Farrington v. Total Petroleum, Inc.

Decision Date25 May 1993
Docket NumberNo. 91677,No. 7,91677,7
Citation442 Mich. 201,501 N.W.2d 76
PartiesRichard FARRINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. TOTAL PETROLEUM, INC. and Hartford Insurance Company, Defendants-Appellants. Calendar
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

MALLETT, Justice.

This action results from a myocardial infarction 1 suffered by plaintiff Richard Farrington as a result of performing strenuous work activities during his employment with defendant Total Petroleum, Inc. Because of his resulting disability, plaintiff sought workers' compensation benefits.

This case presents two issues. The first is whether the Workers' Compensation Appellate Commission used the correct standard of review as set forth in M.C.L. § 418.861a(3); M.S.A. § 17.237(861a)(3). The second is whether the WCAC and the Court of Appeals used the proper legal standard to determine whether plaintiff's heart injury was compensable under the Workers' Disability Compensation Act.

We hold that the WCAC applied the appropriate statutory standard of review, but utilized an improper legal standard to determine injury compensability. Nevertheless, applying the law to these facts, we affirm the Court of Appeals benefits award decision.

I. Facts

Plaintiff began working for defendant in 1973. At the time of his injury, he was employed as a manager at defendant's self-service gas station. His duties included overseeing employee scheduling, payroll, maintenance of the premises, inventory control, stocking shelves and occasionally shoveling snow in those areas where the station's plow could not reach. On February 25, 1986, at about 6:15 a.m., plaintiff began to perspire and experience chest pains, dizziness, and shortness of breath, while carrying ten to fifteen cases of soda to refill the station's soda coolers. The cases weighed approximately thirty pounds. Plaintiff rested until the chest pains stopped, about thirty to forty minutes after their onset, but he continued to have discomfort in his chest for the remainder of the day. Plaintiff left work and went home an hour early at approximately 12:30 or 1:00 p.m.

The following morning plaintiff returned to work at 5:00 a.m., his usual starting time. About 11:00 a.m., plaintiff went outside to shovel snow. After shoveling for approximately fifteen minutes, he once again began to perspire and experience severe chest pain, dizziness and nausea. He rested, but continued to feel tired and sluggish. Consequently, he left work and went home to rest.

The next day at work, February 27, 1986, at approximately 6:00 a.m., plaintiff again experienced severe chest pain while loading soda into the coolers. He attempted to relax, but the pain did not subside. He subsequently left work at approximately 9:00 or 9:30 a.m. and was examined by a doctor, who immediately admitted him to a hospital. There, he was treated by Dr. Zegerius, a specialist in cardiology.

Plaintiff's reoccurring chest pain and the questionable changes in his electrocardiogram initially led Dr. Zegerius to conclude that he suffered from an acute anteroseptal or posterior myocardial infarction at the time of admission. Although plaintiff's initial blood enzyme tests did not reveal damage to the heart at that time, he continued to experience chest pain. Dr. Zegerius diagnosed plaintiff as having unstable angina and admitted him for further cardiac evaluation. Doctors eventually stabilized plaintiff's heart condition with oxygen and nitroglycerin treatments.

On February 28, 1986, plaintiff performed a routine treadmill test, but could not endure the machine for more than two minutes because he felt his chest becoming "tight." On March 1, 1986, plaintiff took a sponge bath at about 9:00 a.m. and became so tired that he returned to bed. At approximately 10:00 a.m., he again complained of intense chest pain, and an EKG test showed that on this particular occasion he had suffered a myocardial infarction. Plaintiff subsequently underwent successful balloon angioplasty. The hospital discharged plaintiff on March 8, 1986, and Dr. Zegerius released plaintiff to return to work on April 21, 1986. Plaintiff did not miss any more work because of his heart condition at the time of the administrative hearing in November of 1987.

Plaintiff petitioned for workers' compensation on September 19, 1986. He alleged his disability extended from February 27, 1986, until April 21, 1986. The record before Magistrate Schroder revealed that the forty-nine year old plaintiff had a preexisting coronary heart disease, but no previous history of cardiac problems. Dr. Zegerius noted in the record that plaintiff was mildly obese, but he considered plaintiff's weight a minor factor in triggering his heart injury.

Dr. Sentkeresty, the defendant's medical expert, examined plaintiff on March 9, 1987, approximately one year after plaintiff's myocardial infarction. The doctor noted that plaintiff had quit smoking about twenty years ago. Plaintiff began smoking at the age of seventeen and, at his peak, smoked eight to ten cigarettes per day. He rarely used alcoholic beverages. Although plaintiff's father had hypertension, there was no other history of common familial disorders. Plaintiff told Dr. Sentkeresty that he had had a low elevation of his blood pressure, but once he lost weight it had improved one or two years ago. During the exam performed by Dr. Sentkeresty, a test revealed that his blood pressure was in fact slightly elevated. His cholesterol count was also high but not abnormal. Dr. Sentkeresty noted that plaintiff had scarlet fever at age six and rheumatic fever in 1957, however, these were not believed to be risk factors for his myocardial infarction.

With regard to his job, plaintiff told Dr. Zegerius that he normally filled soft drink coolers every other day during the winter and twice a day during the summer. During his exam by Dr. Sentkeresty, plaintiff stated that he considered his managerial duties as stressful and that, although he slept variably, he generally felt good and had sufficient energy.

In testifying before Magistrate Schroder, Dr. Zegerius opined that plaintiff's work activities were a significant cause of his unstable angina at the time of admission to the hospital and of his subsequent myocardial infarction two days later. Dr. Sentkeresty disputed the causal connection between plaintiff's exertion at work and his myocardial infarction. On December 12, 1987, the magistrate awarded plaintiff benefits for the claimed period of disability.

The parties subsequently filed briefs on appeal to the WCAC in March and April of 1988, and the WCAC issued its decision in October of 1988. The commission employed the "substantial evidence" standard of review set forth in M.C.L. § 418.861a(3); M.S.A. § 17.237(861a)(3) to affirm the magistrate's decision and to conclude that there was ample support for his findings. The WCAC dissent opinion agreed that the magistrate's finding was supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the whole record, but argued that the correct standard of review required that the magistrate's findings be supported by a preponderance of the evidence. The dissent contended that the plaintiff failed to prove that his myocardial infarction was work related under the preponderance standard.

The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the WCAC majority opinion. 189 Mich.App. 298, 472 N.W.2d 60 (1991). This Court granted defendant's motion for leave to appeal, and the Michigan Self- Association requested to appear as amicus curiae supporting defendant's position.

II. Appropriate Standard of Appellate Review

The first issue before this Court is whether the WCAC applied the correct standard of appellate review when it used the "substantial evidence" test as set forth in M.C.L. § 418.861a; M.S.A. § 17.237(861a).

The Legislature added § 861a to the WDCA as part of 1985 PA 103, effective July 30, 1985. It provides in pertinent part:

"(1) Any matter for which a claim for review under section 859a has been filed shall be heard and decided by the appellate commission.

"(2) Until October 1, 1986 findings of fact made by a worker's compensation magistrate shall be considered conclusive by the commission if supported by competent, material, and a preponderance of the evidence on the whole record.

"(3) Beginning October 1, 1986 findings of fact made by a worker's compensation magistrate shall be considered conclusive by the commission if supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the whole record. As used in this subsection, 'substantial evidence' means such evidence, considering the whole record, as a reasonable mind will accept as adequate to justify the conclusion."

Because the WCAC reviewed plaintiff's claim after October 1, 1986, we hold that the substantial evidence test as set forth in § 861a(3) was the appropriate standard.

The plain meaning of § 861a is unambiguous. As this Court has held, where the language of a statute is clear, there is no need for interpretation; it must be applied as written. Owendale-Gagetown School Dist. v. State Bd. of Ed., 413 Mich. 1, 8, 317 N.W.2d 529 (1982). The plaintiff argues that the commission must apply the substantial evidence standard for any matter coming under review after October 1, 1986. Defendant asserts that the key date to determine the appropriate standard is when a claimant first files for benefits and not when a claimant files for WCAC review. Defendant contends that ...

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