cmwlth.2002); AT & T v. WCAB (Hernandez), 707 A.2d 649, 650 n. 2 (Pa. Cmwlth.1998). The difficulty with these cases was that they departed from the express statutory provisions of Section 413(a), which permit modification to be accomplished via review petition. See Jeanes Hosp., 582 Pa. at 421, 872 A.2d at 169.3 Accordingly, Jeanes Hospital clarified that a review petition, and not a claim petition, was the appropriate mechanism to secure modification of the notice.

Jeanes Hospital, however, was not focused on the distinction between corrective amendments and amendments addressing subsequently-arising medical or psychiatric conditions related to the original injury (or consequential conditions). Thus, unfortunately, language in the decision blurs this difference. Corrective amendments and amendments to address consequential conditions require independent consideration, since the Legislature treated them in separate and distinct passages of Section 413(a). Corrective amendments are covered by the first...

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