Hudspeth Reg'l Ctr. v. Mitchell

Decision Date06 October 2015
Docket NumberNo. 2014–WC–01730–COA.,2014–WC–01730–COA.
Citation202 So.3d 617
Parties HUDSPETH REGIONAL CENTER and Mississippi State Agencies Self–Insured Workers' Compensation Trust, Appellants v. Linda MITCHELL, Appellee.
CourtMississippi Court of Appeals

Joseph T. Wilkins III, Jackson, attorney for appellants.

Steven Hiser Funderburg, Jackson, attorney for appellee.

EN BANC.

ISHEE

, J., for the Court:

¶ 1. On September 24, 2011, Linda Mitchell sustained a back injury while working for Mississippi State Hudspeth Regional Center (Hudspeth). Mitchell continued working for Hudspeth until she was terminated for cause in June 2012. She did not appeal her termination. On October 19, 2012, Mitchell filed a petition to controvert before the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission in which she alleged disability due to injuries she suffered on September 24, 2011, during the course and scope of her employment on September 24, 2011. The administrative judge (AJ) awarded Mitchell permanent disability benefits along with medical benefits and penalties. The AJ's order was affirmed by the Commission. Aggrieved, Hudspeth appeals.

FACTS

¶ 2. Mitchell began working for Hudspeth in 2003 as a full-time registered nurse supervisor. She was a supervisor for the second shift, which ran from 3 until 11 p.m. However, Mitchell was allowed to complete her forty-hour work week in three days, so she would arrive at work at 10:30 a.m. two days a week and at 10:15 a.m. one day a week and work fourteen-hour days.

¶ 3. The first time Mitchell suffered an injury at work was in 2009. Mitchell bent down in front of a refrigerator in the medication room to make sure it was stocked with cold drinks. While she was bent over, she felt like she had been “switched ... on [her] lower back.” Even though she did not really think that she was hurt, Mitchell filled out an accident report in accordance with hospital policy. The next morning at 4 a.m., she woke up “with severe, severe slamming pain.” Mitchell was treated by Dr. Michael Winkelmann with injections, and stated that she felt better by the time she left his office. Mitchell did not have any permanent problems after that and was able to return to work.

¶ 4. On September 24, 2011, Mitchell fell and sustained a more serious back injury. While pulling the medication cart into a patient's room, she stepped on a slippery substance on the floor and fell, hitting her buttocks and then her head. She went straight to the emergency room at Baptist Hospital and was told to follow up with Dr. Morris the following Monday. Mitchell saw a number of doctors before being released by Dr. Morris to return to work on November 6, 2011.

¶ 5. Once she returned to her position at Hudspeth, she resumed the same job duties she had prior to her fall. Although she admitted she was struggling, she testified that she “felt like [she] was doing [her] job properly.” She further testified that the fall “completely changed [her] life” and that she no longer has a social life. Mitchell reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) on November 6, 2012, with a 3% permanent partial impairment to the body as a whole.

¶ 6. On May 5, 2012, Mitchell was working and had been assigned to cover two units at Hudspeth. One night just as she walked back into the clinic, her phone rang. It was a lady calling from Dogwood Cottage, one of the two cottages she supervised at Hudspeth, asking her to come look at a patient who she believed had ringworm

. Mitchell told the lady that she had just left Dogwood Cottage and that someone would look at it the next day. Mitchell defended her action by stating that since it was a Saturday night without doctors on site she knew she could not do anything without a doctor's order, and she did not want to call a doctor at that hour on a weekend. Mitchell later admitted, however, that she “should have gone back to the building, and [she] didn't.”

¶ 7. On June 22, 2012, Mitchell received a letter stating that she was being terminated for cause. The letter cited her refusal to return to Dogwood Cottage on May 5, 2012, and it also stated that Mitchell had been “rude and unprofessional in [her] conversation” on the telephone the evening she was asked to return to Dogwood Cottage. As further support of her termination, the letter cited disciplinary actions that had been taken against Mitchell for excessive tardiness in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009; for failure to obtain her annual TB test in February 2009; for failure to provide medical documentation for sick days she took during holiday periods in 2004, 2006, and 2009; for wrongfully parking in a reserved parking space in 2004; and for failure to chart multiple incidents that occurred in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Mitchell testified that she did not appeal the termination because she did not have $100 to pay for the costs of the appeal.

¶ 8. In February 2013, Mitchell's treating physician, Dr. Winkelmann, had Mitchell undergo a two-day functional-capacity evaluation (FCE) with a physical therapist, Angela Cason. After performing the FCE, Cason found that Mitchell “is capable of performing physical work at a [s]edentary level ... [;][h]owever, based on [the] FCE, [she] would recommend that [Mitchell] not lift weight greater than 20 lbs and 15 lbs overhead.” Mitchell testified that based on the imposed restrictions, she would have been able to continue her duties as a supervisor at Hudspeth, but she would not be able to go back to floor nursing.

¶ 9. After being terminated by Hudspeth, Mitchell searched for other employment. She applied for positions at Behavioral Health, St. Dominic's Hospital, and River Oaks Hospital. She also talked to a supervisor at Central Mississippi Medical Center (CMMC), but she was not offered any of the positions for which she had applied. Mitchell testified that she would return to Hudspeth if there were any positions available and that [she] loved it out there.” Mitchell now draws Social Security benefits, and she receives some money from the Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi (PERS). She also applied with PERS for her disability.

¶ 10. In addition to her injury, Mitchell was diagnosed with breast cancer

in April 2010. She underwent a right mastectomy in May 2010, and began chemotherapy and radiation following her recovery. The following year she had a lumpectomy

on her left breast. At the time of the hearing in November 2013, Mitchell was still taking the chemo pill, Femara, once daily. She testified that she was cancer-free, but stated that she still suffered from lymphedema from time to time as a result of having her lymph nodes removed.

¶ 11. Following a hearing on April 24, 2014, the AJ issued an opinion in which she found Mitchell to have suffered a “permanent medical impairment because of her September 24, 2011 injury.” In addition to the weight-lifting restrictions, Dr. Winkelmann also recommended that Mitchell limit standing for extended periods of time, bending forward, and climbing stairs and ladders. The AJ referenced Mitchell's testimony that she had “bounced back” from her 2009 back injury, and the AJ found that the permanent medical impairment was a result of Mitchell's fall in 2011. Based on the foregoing, the AJ found that Mitchell was entitled to receive the following:

1. Permanent disability benefits at the rate of $427.20 per week for 450 weeks beginning November 6, 2012[,] with proper credit for compensation paid by [e]mployer/[c]arrier during that period;
2. All medical services and supplies required by the nature of her injury and the process of her recovery as provided in [Mississippi Code Annotated] [s]ection 71–3–15 (Rev.2011) and the [m]edical [f]ee [s]chedule; and
3. A 10% penalty on any untimely paid installments of compensation pursuant to [Mississippi Code Annotated] [s]ection 71–3–37(5) (Rev.2000).

¶ 12. Hudspeth appealed the AJ's order to the Commission, and the full Commission affirmed the order on November 20, 2014. Aggrieved, Hudspeth appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 13. When reviewing the decisions of the Commission, this Court employs a limited standard of review. Miss. Loggers Self Insured Fund Inc. v. Andy Kaiser Logging, 992 So.2d 649, 654 (¶ 15) (Miss.Ct.App.2008)

(citing Raytheon Aerospace Support Servs. v. Miller, 861 So.2d 330, 335 (¶ 9) (Miss.2003) ). “The Commission sits as the finder of fact, and it is the ultimate judge of the credibility of the witnesses.” Id. (citing Barber Seafood Inc. v. Smith, 911 So.2d 454, 461 (¶ 27) (Miss.2005) ). We will not reverse absent a finding that “the Commission erred as a matter of law or made findings of fact contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence.” Smith v. Johnston Tombigbee Furniture Mfg. Co., 43 So.3d 1159, 1164 (¶ 15) (Miss.Ct.App.2010) (citations omitted). “If the Commission's order is supported by substantial evidence, this Court is bound by the Commission's determination, even if the evidence would convince us otherwise if we were the fact-finder.” Forrest Gen. Hosp. v. Humphrey, 136 So.3d 468, 471 (¶ 14) (Miss.Ct.App.2014) (citation omitted). However, the Commission's application of the law is reviewed de novo. Miss. Loggers, 992 So.2d at 654 (¶ 15).

DISCUSSION
1. Whether the Commission's decision is based upon substantial evidence.

¶ 14. Hudspeth argues that the Commission's findings were not based upon substantial evidence. The Mississippi Supreme Court has defined “substantial evidence” in the following manner:

Substantial evidence means something more than a “mere scintilla” of evidence, and that it does not rise to the level of a preponderance of the evidence. It may be said that it means such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Substantial evidence means evidence which is substantial, that is, affording a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.

Eaton Corp. v. Brown, 130 So.3d 1131, 1136 (¶ 23) (Miss.Ct.App.2013)

(quoting Short v....

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2 cases
  • Hudspeth Reg'l Ctr. v. Mitchell
    • United States
    • Mississippi Court of Appeals
    • April 30, 2019
    ...full Commission affirmed the AJ's order, and this Court affirmed the Commission by an evenly divided Court. Hudspeth Reg'l Ctr. v. Mitchell , 202 So.3d 617 (Miss. Ct. App. 2015), rev'd , 202 So.3d 609 (Miss. 2016).¶17. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed 8–0, with one justice ......
  • Anderson v. Ladner, 2014-CT-00730-COA
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • June 21, 2016

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