Lisney v. Labor and Indus. Review Com'n

Decision Date06 October 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-0976,91-0976
Citation493 N.W.2d 14,171 Wis.2d 499
PartiesDolly LISNEY, Plaintiff-Appellant-Petitioner, v. LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL REVIEW COMMISSION, Vernon County and U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co., Defendants-Respondents. d . Oral Argument
CourtWisconsin Supreme Court

For the plaintiff-appellant-petitioner there were briefs by Kent I. Carnell, Laurie J. Woog and Lawton & Cates, S.C., Madison and oral argument by Mr. Carnell.

For the defendant-respondent, Labor and Industry Review Com'n, the cause was argued by Stephen M. Sobota, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom on the brief was James E. Doyle, Atty. Gen.

For the defendant-respondent, Vernon County & U.S. Fidelity & Guar., there was a brief by John H. Schmid, Jr., Griffin G. Dorschel and Axley Brynelson, Madison.

SHIRLEY S. ABRAHAMSON, Justice.

This is a review of a published decision of the court of appeals, Lisney v. LIRC, 165 Wis.2d 628, 478 N.W.2d 55 (Ct.App.1991). The court of appeals affirmed an order of the Labor and Industrial Review Commission (LIRC), which the Vernon County Circuit Court, Michael J. Rosborough, Circuit Judge, had affirmed. LIRC had dismissed with prejudice Dolly Lisney's claim dated June 27, 1988, for the payment of medical expenses incurred as a result of a work-related injury. LIRC concluded that it had no jurisdiction to consider the claim because the Worker's Compensation Division had decided Dolly Lisney's claim for the same work-related injury in a final order of November 9, 1984. The Worker's Compensation Division order was not an interlocutory order, nor did it reserve jurisdiction on any issues (including liability for future medical expenses).

The issue of law presented to this court is whether LIRC's order of dismissal violates sec. 102.42(1), Stats.1989-90, of the Worker's Compensation Act. Section 102.42(1), provides in relevant part that "[t]he employer shall supply such medical, surgical, chiropractic, psychological, podiatric, dental and hospital treatment ... as may be reasonably required to cure and relieve from the effects of the injury ... The obligation to furnish such treatment and appliances shall continue as required to prevent further deterioration in the condition of the employe or to maintain the existing status of such condition whether or not healing is completed." 1

The court of appeals concluded that although sec. 102.42(1) "extends an employer's obligation to pay medical benefits to maintain an existing condition or avoid deterioration of an employee's condition, it does not authorize the commission, once the proceedings have been finally closed, to issue additional orders requiring payment by the employer." Lisney, 165 Wis.2d at 637, 478 N.W.2d 55.

We reverse the decision of the court of appeals. We conclude that sec. 102.42(1), Stats.1989-90, requires an employer to pay medical expenses even after a final order has been issued. Accordingly we conclude that LIRC had jurisdiction to hear and determine Lisney's application, filed after a final order, for payment of the medical expenses she incurred after the hearing determining her worker's compensation benefits. We remand the cause to the circuit court to remand the cause to LIRC for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

The material facts are undisputed for purposes of this review. Dolly Lisney, a nurse's aide at the Vernon County Nursing Home, sustained a back injury on September 24, 1978, while assisting a patient. After a hearing on her case in 1982, the Worker's Compensation Division issued an order (affirmed by LIRC) awarding Lisney temporary total disability, permanent partial disability of 8 percent of her body and compensation for medical expenses incurred prior to the hearing.

Lisney sought judicial review of this order in the circuit court. On remand from the Vernon County Circuit Court in the spring of 1984, the Worker's Compensation Division gave Lisney a hearing and entered a final order with no reservation of agency jurisdiction. Conflicting evidence had been presented to the examiner about whether Lisney would need continuing medical treatment. LIRC affirmed the order in 1985; the order was also affirmed by the circuit court and the court of appeals. Lisney did not, however, object to the 1985 order being final rather than interlocutory and did not raise, during either the administrative agency proceedings or court proceedings, the issue of payment for medical expenses she had continued to incur.

In July 1988, after the decision of the court of appeals on the 1985 order, Lisney filed an application with the Worker's Compensation Division seeking payment of medical expenses incurred since the 1982 hearing. LIRC dismissed the application with prejudice, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to act on her application in light of the final order in her case.

Lisney's challenge to LIRC's dismissal is the focus of this proceeding. The circuit court and the court of appeals upheld the dismissal order. The court of appeals concluded that while sec. 102.42(1) provides for payment of continuing medical expenses, it does not authorize LIRC to issue additional orders regarding medical expenses after a final order has been issued. Lisney, 165 Wis.2d at 637, 478 N.W.2d 55.

II.

The final sentence of sec. 102.42(1) states that an employer's "obligation to furnish such treatment and appliances shall continue as required to prevent further deterioration in the condition of the employe or to maintain the existing status of such condition whether or not healing is completed." The issue before the court is whether this final sentence of sec. 102.42(1), Stats.1989-90, overcomes the general rule that an injury creates a single cause of action and a final order determines all known and unknown aspects of a claim.

The interpretation of a statute presents a question of law, and the "blackletter" rule is that a court is not bound by an agency's interpretation. Courts, however, frequently refrain from substituting their interpretation of a statute for that of the agency charged with the administration of a law. Courts will give varying degrees of deference to an agency's interpretation of a statute when they have concluded that the legislature charged the agency with the duty of administering the statute; that the agency's interpretation is of long standing; that the agency's interpretation entails its expertise, technical competence and specialized knowledge; and that through interpretation and application of the statute, the agency can provide uniformity and consistency in the field of its specialized knowledge. West Bend Educ. Ass'n v. WERC, 121 Wis.2d 1, 11-12, 357 N.W.2d 534 (1984). See also Jicha v. DILHR, 169 Wis.2d 284, 290-91, 485 N.W.2d 256 (1992); Sauk County v. WERC, 165 Wis.2d 406, 413, 477 N.W.2d 267 (1991); DILHR v. LIRC, 161 Wis.2d 231, 243, 467 N.W.2d 545 (1991); Pigeon v. ILHR Dep't, 109 Wis.2d 519, 524-25, 326 N.W.2d 752 (1982). 2

A court does not, however, give deference to an agency's interpretation of a statute when the court concludes that the agency's interpretation directly contravenes the words of the statute, is clearly contrary to legislative intent, or is otherwise unreasonable or without rational basis. Beloit Educ. Ass'n v. WERC, 73 Wis.2d 43, 67, 242 N.W.2d 231 (1976); Sauk County v. WERC, 165 Wis.2d 406, 413, 477 N.W.2d 267 (1991). This standard of review is set forth in our cases 3 and in sec. 102.23(1)(e), Stats.1989-90, the statute governing judicial review of LIRC's orders. Section 102.23(1)(e) provides that a court may set aside LIRC's orders or awards on the ground that "the commission acted without or in excess of its powers." If LIRC's interpretation of sec. 102.42(1), Stats.1989-90, contravenes the words of the statute, is clearly contrary to legislative intent or is otherwise unreasonable or without rational basis, this interpretation will result in LIRC's acting "without or in excess of its powers," and this court will set aside LIRC's order.

III.

An agency's interpretation of a statute is reasonable if it accords with the language of the statute, the statute's legislative history, and the legislative intent; if the interpretation is consistent with the constitution, the statute read as a whole, and the purpose of the statute; and if the interpretation is consistent with judicial analyses of the statute.

Under sec. 102.42(1), Stats.1989-90, employers have a continuing obligation to compensate employees for medical expenses incurred because of work-related injuries. The statute makes no exceptions to this obligation. It contains no suggestion that an employer's obligation to compensate for medical expenses continues only if LIRC has issued an order that expressly reserves jurisdiction over subsequent claims.

A reading of sec. 102.42(1) leads to the conclusion that an employee should be reimbursed for all medical expenses for her work-related condition and that reimbursement for medical expenses should not be stopped because LIRC's order was labeled as final rather than interlocutory. Implicit in the last sentence of sec. 102.42(1) is the suggestion that the Worker's Compensation Division would have jurisdiction to enforce the employer's obligation to pay for medical expenses for a work-related injury to maintain the employee's condition or to prevent deterioration of the condition, subject to the statute of limitations provided in sec. 102.17(4), Stats.1989-90.

LIRC contends, however, that the statute does not mean what it appears to say. LIRC argues that when sec. 102.42(1) is read with the legislative history and the remainder of chapter 102, it becomes clear that the legislature did not intend sec. 102.42(1) to permit the agency to direct payment of medical expenses after a final order.

We first examine the evolution of the statute. In 1911 Wisconsin passed the nation's first Worker's Compensation Act, with four principal objectives: 1) To furnish...

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