Meadows v. Lewis, No. 15838

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtMcGRAW
Citation172 W.Va. 457,307 S.E.2d 625
PartiesCebert M. MEADOWS, et al. v. Gretchen O. LEWIS, Commr., etc.
Docket NumberNo. 15838
Decision Date07 July 1983

Page 625

307 S.E.2d 625
172 W.Va. 457
Cebert M. MEADOWS, et al.
v.
Gretchen O. LEWIS, Commr., etc.
No. 15838.
Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia.
July 7, 1983.
Rehearing Denied Oct. 20, 1983.

Page 628

[172 W.Va. 459] Syllabus by the Court

1. "Before this Court may properly issue a writ of mandamus three elements must coexist: (1) the existence of a clear right in the petitioner to the relief sought; (2) the existence of a legal duty on the part of the respondent to do the thing the petitioner seeks to compel; (3) the absence of another adequate remedy at law." Syllabus Point 3, Cooper v. Gwinn, 171 W.Va. 245, 298 S.E.2d 781 (1981).

2. "While it is true that mandamus is not available where another specific and adequate remedy exists, if such other remedy is not equally as beneficial, convenient, and effective, mandamus will lie." Syllabus Point 4, Cooper v. Gwinn, supra.

3. "Long delays in processing claims for [workers'] compensation is not consistent with the declared policy of the Legislature to determine the rights of claimants as [172 W.Va. 460] speedily and expeditiously as possible." Syllabus Point 1, Workman v. State Workmen's Compensation Comm'r, 160 W.Va. 656, 236 S.E.2d 236 (1977).

4. Mandamus will lie to compel the workers' compensation commissioner to perform nondiscretionary duties.

5. The workers' compensation commissioner must act on workers' compensation claims within the statutorily prescribed time limits found in W.Va.Code §§ 23-4-1c, 23-4-16, and 23-5-1 (1981 Replacement Vol.).

6. The commissioner is required by W.Va.Code § 23-1-13 (1981 Replacement Vol.) to promulgate regulations specifying, inter alia, internal procedural time limits through which adjudications and awards are made.

7. Citizens should not have to resort to lawsuits to force government officials to perform their legally prescribed nondiscretionary duties. When, however, resort to such action is necessary to cure willful disregard of law, the government ought to bear the reasonable expense incurred by the citizen in maintaining the action. No individual citizen ought to bear the legal expense incurred in requiring the government to do its job.

8. "In mandamus proceedings where a public officer willfully fails to obey the law, attorney fees will be awarded." Syllabus Point 4, Nelson v. West Virginia Public Employees Ins. Bd., 171 W.Va. 445, 300 S.E.2d 86 (1982).

9. Where a claimant for workers' compensation benefits is required to hire an attorney to contest unlawful acts of the commissioner, the claimant should be reimbursed for reasonable attorney fees incurred in vindicating his statutory entitlement to benefits. Reasonable attorney fees are to be paid by the commissioner who fails to comply with statutory duties.

Dan L. Hardway, Sterl F. Shinaberry, Charleston, for petitioners.

Donald L. Hall, Sr. Counsel, Legal Div., Workers' Compensation Fund, Charleston, for respondent.

McGRAW, Chief Justice:

This is an original proceeding in mandamus. The petitioners, Cebert M. Meadows, Martha E. Reichard, and Gerald R. Manning, are three workers who suffered injuries in the course of and resulting from their employment. They seek to compel the State Workers' Compensation Commissioner, Gretchen Lewis, to fulfill the statutory duties of her office. Specifically, the petitioners charge that the commissioner consistently disregards and fails to perform the mandatory duties prescribed by W.Va.Code §§ 23-4-1c; 23-1-13; 23-4-16; and 23-5-1 (1981 Replacement Vol.) 1 We find

Page 629

that the commissioner has not fulfilled the mandatory duties prescribed by statute, and accordingly, we grant the writ.
172 W.Va. 461] I
MEADOWS CLAIM

On November 7, 1977, Cebert M. Meadows was employed by International Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Miami, Florida, and was working as an electrician in Wheeling, West Virginia, when he tripped over a cable and injured his left knee. Meadows filed an application for workers' compensation benefits on November 10, 1977. The next day, his employer filed its report. The initial physician's report, completed by Dr. Murphy of Glendale, West Virginia, was filed on November 28, 1977. The injury was diagnosed as a sprain or a meniscus tear of the left knee. Dr. Murphy indicated that Meadows had stopped work on November 10, 1977 (also the date of first treatment), and would be able to return to work on November 17, 1977. The employer's report and a subsequent report from Dr. Glass of the Wheeling Clinic indicated that Meadows had not stopped working.

On February 4, 1978, the injury was ruled compensable on a no-lost-time basis. The notification letter requested that Meadows inform the commissioner immediately if he were disabled for four or more days. There is no record of any response by Meadows to this notice.

During the two years following the commissioner's initial ruling of compensability, various physicians submitted reports, all of which indicated that Meadows continued to have problems with his injured knee. In early 1979, Meadows moved to Ashland, Kentucky. In April of that year, Dr. Touma made a diagnosis of degenerative arthritis. A report dated July 6, 1979, from Dr. Craythorne of Huntington, West Virginia, to whom Meadows was referred by the commissioner, indicated that the claimant had not reached his maximum degree of improvement. In July of 1979, Meadows moved to Tennessee. Dr. Williams of Johnson City diagnosed Williams as suffering from "severe osteoarthritis, tricompartmental left knee." Dr. Williams further stated that the claimant was totally disabled for any manual labor from September 11, 1979 until January 21, 1980.

The commissioner was informed on February 11, 1980, that Meadows had not worked since May 16, 1979, and had received unemployment compensation from May 21, 1979 until November 1, 1979. Meadows, by counsel, requested payment of TTD benefits from November 1, 1979. On April 4, 1980, the commissioner awarded the claimant TTD benefits from February 18, 1980 to, but not including, March 28, 1980. Meadows was given thirty days to submit additional evidence to justify keeping the claim open. On May 9, 1980, the claim was closed on a TTD basis by order of the commissioner, on the ground that no attending physician's report (WC-219) had been received within thirty days of the date of the previous order.

Meadows filed a timely objection to the order closing his claim and submitted a

Page 630

WC-219 completed by Dr. Williams on May 22, 1980. The return-to-work date was listed in the report as "unknown" and the date of next examination was shown as July 21, 1980. Dr. Williams also indicated that additional hospitalization would be required. On May 30, 1980, Meadows' counsel petitioned to reopen the claim. However, on June 2, 1980, the commissioner set aside the May 9, 1980 order, explaining that sufficient medical evidence had been timely submitted and that the claim had been closed due to a clerical error. Although the order closing the claim was "set aside and held for naught," the petition to reopen the claim was processed. On July 16, 1980, the commissioner acknowledged receipt of the reopening petition, and stated that the request established a prima facie case for reopening. Meadows was notified that unless his employer protested within thirty days, the claim would be reopened on a TTD basis.

On July 21, 1980, counsel wrote to the commissioner stating that benefits had been paid through May of 1980. Benefits were requested from May 22, 1980 to July 21, 1980. In response to the July 21 letter, an "Inquiry Specialist" wrote to Meadows' counsel that "[t]emporary total disability benefits cannot be paid unless the physician states exact dates." Because Dr. Williams had written "unknown" as the [172 W.Va. 462] anticipated period of disability on the most recent WC-219, the report would not be used as the basis for paying TTD benefits.

On August 6, 1980, the TTD claim was closed for the second time because medical evidence had not been submitted showing that Meadows was still disabled and unable to work. On August 14, 1980, Meadows petitioned to reopen the claim. One week later, the process which had been set in motion by the petition to reopen, submitted May 30, 1980, culminated in the commissioner's order reopening the claim. On September 2, 1980, TTD benefits were awarded from May 22, 1980 through July 21, 1980, the latter date coinciding with the next scheduled examination reported on Dr. Williams' WC-219, submitted May 22, 1980.

The reopening did not stop the protest process. On October 1, 1980, the commissioner acknowledged the receipt of Meadows' protest to the May 9, 1980 order. Meadows was informed that he was "entitled to a hearing which shall be held at a time and place to be later fixed." The protest hearing was scheduled for December 1, 1980, in Wheeling, West Virginia, and respondent informs us that only the hearing examiner showed up.

On November 5, 1980, the TTD claim was closed again, and on November 21, 1980, Meadows protested. On December 1, the November 5 order was set aside and held for naught, having been entered through clerical error. However, the protest survived the setting aside of the order, and Meadows was notified on January 30, 1981, that "a hearing ... shall be scheduled at a time and place later to be fixed." Meadows withdrew the protest on February 17, 1981.

Meanwhile, on November 11, 1980, Meadows' counsel wrote to the commissioner, expressing his "befuddlement" at the apparently contradictory correspondence which he and his client had received. Counsel also wondered why a hearing was scheduled since the protested order had already been set aside, and, in a separate action, the claim had been reopened.

On December 2, 1980, TTD benefits were awarded from July 22 through January 30, 1981. TTD benefits for the period January 6 through February 4, were further awarded on January 14, 1981. Benefits were not paid for any...

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58 practice notes
  • Fitzgerald v. Fitzgerald, No. 33043.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 30, 2006
    ...to receive such benefits actually vested, which vesting occurred during the parties' marriage. See Syl. pt. 3, in part, Meadows v. Lewis, 172 W.Va. 457, 307 S.E.2d 625 (1983) (recognizing notoriously "[l]ong delays in processing claims for [workers'] compensation" (internal quotations and c......
  • State ex rel. Blankenship v. Richardson, No. 23119
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 17, 1996
    ...another adequate remedy at law.' Syllabus Point 3, Cooper v. Gwinn, 171 W.Va. 245, 298 S.E.2d 781 (1981)." Syl. pt. 1, Meadows v. Lewis, 172 W.Va. 457, 307 S.E.2d 625 3. " ' " 'Where economic rights are concerned, we look to see whether the classification is a rational one based on social, ......
  • State ex rel. Cooper v. Tennant, Nos. 11–1405
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 20, 2012
    ...another adequate remedy at law.Syl. Pt. 3, Cooper v. Gwinn, 171 W.Va. 245, 298 S.E.2d 781 (1981); see also Syl. Pt. 1, Meadows v. Lewis, 172 W.Va. 457, 307 S.E.2d 625 (1983). With regard to the issuance of a writ of prohibition, this Court explained as follows in syllabus point one of Hinkl......
  • Hammons v. W. Va. Office of the Ins. Comm'r, Nos. 12–1473
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 20, 2015
    ...terms of our organic law the people are entitled to the benefit of law enacted by their legislative representatives....Meadows v. Lewis, 172 W.Va. 457, 469–70, 307 S.E.2d 625, 638–39 (1983) (footnote added). Therefore, it is apparent that “[o]ne of the primary objects of the Legislature in ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
57 cases
  • Fitzgerald v. Fitzgerald, No. 33043.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 30, 2006
    ...to receive such benefits actually vested, which vesting occurred during the parties' marriage. See Syl. pt. 3, in part, Meadows v. Lewis, 172 W.Va. 457, 307 S.E.2d 625 (1983) (recognizing notoriously "[l]ong delays in processing claims for [workers'] compensation" (internal quotations and c......
  • State ex rel. Blankenship v. Richardson, No. 23119
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 17, 1996
    ...another adequate remedy at law.' Syllabus Point 3, Cooper v. Gwinn, 171 W.Va. 245, 298 S.E.2d 781 (1981)." Syl. pt. 1, Meadows v. Lewis, 172 W.Va. 457, 307 S.E.2d 625 3. " ' " 'Where economic rights are concerned, we look to see whether the classification is a rational one based on social, ......
  • State ex rel. Cooper v. Tennant, Nos. 11–1405
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 20, 2012
    ...another adequate remedy at law.Syl. Pt. 3, Cooper v. Gwinn, 171 W.Va. 245, 298 S.E.2d 781 (1981); see also Syl. Pt. 1, Meadows v. Lewis, 172 W.Va. 457, 307 S.E.2d 625 (1983). With regard to the issuance of a writ of prohibition, this Court explained as follows in syllabus point one of Hinkl......
  • Hammons v. W. Va. Office of the Ins. Comm'r, Nos. 12–1473
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 20, 2015
    ...terms of our organic law the people are entitled to the benefit of law enacted by their legislative representatives....Meadows v. Lewis, 172 W.Va. 457, 469–70, 307 S.E.2d 625, 638–39 (1983) (footnote added). Therefore, it is apparent that “[o]ne of the primary objects of the Legislature in ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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