FOSTER'S FLORIST v. Jackson, No. 91,004.

CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma
Writing for the CourtBOUDREAU, Justice
Citation2000 OK 9,997 P.2d 843
PartiesFOSTER'S FLORIST and Mega Life & Health Insurance, Petitioners, v. Samuel E. JACKSON and the Workers' Compensation Court, Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. 91,004.
Decision Date08 February 2000

997 P.2d 843
2000 OK 9

FOSTER'S FLORIST and Mega Life & Health Insurance, Petitioners,
v.
Samuel E. JACKSON and the Workers' Compensation Court, Respondents

No. 91,004.

Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

February 8, 2000.


Kimberly E. West, Andrew D. Downing, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for petitioners.

Mark D. Nation, Midwest City, Oklahoma, for respondents.

997 P.2d 844
BOUDREAU, Justice

¶ 1 Three issues are presented on certiorari: (1) Are alleged errors in a previous non-reviewable, intermediate, fact-substituting panel order of the Workers' Compensation Court subject to corrective review in this review proceeding; (2) If so, did claimant's request for review to the three-judge panel contain a specific statement of the finding of fact that he urged as error; and (3) If so, was the fact-substituting panel order supported by competent evidence?

¶ 2 We hold that the alleged errors in the intermediate panel order are within the scope of review in this review proceeding because the panel order culminated in the order under review and the employer sought review of the alleged errors in the panel order at the next disposition in the case reviewable in the appellate courts. We determine that claimant's request for review to the three-judge panel contained a specific statement of the finding of fact alleged to be erroneous which provided a basis for the panel to exercise its corrective authority over the trial judge's findings of fact. We further determine that the intermediate, fact-substituting panel order that culminated in claimant's temporary compensation award is supported by competent evidence. The proceedings in the Workers' Compensation Court were free of legal error and hence, we sustain the compensation award under review.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

¶ 3 Samuel Jackson (claimant) was employed by Foster's Florist (employer) for seventeen years. His duties included delivery of flowers and supervision of other drivers. On December 22, 1995, claimant was delivering poinsettias for employer when he suffered an aorta aneurysm and acute thoracic dissection. As a result, claimant suffered injuries, including paralysis and renal failure. On May 22, 1996, claimant filed a workers' compensation claim, alleging that the stress of his employment was a cause of his injuries. Employer responded that claimant's injuries were not work-related, alleging the injuries resulted from a pre-existing condition. Upon trial for temporary compensation, the judge entered an order on March 26, 1997, which found that claimant

997 P.2d 845
did not sustain an accidental personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment and denied the claim

¶ 4 Claimant timely requested review by a three-judge panel. By order entered on August 18, 1997, the panel determined that the trial judge's factual finding was against the clear weight of the evidence, vacated the trial judge's order, and entered substituted factual findings, including the ultimate fact that claimant sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment at respondent. Employer filed a petition for review in this Court, which was dismissed for lack of a reviewable order.1

¶ 5 Upon remand to the trial judge, an order was entered on February 23, 1998, awarding claimant temporary compensation. Employer timely commenced this review proceeding from the February 23, 1998 temporary compensation award, raising error in the August 18, 1997 panel order. Employer contended that claimant presented no error to the panel that was legally sufficient to support vacation of the trial judge's order denying the claim. The Court of Civil Appeals agreed, reversed the panel order and reinstated the trial judge's March 26, 1997 order denying the claim. This Court granted claimant's petition for certiorari review.

II.

THE SCOPE OF APPELLATE-COURT REVIEW IN THIS PROCEEDING EXTENDS TO ALLEGED ERRORS IN THE INTERMEDIATE PANEL ORDER OF THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION COURT.

¶ 6 On certiorari, claimant contends that the Court of Civil Appeals vacated a three-judge panel order that was beyond the corrective reach of its appellate jurisdiction. Claimant argues that the scope of review of the Court of Civil Appeals was confined to correcting errors in the trial judge's February 23, 1998 order awarding temporary compensation. In making this argument, claimant relies on a statement in Parks v. Norman Municipal Hospital that "there is never more than one final decision to be reviewed in the appellate courts."2

¶ 7 Claimant interprets Parks as immunizing non-reviewable panel orders from appellate-court review. This contention presents a question of law reviewable by a de novo standard.3 In considering whether the Court of Civil Appeals exceeded its review authority, this Court's re-examination of the rulings of the lower appellate court is plenary, independent and non-deferential.

¶ 8 The panel order of August 18, 1997, vacated the trial judge's terminal order of March 26, 1997, denying the claim. In lieu thereof, the panel order entered findings of fact that 1) claimant sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment, and 2) claimant suffered a dissecting thoracic aortic aneurysm caused by work-related stress in excess of that experienced by a person in the conduct of everyday living, which aggravated claimant's pre-existing condition.4 Because it neither made an award to claimant nor otherwise determined the rights of the parties, the panel order did not have the requisite attributes of finality essential to invoking appellate-court jurisdiction.5

997 P.2d 846
Accordingly, the panel order was an intermediate order from which a review proceeding could not be commenced.6

¶ 9 Claimant argues that Parks immunizes this intermediate panel order from appellate-court review. We disagree.7 Parks teaches that appellate-court review of a workers' compensation court order is an exercise of appellate jurisdiction.8 In exercising that jurisdiction, this Court may correct error committed in the course of a worker's compensation proceeding that is incidental to, or culminates in, a reviewable decision.9 In dismissing workers' compensation review proceedings, this Court has long recognized that errors in intermediate panel orders are within the scope of appellate-court review.10

¶ 10 However, to obtain corrective relief of error in an intermediate panel order, the aggrieved party must seek appellate-court review at the first available opportunity, that is, from the next disposition in the case which is reviewable by law.11 An aggrieved party who fails to complain of error in an intermediate panel order at the next available opportunity allows the decision to become impervious to reconsideration.12 No longer fit for reconsideration, the intermediate panel order then becomes the settled law of the case.13

¶ 11 Applying these principles to the case in controversy, it is apparent that the non-reviewable, intermediate panel order from which employer seeks relief eventually culminated in an award in favor of claimant, when, upon remand, the trial judge entered an order awarding claimant temporary total compensation. The trial judge's finding of ultimate fact that "claimant sustained an accidental personal injury to the BODY AS A WHOLE arising out of and in the course of employment" rests squarely upon the panel-substituted findings of fact.

997 P.2d 847
¶ 12 It is equally clear that employer sought appellate-court review at the first available opportunity. Employer commenced this review proceeding from the February 23, 1998 order of the trial judge which was the next reviewable disposition entered in the claim subsequent to the non-reviewable, intermediate panel order

¶ 13 Accordingly, we conclude that...

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1 practice notes
  • Yeatman v. Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid, No. 98951
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • April 13, 2004
    ...OK 12, ¶ 4, 640 P.2d 963, 965. 31. Toney, supra note 30 at ¶ 2 at 1357. See also Foster's Florist and Mega Life & Health Ins. v. Jackson, 2000 OK 9, ¶ 6, 997 P.2d 843, 847 (citing Hermetics, supra note 30 at ¶ 4, at 32. Toney, supra note 30, at ¶ 4 at 1357; Foster's Florist, supra note 31, ......
1 cases
  • Yeatman v. Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid, No. 98951
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • April 13, 2004
    ...OK 12, ¶ 4, 640 P.2d 963, 965. 31. Toney, supra note 30 at ¶ 2 at 1357. See also Foster's Florist and Mega Life & Health Ins. v. Jackson, 2000 OK 9, ¶ 6, 997 P.2d 843, 847 (citing Hermetics, supra note 30 at ¶ 4, at 32. Toney, supra note 30, at ¶ 4 at 1357; Foster's Florist, supra note 31, ......

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