Morton v. W. Va. Office of Ins. Comm'r, No. 11–1382.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM:
Citation231 W.Va. 719,749 S.E.2d 612
PartiesGeorgette A. MORTON, Claimant Below, Petitioner v. WEST VIRGINIA OFFICE OF INSURANCE COMMISSIONER and Seneca Health Services, Inc., Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. 11–1382.
Decision Date04 October 2013

231 W.Va. 719
749 S.E.2d 612

Georgette A. MORTON, Claimant Below, Petitioner
v.
WEST VIRGINIA OFFICE OF INSURANCE COMMISSIONER and Seneca Health Services, Inc., Respondents.

No. 11–1382.

Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia.

Submitted Sept. 24, 2013.
Decided Oct. 4, 2013.


[749 S.E.2d 613]



Syllabus by the Court

1. “ ‘In order for a claim to be held compensable under the Workmen's Compensation Act, three elements must coexist: (1) a personal injury (2) received in the course of employment and (3) resulting from that employment.’ Syllabus Point 1,

[749 S.E.2d 614]

Barnett v. State Workmen's Compensation Commissioner, 153 W.Va. 796, 172 S.E.2d 698 (1970).” Syl. Pt. 1, Williby v. W. Va. Office of the Ins. Comm'r, 224 W.Va. 358, 686 S.E.2d 9 (2009).

2. “In determining whether an injury resulted from claimant's employment, a causal connection between the injury and employment must be shown to have existed.” Syl. Pt. 3, Emmel v. State Comp. Dir., 150 W.Va. 277, 145 S.E.2d 29 (1965).

3. “Whether an injury occurs ... resulting from the employment so as to be compensable under the workmen's compensation act depends upon the particular facts in each case.” Syl. Pt. 2, in part, Emmel v. State Comp. Dir., 150 W.Va. 277, 145 S.E.2d 29 (1965).


Reginald D. Henry, Esq., Beckley, West Virginia, for Petitioner.

Marion E. Ray, Esq., Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love LLP, Charleston, West Virginia, for Respondent Seneca Health Services, Inc.


PER CURIAM:

Petitioner Georgette Morton (hereinafter “petitioner”) appeals the September 14, 2011, order of the Workers' Compensation Board of Review (“BOR”). In that order, the BOR affirmed the Office of Judges' (“OOJ”) decision which affirmed the claims administrator's rejection of Ms. Morton's claim because her injury was not attributable to an injury or disease received “in the course of and resulting from” her employment as required by West Virginia Code § 23–4–1(a) (2008). Upon careful review of the briefs, the appendix record, the arguments of the parties, and the applicable legal authority, we find that the BOR's decision was neither in clear violation of any constitutional or statutory provision, the result of erroneous conclusions of law, nor based upon a material misstatement or mischaracterization of the evidentiary record; therefore, we affirm the BOR's order.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Petitioner is employed by respondent Seneca Health Services, Inc. (hereinafter “Seneca”) as a secretary.1 On September 13, 2010, petitioner injured her right wrist and shoulder while assisting a Seneca contract employee lift a box of maternity clothes which had been left in petitioner's office. The box of clothes had apparently been loaned by the contract employee to another employee, who returned the clothes by leaving the box in petitioner's office for the contract employee to pick up. The contract employee, who did not work in the office with petitioner, asked petitioner for help in lifting and transporting the box to her vehicle. Petitioner agreed and, upon lifting the box, lost her balance and fell backwards, injuring her right wrist and shoulder.

The claims administrator denied the claim as not being received “in the course of and resulting from” petitioner's employment. Upon appeal to the OOJ, petitioner argued that, as “support staff,” her duties included assisting staff members in any tasks with which they required or requested assistance and she perceived no limitations to her duties in that regard. Petitioner conceded that the box was wholly unrelated to Seneca's business, that the contract worker was not her supervisor and had never given her orders or assignments previously, and that the employer was not at fault for her injury. Petitioner argued simply that acquiescing to any request for assistance by another employee falls within the scope of her job duties and that the employer benefits by having employees who “work collaboratively and cooperatively with one another.”

Affirming the claims administrator's denial of the claim, the OOJ found that the employer

[749 S.E.2d 615]

derived no “special benefit” from the removal of the box from the premises and that moving the box was “a voluntary act on the part of the claimant to assist a coworker in a personal errand.” The OOJ's decision “[b]orrow[ed] from the philosophy” of Williby v. West Virginia Office of the Insurance Commissioner, 224 W.Va. 358, 686 S.E.2d 9 (2009), finding that there was no “expressed or implied requirement that the claimant assist her coworkers in such activities of personal convenience notwithstanding the claimant's mistaken perception of her job responsibility.” The OOJ further found that “there are always logical limits to what the claimant's job responsibilities were with regard to assisting coworkers. To the extent that she was assisting a coworker in a purely personal matter ... the employer derived no benefit from the activity[.]” The BOR affirmed the OOJ's decision by order dated September 14, 2011, from which order petitioner now appeals.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

With respect to this Court's standard of review of a decision of the BOR, West Virginia Code § 23–5–15(c) (2005) provides, in pertinent part:

If the decision of the board represents an affirmation of a prior ruling by both the commission and the Office of Judges that was entered on the same issue in the same claim, the decision of the board may be reversed or modified by the Supreme Court of Appeals only if the decision is in clear violation of constitutional or statutory provision, is clearly the result of erroneous conclusions of law, or is based upon the board's material misstatement or mischaracterization of particular components of the evidentiary record. The court may not conduct a de novo re-weighing of the evidentiary record.

However, as recognized in Justice v. West Virginia Office of the Insurance Commission, 230 W.Va. 80, 83, 736 S.E.2d 80, 83 (2012), “we apply a de novo standard of review to questions of law arising in the context of decisions issued by the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board. With the cessation of the Workers' Compensation Commission (“Commission”), the appeals to this judicial body are now taken from the Board of Review.” (citations omitted). Under these intersecting standards, as pertains to the issue presented herein, we turn to the parties' arguments.


III. DISCUSSION

The issue presented in this case is straightforward. Petitioner contends that the BOR erred in finding that the injury sustained while assisting her co-worker in lifting the box of maternity clothes which was located in petitioner's office was not “in the course of and resulting from” her employment. She argues that although her primary duties were clerical in nature, her formal designation as “support staff” effectively required her to assist co-workers with any task with which they requested assistance. She argues that the employer received a tangible benefit through the employees working cooperatively and collegially with one another, which entailed accommodating a reasonable request for assistance. Seneca counters that it is undisputed that petitioner's job title and outlined duties in no way encompass assisting employees with lifting items, much less items of a wholly personal, non-work-related nature; therefore, her injury was not “in the course of and resulting from” her employment. Seneca further contends that it is simply illogical for petitioner to suggest that she perceived no limitations to her purported obligation to assist co-workers as part of her job duties.

As to the elements which must be proven to establish compensability, this Court has previously recognized that

“[i]n order for a claim to be held compensable under the Workmen's Compensation Act, three elements must coexist: (1) a personal injury (2) received in the course of employment and (3) resulting from that employment.” Syllabus Point 1, Barnett v. State Workmen's Compensation Commissioner, 153 W.Va. 796, 172 S.E.2d 698 (1970).

Syl. Pt. 1, Williby, 224 W.Va. 358, 686 S.E.2d 9. Importantly, “[t]he two phrases, ‘in the course of’ and ‘resulting from’ are not synonymous and both elements must concur in

[749 S.E.2d 616]

order to make a claim compensable.” Emmel v. State Comp. Dir., 150 W.Va. 277, 281, 145 S.E.2d 29, 32 (1965). The distinction between the two phrases has been described as follows: “The task of construction is made easier by breaking the phrase ‘in half, with the “arising out of” [or “resulting from”] portion construed to refer to causal origin, and the “course of employment” portion to the time, place, and circumstances of the accident in relation to the employment.’ ” Coleman v. Cycle Transformer Corp., 105 N.J. 285, 520 A.2d 1341, 1343 (1986) (quoting 1A Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law, § 6.10 (1985)). With respect to the requirement that an injury “result[ ] from” employment, this Court has held: “In determining whether an injury resulted from claimant's employment, a causal connection between the injury and employment must be shown to have existed.” Syl. Pt. 3, Emmel, 150 W.Va. 277, 145 S.E.2d 29.


In the instant case, there is no question that petitioner's injury occurred in the course of employment in terms of time, place, and circumstances; therefore, the “course of employment” prong is easily satisfied. Petitioner was on Seneca's premises, during her regular work hours, ostensibly tending to her duties at the time the request for assistance in lifting the box was made. The dispute herein concerns whether her injury was “resulting from,” that is, causally related to her employment: As well-demonstrated by the case at bar, “[w]hether an injury occurs ... resulting from the employment so as to be compensable under the workmen's compensation act depends upon the particular facts in each case.” Syl. Pt. 2, in part, Id.

With regard to our existing jurisprudence, Emmel is the most factually analogous case inasmuch as it deals with an on-premises injury...

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3 practice notes
  • State Auto Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. H.E. Neumann Co., CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:14-cv-19679
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 23, 2016
    ...portion to the time, place, and circumstances of the accident in relation to the employment." Morton v. W. Va. Office of Ins. Comm'r, 749 S.E.2d 612, 616 (W. Va. 2013) (citation omitted). The "arise out of and in the course of" requirement presents two problems as to the application of the ......
  • Weirton Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Powelson, No. 16-0923
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • August 24, 2017
    ...Inc.'s premises when she fell. The Office of Judges went on to note that in Morton v. West Virginia Office of Insurance Commissioner, 231 W.Va. 719, 749 S.E.2d 612 (2013), the Court determined that "coming and going" cases and "special errand" and "zone of employment" cases were not helpful......
  • Shank v. Cross, No. 15-0943
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • September 27, 2016
    ...12-1126 (Apr. 2, 2014) (memorandum decision). The Board of Review further found Morton v. West Virginia Office of Insurance Commissioner, 749 S.E.2d 612 (W.Va. 2013) to be instructive as to the issue of whether Ms. Shank was performing a benefit to the American National Red Cross. In Morton......
3 cases
  • State Auto Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. H.E. Neumann Co., CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:14-cv-19679
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 23, 2016
    ...portion to the time, place, and circumstances of the accident in relation to the employment." Morton v. W. Va. Office of Ins. Comm'r, 749 S.E.2d 612, 616 (W. Va. 2013) (citation omitted). The "arise out of and in the course of" requirement presents two problems as to the application of the ......
  • Weirton Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Powelson, No. 16-0923
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • August 24, 2017
    ...Inc.'s premises when she fell. The Office of Judges went on to note that in Morton v. West Virginia Office of Insurance Commissioner, 231 W.Va. 719, 749 S.E.2d 612 (2013), the Court determined that "coming and going" cases and "special errand" and "zone of employment" cases were not helpful......
  • Shank v. Cross, No. 15-0943
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • September 27, 2016
    ...12-1126 (Apr. 2, 2014) (memorandum decision). The Board of Review further found Morton v. West Virginia Office of Insurance Commissioner, 749 S.E.2d 612 (W.Va. 2013) to be instructive as to the issue of whether Ms. Shank was performing a benefit to the American National Red Cross. In Morton......

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