City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office

Decision Date02 May 2016
Docket NumberSupreme Court Case No. 12SC871
Citation370 P.3d 157
Parties CITY OF LITTLETON, Colorado ; Littleton Fire Rescue; and CCMSI, Petitioners, v. INDUSTRIAL CLAIM APPEALS OFFICE; Julie Christ, surviving spouse and Personal Representative of Jeffrey J. Christ, Deceased; and Michelle Parris, on behalf of Lauren Parris, Respondents.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Attorneys for Petitioners: Nathan, Bremer, Dumm & Myers, P.C., Anne Smith Myers, Timothy Fiene, Denver, Colorado.

Attorneys for Respondent Industrial Claim Appeals Office: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Skippere S. Spear, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Alice Q. Hosley, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado.

Attorney for Respondent Julie Christ, surviving spouse and Personal Representative of Jeffrey J. Christ, Deceased: Law Office of O'Toole & Sbarbaro, P.C., Neil D. O'Toole, Denver, Colorado.

Attorney for Respondent Michelle Parris, on behalf of Lauren Parris: Wilcox & Ogden, P.C., Ralph Ogden, Denver, Colorado.

En Banc

JUSTICE MÁRQUEZ delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Littleton firefighter Jeffrey J. Christ was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme

("GBM"), a type of brain cancer. After undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, he returned to work, but ultimately succumbed to the disease. He (and later his widow and child) sought workers' compensation benefits to cover his cancer treatment, asserting that his brain cancer qualified as a compensable occupational disease under the "firefighter statute," § 8–41–209, C.R.S. (2015), of the Workers' Compensation Act of Colorado, §§ 8–40–101 to –47–209, C.R.S. (2015). At issue here is whether Christ's employer, the City of Littleton, and Littleton's insurer, Cannon Cochran Management Services, Inc. (collectively "Littleton"), successfully overcame a statutory presumption in section 8–41–209(2)(a)

that Christ's condition resulted from his employment as a firefighter.

¶ 2 The firefighter statute applies to firefighters who have completed five or more years of employment as a firefighter. § 8–41–209(1)

. Section 8–41–209(1) provides that the death, disability, or health impairment of such a firefighter "caused by cancer of the brain, skin, digestive system, hematological system, or genitourinary system" shall be considered an "occupational disease" (thus entitling the firefighter to benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act) if the cancer"result[ed] from his or her employment as a firefighter." Section 8–41–209(2)(a) then creates a statutory presumption that the firefighter's condition or health impairment caused by a listed type of cancer"result[ed] from [the] firefighter's employment" if, at the time of becoming a firefighter or thereafter, the firefighter underwent a physical examination that failed to reveal substantial evidence of such condition or health impairment preexisting his or her employment as a firefighter. Under section 8–41–209(2)(b), however, the firefighter's condition or impairment "[s]hall not be deemed to result from the firefighter's employment if the firefighter's employer or insurer shows by a preponderance of the medical evidence that such condition or impairment did not occur on the job." This case requires us to determine whether Littleton met its burden under subsection (2)(b) to show by a preponderance of the medical evidence that Christ's GBM condition "did not occur on the job."

¶ 3 We hold that the presumption in section 8–41–209(2)

relieves a qualifying claimant firefighter of the burden to prove that his cancer"result[ed] from his employment as a firefighter" for purposes of establishing his claim to workers' compensation benefits. But the firefighter statute does not establish a conclusive (i.e., irrebuttable) presumption that firefighting duties cause cancers relating to the brain, skin, digestive system, hematological system, or genitourinary system, or that a firefighter's employment caused a particular claimant firefighter's condition. Rather, the statute shifts the burden of persuasion regarding the job-relatedness of the firefighter's condition to the employer. In other words, although the firefighter bears the burden of proving his claim for benefits, section 8–41–209(2) places the burden with the employer to show, by a preponderance of the medical evidence, that the firefighter's condition or health impairment caused by a listed cancer"did not occur on the job." We further hold that an employer can meet its burden by establishing the absence of either general or specific causation. Specifically, an employer can show, by a preponderance of the medical evidence, either: (1) that a firefighter's known or typical occupational exposures are not capable of causing the type of cancer at issue; or (2) that the firefighter's employment did not cause the firefighter's particular cancer where, for example, the claimant firefighter was not exposed to the cancer-causing agent, or where the medical evidence renders it more probable that the cause of the claimant's cancer was not job-related.

¶ 4 In this case, the administrative law judge ("ALJ") applied the statutory presumption in section 8–41–209(2)(a)

but ultimately found that Littleton had established by a preponderance of the medical evidence that Christ's GBM condition was not caused by his occupational exposures. A panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office ("Panel") reversed, concluding that Littleton's medical evidence was insufficient to overcome the presumption. In a split decision, a division of the court of appeals affirmed the Panel. City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office, 2012 COA 187, ––––P.3d ––––. Because we disagree with the court of appeals' interpretation of the breadth of the statutory presumption in section 8–41–209(2)(a) and of the employer's burden to overcome the presumption, we conclude that the court of appeals erroneously evaluated the medical evidence presented by Littleton and erroneously failed to defer to the ALJ's findings of fact, which are supported by substantial evidence. We therefore reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand this case with directions to return the matter to the Panel for reinstatement of the ALJ's original findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order.

I. Facts and Procedural History

¶ 5 Littleton Fire Rescue hired Christ in 1987. Before starting his employment, Christ had a physical examination, which included blood work, chest x-rays

, and a general health assessment, but did not include an MRI scan or a tissue biopsy. Christ began his career as an engineer, later became a captain, and then served as a battalion chief for over ten years before filing the claim in this case. As battalion chief, Christ spent twenty percent of his time directly involved with fire calls and eighty percent of his time involved with day-to-day operations. Between 2000 and 2007, he responded to 172 fires and 50 situations involving hazardous substances. In December 2007, Christ was diagnosed with GBM, a type of brain cancer that cannot be diagnosed in the absence of a brain scan or a tissue biopsy. Christ sought temporary total disability benefits under section 8–41–209 of the Workers' Compensation Act for the period of time between his diagnosis and his return to work in March 2008 following treatment.

A. ALJ Findings and Conclusions

¶ 6 In June 2009, the ALJ denied Christ's claim for workers' compensation benefits. The ALJ concluded that the statutory presumption in section 8–41–209(2)(a)

applied because Christ had been employed as a firefighter for more than five years and a physical examination prior to his employment as a firefighter had not revealed brain cancer. However, the ALJ determined that Littleton established, by a preponderance of the medical evidence, that Christ's brain cancer was not caused by his occupational exposures. Littleton presented the testimony of three expert witnesses: Dr. Denise M. Damek (neuro-oncology); Dr. Patricia A. Buffler (epidemiology); and Dr. Javier C. Waksman (toxicology). The ALJ concluded that, collectively, Littleton's expert witnesses established that the substances to which Christ's expert opined he was likely exposed as a firefighter do not target the brain and do not cause brain cancer.

B. Panel Order

¶ 7 Christ appealed the ALJ's decision to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office. The Panel reversed the ALJ, concluding that the presumption in section 8–41–209

"represents a legislatively adopted premise that the occupational exposure of firefighters causes cancer," and that this statutory presumption "cannot be rebutted by the opinions of medical experts that there is no causal connection between the occupation in general and the disease in question." The Panel reasoned that Littleton's evidence was insufficient to rebut the presumption in section 8–41–209 because it "merely denied the underlying legislative premise of a causal relationship between the firefighter's occupational exposure and the development of cancer." The Panel remanded the case to the ALJ to determine Christ's entitlement to specific benefits. On remand, the ALJ determined that Christ was entitled to medical benefits and temporary total disability benefits. Littleton appealed the ALJ's order on remand to the Panel, which affirmed the ALJ's determination.1

C. Court of Appeals Ruling

¶ 8 Littleton then appealed the Panel's final order to the court of appeals, arguing that the evidence it presented to the ALJ was sufficient to sustain its burden of proof under section 8–41–209(2)

. A division of the court of appeals disagreed and affirmed the Panel's ruling in a 2–1 decision. City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office, 2012 COA 187, ¶ 1, –––P.3d ––––.

1. Majority Opinion

¶ 9 In a detailed opinion, the division majority examined the firefighter statute through the lens of causation in a toxic exposure case. Id. at ¶¶ 9–47

. The division majority observed that courts traditionally evaluate a toxic tort plaintiff's proof of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
11 cases
  • City & Cnty. of Denver v. Expedia, Inc.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • April 24, 2017
    ...Eason, 18 P.3d 1271, 1275 (Colo. 2001). ¶50 We review de novo questions of law concerning statutory construction. City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office, 2016 CO 25, ¶ 27, 370 P.3d 157, 165.¶51 Our purpose in interpreting a statute or ordinance is to give effect to the intent of t......
  • Macaulay v. Villegas
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • April 7, 2022
    ...to give effect and meaning to all its parts, and we avoid interpretations that render provisions superfluous." City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Off. , 2016 CO 25, ¶ 27, 370 P.3d 157, 166.IV. Analysis¶ 100 I disagree with the majority's analysis of the interplay between the reopenin......
  • City of Phila. v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd., 13 EAP 2017
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • October 17, 2018
    ...not dispositive) evidence that the substance did not cause a particular individual's cancer. Accord City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office , 370 P.3d 157, 169 n. 9 (Colo. 2016) ("Logically, the absence of general causation forecloses the possibility of specific causation." (citati......
  • People v. Marx
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • September 5, 2019
    ...of the evidence" requires that the evidence must "preponderate over, or outweigh, evidence to the contrary." City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office , 2016 CO 25, ¶ 37, 370 P.3d 157, 158 (quoting Mile High Cab, Inc. v. Colo. Pub. Utils. Comm'n , 2013 CO 26, ¶ 14, 302 P.3d 241, 246 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Chapter 14 - § 14.4 • GENERAL AND SPECIFIC CAUSATION
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Product Liability Law and Procedure in Colorado (CBA) Chapter 14 Causation
    • Invalid date
    ...Manual on Scientific Evidence, supra n. 25, at 348-49; see also City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office, 2016 CO 25, ¶ 44, 370 P.3d 157, 170-71.[29] In re Breast Implant Litig., 11 F. Supp. 2d at 1226; Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, supra n. 25, at 348-49.[30] Reference M......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT