Davis v. Research Medical Center

Decision Date25 April 1995
Docket NumberNo. WD,WD
Citation903 S.W.2d 557
PartiesThomas J. DAVIS, Respondent, v. RESEARCH MEDICAL CENTER, Appellant. 49100.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

John R. Fox, Fox, Stretz & Quinn, P.C., Kansas City, for appellant.

Aldo P. Caller, Steven J. Borel & Associates, Kansas City, for respondent.

Before FENNER, C.J., and KENNEDY, LOWENSTEIN, BERREY, ULRICH, BRECKENRIDGE, HANNA, SPINDEN, SMART, ELLIS and LAURA DENVIR STITH, JJ.

ELLIS, Judge.

Research Medical Center ("Research") appeals the decision of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ("Commission") awarding worker's compensation benefits to Thomas J. Davis for back injuries he allegedly sustained while working for Research.

Davis had been employed by Research for nearly thirteen years as a maintenance mechanic. His duties included repairing equipment, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling and similar activities. Davis' claim for worker's compensation stems from an alleged injury to his back while moving a refrigerator at work on May 1, 1992 which resulted in surgery on May 7, 1992. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued findings of fact and rulings of law on March 16, 1993, finding in favor of Research and denying benefits. Davis appealed and the Commission reversed, concluding that "Davis suffered an injury arising out of and in the course and scope of his employment on May 1, 1992, under the provisions of the Missouri Workers' Compensation Law." The Commission found Davis was entitled to his medical costs and to benefits for his temporary and total disability as well as for a 15% permanent partial disability. Research appeals the Commission's decision awarding benefits to Davis.

Research raises two points on appeal. First, it claims the Commission's award is clearly contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence in that the event of May 1, 1992 did not trigger, precipitate or induce Davis' need for surgery on May 7, 1992 and that there is not substantial competent evidence in the record to warrant the making of the award. Second, Research claims the Commission's award is predicated upon the adoption and erroneous application of the "treating physician rule," contrary to Missouri law.

In its original brief, Research devoted approximately fifteen pages to discussion and argument regarding the proper standard of appellate review to be applied in this case, and concluded by stating:

[T]he reviewing court has the duty to examine the entire record in its determination as to whether or not the Commission's award is supported by substantial and competent evidence and if it is not or, if it is clearly contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence, the award must be set aside. Appellant argues that this court should consider the dissenting opinion and the contrary findings by the administrative law judge as probative of the issues as to whether or not the Final Award is supported by substantial competent evidence, and whether the Final Award is clearly contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

The case was first heard in division but, before opinion, this court, on its own motion, ordered that it be reheard en banc, and directed the parties to submit supplemental briefs on the following questions:

1. What is the proper standard of appellate review in cases in which the Commission rejects its ALJ's views concerning the credibility of witnesses who testify in person at the hearing before the ALJ?

2. Should this court deem the Commission's view of witness credibility to be conclusive when the Commission gives an explanation for rejecting its ALJ's credibility rulings in respect to witnesses who testify in person at the hearing before the ALJ?

3. When the Commission explains why it rejects its ALJ's credibility ruling, to what extent should this court review that explanation?

I.

We first address the proper standard of review. At the outset, we point out that our discussion is focused on the standard of review with respect to factual issues. The law is, and has been for many years, well settled that when it comes to review of questions of law, our review of the Commission's decisions is de novo.

[A]wards of the commission 'which are clearly the interpretation or application of the law, as distinguished from a determination of facts, are not binding upon us and fall within our province of review and correction. And where the finding of ultimate fact is reached by the application of rules of law instead of by a process of natural reasoning from the facts alone, it is a conclusion of law and subject to our reversal.'

Merriman v. Ben Gutman Truck Serv., Inc., 392 S.W.2d 292, 297 (Mo.1965) (citations

omitted) (quoting Williams v. Anderson Air Activities, 319 S.W.2d 61, 65 (Mo.App.1958)).

Research cites and discusses a large body of federal case law in support of its position. However, we find it unnecessary to look to the federal courts for guidance on the subject. While some confusion has developed over the last fifty years with respect to the standard of review to be used in appeals from awards in workers' compensation cases, no doubt based on the repetitive paraphrasing of that standard in the many cases coming before the appellate courts, we find earlier decisions of our Supreme Court controlling and merely seek to eliminate some of the inaccuracies that have developed in Court of Appeals' decisions over the years.

BACKGROUND

In April, 1925, the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed what was to become Missouri's first Workers' Compensation Law. See Laws of Mo. 1925, pp. 375-407. This statute was then referred to the citizens of Missouri, who, at an election held pursuant to art. IV, § 57 of the Missouri Constitution of 1875 (as amended in 1908), approved the law on November 2, 1926. R. Robert Cohn, History of Workmen's Compensation Law, reprinted in 15 V.A.M.S. 17-52 (1965), at 17; Laws of Mo. 1927, pp. 490-522. 1

The Missouri Workers' Compensation Law was originally administered by a three-member board known as the Missouri Workmen's Compensation Commission whose three members were to hear the evidence and decide all compensation cases arising throughout the state. Under the original Law, one member of the Commission was to be a representative of industry, one a representative of labor or the employee, and the other a representative of the public. Thousands of cases soon made it impossible for the Commission to cover the state and handle all matters over which it had jurisdiction. In 1929, the Law was amended to provide for five referees who were given original jurisdiction to hear cases and approve settlements, so as to take some of the load off the members of the Commission. John D. Steele, History, Administration and Jurisdiction, in Missouri Workers' Compensation Law § 1.6 (1988); Cohn, supra, at 26. Various methods were used to maximize the utility and value of the referees. Sometimes the full Commission would receive live oral testimony from both sides' witnesses. See, e.g., Sanders v. Central Bldg. Materials Co., 43 S.W.2d 863, 864 (Mo.App.1931). Sometimes a single member of the Commission would hear the evidence offered by both sides and enter an award which, upon proper request by an aggrieved party, was reviewed by the full three-member Commission. See, e.g., State ex rel. Kenney v. Missouri Workmen's Compensation Comm'n, 225 Mo.App. 501, 505, 40 S.W.2d 503, 505 (1931); Freese v. St. Louis Pub. Serv. Co., 58 S.W.2d 758, 759 (Mo.App.1933); Wright v. Penrod, Jurden & Clark Co., 229 Mo.App. 1147, 1148, 88 S.W.2d 411, 412 (1935). There were even cases where some of the testimony was taken before a referee and further testimony was received at a hearing before one of the Commissioners prior to review by the full Commission. See Rogers v. Reorganization Inv. Co., 200 S.W.2d 563, 567 (Mo.App.1947). Of course, the full Commission sometimes chose to review a referee's award based on a transcript of the oral testimony and copies of the documentary evidence, such as medical records and depositions. See, e.g., Waterman v. Chicago Bridge & Iron Works, 328 Mo. 688, 693, 41 S.W.2d 575, 576 (1931); Hohlstein v. St. Louis Roofing Co., 49 S.W.2d 226, 227 (Mo.App.1932).

In 1946, a three-member board with essentially the same makeup as the old Workmen's Compensation Commission was created. Known as the Industrial Commission of Missouri, it was given exclusive authority to review the awards made by the referees and to modify existing awards under certain circumstances. In addition, the maximum authorized number of referees was increased to twelve. Steele, supra, § 1.7; Cohn, supra at 29. Under this arrangement, the Industrial Commission was "now acting more as an appellate body, which is in contrast to the functions of the old Commission." Cohn, supra, at 30. The Industrial Commission of Missouri is now known as the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission of Missouri and referees are now known as ALJs. 2 In most cases, the Commission reviews the award entered by the ALJ on the basis of a transcript of the hearing held by the ALJ and the briefs filed by the parties. However, the Commission occasionally elects to receive further evidence or hear additional testimony relating to the claim in connection with its review of the ALJ's award and it often takes evidence in connection with an application to modify an existing award. Steele, supra, § 1.7; Lake v. Midwest Packing Co., 301 S.W.2d 834, 835 (Mo.1957). Although the Commission still has the implied statutory authority to bypass the ALJ and hold primary evidentiary hearings at which live testimony from all the parties' witnesses is received, see § 287.480, RSMo 1994, it rarely does so. Timothy J. Heinsz, Missouri Workers' Compensation: Law and Practice 7 (1984); see also Crawford v. A.J. Sheahan Granite Co., 211 S.W.2d 52, 54 (Mo.App...

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