Johme v. St. John's Mercy Healthcare, SC 92113.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Writing for the CourtMARY R. RUSSELL
Citation366 S.W.3d 504
PartiesSandy JOHME, Respondent, v. ST. JOHN'S MERCY HEALTHCARE, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. SC 92113.,SC 92113.
Decision Date29 May 2012


Amanda Lee Miranda, Maurice D. Early, Early & Miranda PC, St. Louis, for St. John's Mercy Healthcare.

Ellen E. Morgan, Law Offices of Ellen E. Morgan, St. Louis, for Sandy Johme.

Randy Charles Alberhasky, The Alberhasky Law Firm PC, Springfield, for The Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, which filed a brief as a friend of the Court.


This case addresses whether the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission properly applied section 287.020.3(2) 1 in awarding workers' compensation benefits to an employee who was injured in an office kitchen after making coffee. The employee turned and twisted her ankle, causing her foot to fall off her shoe.

This Court finds that the employee was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits because she failed to show that her injury arose out of and in the course of her employment as specified by section 287.020.3(2). The Commission's decision is reversed for the reasons articulated below.


Sandy Johme was employed by St. John's Mercy Healthcare as a billing representative. Her work involved typing charges at a computer in an office. Her desk was about 30 steps from an office kitchen where St. John's provided a coffee station for use by all employees. It was customary in the office that the employee who took the last cup of coffee would make another pot of coffee. Johme was injured in a fall that occurred in the kitchen after she made a pot of coffee to replace a pot of coffee from which she had taken the last cup.2 Consistent with her office's policies, Johme remained “clocked-in” to her job during her coffee break and while making the coffee. There is no issue that she was “clocked-in” as an employee at the time of her fall.

At the time of Johme's fall, she was wearing sandals with a thick heel and a flat bottom, with a one-inch thick sole. Johme was alone in the kitchen during the fall. There were no irregularities or hazards on the kitchen's floor. The floor was not wet, and there was not any trash on the floor.

After her fall, Johme used a counter to pull herself up. Another employee came into the kitchen and asked Johme if she was all right. Johme said she was not okay, and she asked the other employee to get her manager. An injury report was completed by Johme and her manager. Johme's portion of the report stated: “I was making coffee in [the] department's kitchen. I was standing at [the] coffee pot [and] when I turned to walk back to my desk, I felt my shoe suddenly on the floor. As I pulled myself up and leaned against the counter I realized I couldn't walk.” Johme's manager's portion of the report, which was not seen by Johme at the time the report was completed, stated that Johme was “making coffee in the kitchen, turned to put [coffee] grounds in [the] trash, twisted [her] ankle and fell off [her] shoe, fell backwards and landed on [the] floor.”

Johme was taken by ambulance to the emergency room after her fall. The medical records from the emergency room indicated that Johme reported that she had tripped at work because of the shoes she was wearing. Johme reported low back pain and left leg pain, and an X-ray of her hips and pelvis showed a fracture on her right side. She was admitted to the hospital for pain control and physical therapy, but she did not undergo surgery to her hip and pelvis. 3

Johme sought workers' compensation benefits related to her fall, and an administrative law judge (ALJ) denied her claim for workers' compensation benefits. The ALJ found: [Johme] was not performing her [work] duties at the time of her fall at work. [She] just fell and she would have been exposed to the same hazard or risk in her normal [nonemployment] life.”

Johme appealed to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, which reversed the ALJ's decision.

The Commission's Decision

The Commission's findings included: “As [Johme] finished making the new pot of coffee, she turned and twisted her right ankle, which caused her right foot to slip off of her sandal, and she fell onto her right side and then onto her back.” 4 Its findings highlighted that coffee in the office kitchen was provided by St. John's for use by its employees, that employees were not required to “clock out” before getting coffee, and that it was customary for the employee who took the last cup of coffee to make a new pot. It also noted that Johme testified that she did not make coffee at home.

The Commission discussed the history of workers' compensation and the evolution of determinations of whether an injury arose out of and in the course of the employee's employment. It highlighted that caselaw had historically recognized a workers' compensation doctrine referred to as the “personal comfort doctrine,” which provided that workers' compensation benefits could still be available to an employee who was injured when tending to a basic personal need while at work. The doctrine reasoned that employees' personal activities can be within the course of their employment if the activities ultimately benefit the employer.5

The Commission noted that the “personal comfort doctrine” was called into question after the legislature amended section 287.020.3(2) in 2005 to read:

An injury shall be deemed to arise out of and in the course of the employment only if:

(a) It is reasonably apparent, upon consideration of all the circumstances, that the accident is the prevailing factor in causing the injury; and

(b) It does not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life.

Sec. 287.020.3(2).6

The Commission's decision discussed that, before this legislative amendment, courts had been applying both common law meanings and statutory limits when assessing whether a workers' compensation claimant's injury arose out of and in the course of the employment.7 The Commission acknowledged that the 2005 amendment to section 287.020.3(2) was intended to abrogate earlier case law interpretations related to whether a worker's injury was compensable in workers' compensation because it arose out of and in the course of the worker's employment, as the legislature also enacted section 287.020.10 8 which provides:

In applying the provisions of this chapter, it is the intent of the legislature to reject and abrogate earlier case law interpretations on the meaning of or definition of “accident”, “occupational disease”, arising out of”, and “in the course of the employment to include, but not be limited to, holdings in: Bennett v. Columbia Health Care and Rehabilitation, 80 S.W.3d 524 (Mo.App. W.D.2002); Kasl v. Bristol Care, Inc., 984 S.W.2d 852 (Mo. banc 1999); and Drewes v. TWA, 984 S.W.2d 512 (Mo. banc 1999) and all cases citing, interpreting, applying, or following those cases.

Sec. 287.020.10 (emphasis added).

The Commission found that Johme's injury was compensable in workers' compensation after applying the “personal comfort doctrine” together with the requirements of section 287.020.3(2). Because it determined that Johme's act of making coffee was “incidental to and related to her employment,” the Commission found that it did not need to determine under section 287.020.3(2)(b) whether Johme would have been equally exposed to the hazard or risk that caused her injury during her normal non-employment life. The Commission cited Pile v. Lake Regional Health System, which stated the following test for determining application of section 287.020.3(2)(b):

The first step is to determine whether the hazard or risk is related or unrelated to the employment. Where the activity giving rise to the accident and injury is integral to the performance of a worker's job, the risk of the activity is related to employment. In such a case, there is a clear nexus between the work and the injury. Where the work nexus is clear, there is no need to consider whether the worker would have been equally exposed to the risk in normal non-employment life. Only if the hazard or risk is unrelated to the employment does the second step of the analysis apply. In that event, it is necessary to determine whether the claimant is equally exposed to this hazard or risk in normal, non-employment life.

321 S.W.3d 463, 467 (Mo.App.2010).

The Commission found that there was no need to undertake the second-step of the Pile test given that it had already determined that Johme's coffee-making was an activity related to her employment. It awarded Johme temporary total disability payments, past medical expenses, and permanent partial disability payments.9

St. John's appeals the Commission's decision.10

Argument on Appeal

St. John's contends that the Commission erred in awarding benefits to Johme because the award was not supported by sufficient competent evidence to meet section 287.020.3(2)'s burden to show that Johme's injury arose out of and in the course of her employment.

Standard of Review

On appeal, this Court reviews the Commission's decision to determine if it is “supported by competent and substantial evidence upon the whole record.” Mo. Const. article V, sec. 18. Section 287.495.1 provides in relevant part:

Upon appeal no additional evidence shall be heard and, in the absence of fraud, the findings of fact made by the commission within its powers shall be conclusive and binding. The court, on appeal, shall review only questions of law and may modify, reverse, remand for rehearing, or set aside the award upon any of the following grounds and no other:

(1) That the commission acted without or in excess of its powers;

(2) That the award was procured by fraud;

(3) That the facts found by the commission do not support the award;

(4) That there was not sufficient competent evidence in the record to warrant the making of the award.

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