Mudel v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.

Decision Date25 July 2000
Docket NumberDocket No. 3.,Docket No. 111702,Docket No. 2,Docket No. Calendar,Docket No. 113799
Citation462 Mich. 691,614 N.W.2d 607
PartiesJohn MUDEL, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. GREAT ATLANTIC & PACIFIC TEA COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant. Deborah L. Connaway, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Welded Construction Company and Hartford Insurance Company, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Daniel M. Bridges, Pontiac, for plaintiff-appellee in Mudel.

Martha M. Glaser, Bloomfield Hills, for the plaintiff-appellant in Connaway.

Humphrey, Hannon, Moriarity & Schoener, P.C. (by Robert J. Humphrey, Donald H. Hannon, and Denise L. Clemmons), Troy, for defendants-appellants in Mudel.

Thomas J. Veum, Sault Ste. Marie, for the defendants-appellees in Connaway.

Conklin, Benham, Ducey, Listman & Chuhran, P.C. (by Martin L. Critchell), Detroit, for amicus curiae Michigan Defense Trial Counsel.



Considerable confusion exists in the Michigan judiciary in a significant area of worker's compensation lawÔÇöthe standards for reviewing decisions of the magistrate and the Worker's Compensation Appellate Commission (WCAC). As a result of this confusion, there is, in our judgment, sometimes the appearance (although we do not believe the reality) that decisions are made in this realm at least partly on the basis of which results are favored by a particular appellate court. In addition, because the decisions of the appellate courts are resultantly more arbitrary and less predictable, the appellate process has become a more prolonged one as parties understandably are more inclined to pursue repeated appeals in the hope of eventually achieving a favorable judgment at some level.

Where the WCAC and the magistrate agree on the facts and legal conclusions in a particular worker's compensation case, the courts will rarely disturb the result. However, the problem arises when the WCAC reverses the magistrate on some issue and the judiciary is presented with two conflicting decisions from the administrative level. In that situation, judges are confronted with two distinct lines of case law, each of which sets forth a fundamentally different administrative and judicial standard of review in worker's compensation cases. Depending upon which of these lines of case law is emphasized, there is a high likelihood that a different appellate result will be reached. Courts that cite case law such as Holden v. Ford Motor Co., 439 Mich. 257, 484 N.W.2d 227 (1992), that stresses the extraordinary deference accorded to the WCAC in this highly technical area of the law, will more often than not affirm he WCAC in its award or denial of benefits to an employee. Meanwhile, courts that cite case law such as Goff v. Bil-Mar Foods, Inc. (After Remand), 454 Mich. 507, 563 N.W.2d 214 (1997), that stresses the deference accorded by the WCAC to the magistrate, will more often than not reverse the WCAC in this decision.1 Because of these conflicting lines of case law, there is inevitably a perception that courts may have been tempted to choose which line of cases to emphasize in accordance with the results reached in an individual case. In effect, such conflicting law undermines the appearance of there being a principled and consistent standard defining the proper level of review that should be exercised by the courts. Further, it may appear to the public that the result in a particular case is a function less of well-defined legal principles than of the predispositions of individual judges. In addition, because of the heightened potential for arbitrary decision making, worker's compensation cases may often take years to work their way back and forth through the administrative and judicial processes and attain finality. The uncertainty concerning WDCA standards of review manifested by such a prolonged reviewing process benefits neither the injured employee nor the employer, while undermining public confidence in the fairness of the judicial system in a sensitive area of decision making.

Therefore, in these combined worker's compensation cases, we once again face the task of clarifying and definitively setting forth the proper standards of administrative and judicial review, to resolve the confusion currently existing in the law and to further the efficient administration of worker's compensation cases.2 To that end, we reaffirm our decision in Holden, supra, regarding the administrative and judicial standards of review applied in worker's compensation cases. Because we believe that this Court's decision in Goff, supra, implicitly contradicted the Holden rule and altered the announced standards of review, we overrule Goff insofar as it is inconsistent with the statutory language and with our decision in Holden. Further, we overrule the holding of Layman v. Newkirk Electric Assoc., 458 Mich. 494, 581 N.W.2d 244 (1998), to the extent that it clearly misstated the law with regard to the WCAC's authority to make independent factual findings.3

With respect to the instant cases, in Mudel v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., we find that the requirements of M.C.L. ž 418.861a(11); MSA 17.237(861a)(11) were satisfied because the plaintiff argued alternatively for both occupational disease and personal injury benefits. Further, in Connaway v. Welded Construction Co., we find that the successive injury rule requires the plaintiff to pursue worker's compensation benefits in the state of New York, where her disability arose, rather than in Michigan. After examining the decision of the WCAC in each of these cases, we conclude that the WCAC acted within its authority in Mudel by affirming the magistrate's award of benefits, and in Connaway by reversing the magistrate's award of benefits. We therefore affirm the holdings of the WCAC in each of these consolidated cases.


In worker's compensation cases, there are two separate levels of review: administrative review and judicial review. As explained in Holden, supra, the WCAC reviews the magistrate's findings of fact under the "substantial evidence" standard, while the judiciary reviews the WCAC's findings of fact under the "any evidence" standard. These two standards of review are separate and distinct; they originate from different statutory sources and serve different purposes.

We must begin with the Michigan Constitution, which provides the underlying basis for both standards of review. Const. 1963, art. 6, ž 28, provides as follows:

Findings of fact in workmen's compensation proceedings shall be conclusive in the absence of fraud unless otherwise provided by law.

The constitution makes clear that the Legislature has authority to adopt different standards of review in worker's compensation cases, that is, standards that are "otherwise provided by law," through the enactment of statutory provisions. Indeed, the Legislature has provided these standards throughout the long and complex evolution of this state's worker's compensation statute, now entitled the Worker's Disability Compensation Act (WDCA); MCL 418.101 et seq.; MSA 17.237(101) et seq. Through 1985 PA 103, effective October 1, 1986, the Legislature adopted the "substantial evidence" standard for the WCAC's administrative review of the magistrate's factual findings, replacing the de novo standard of review previously applied by the former Worker's Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) under earlier versions of the worker's compensation statute. The "substantial evidence" standard, contained in M.C.L. ž 418.861a(3); MSA 17.237(861a)(3), provides as follows:

Beginning October 1, 1986 findings of fact made by a worker's compensation magistrate shall be considered conclusive by the commission if supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the whole record. As used in this subsection, "substantial evidence" means such evidence, considering the whole record, as a reasonable mind will accept as adequate to justify the conclusion.

The surrounding statutory provisions serve to flesh out the proper meaning and application of the "substantial evidence" standard. The "whole record," for instance, means "the entire record of the hearing including all of the evidence in favor and all the evidence against a certain determination," M.C.L. ž 418.861a(4); MSA 17.237(861a)(4), and the WCAC's "review of the evidence pursuant to this section shall include both a qualitative and quantitative analysis of that evidence in order to ensure a full, thorough, and fair review." MCL 418.861a(13); MSA 17.237(861a)(13). Therefore, the WCAC's review of the magistrate's decision involves reviewing the whole record, analyzing all the evidence presented, and determining whether the magistrate's decision is supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence.

An important part of the WCAC's statutory reviewing authority is the "qualitative and quantitative" analysis of the "whole" "record." This statutory language, along with that of M.C.L. ž 418.861a(14); MSA 17.237(861a)(14), grants the WCAC certain fact-finding powers, and permits it in some circumstances to substitute its own findings of fact for those of the magistrate, if the WCAC accords different weight to the quality or quantity of evidence presented.4 However, application of the clear and plain language of M.C.L. ž 418.861a(13); MSA 17.237(861a)(13) does not connote a de novo review by the WCAC of the magistrate's decision, as asserted by the dissent. Clearly, it would be improper for the WCAC to engage in its own statutorily permitted independent fact finding if "substantial evidence" on the whole record existed supporting the decision of the magistrate.

In contrast to the standard for administrative review, a separate statutory provision sets forth the standard by which the judiciary reviews the WCAC's findings of fact. MCL 418.861a(14); MSA 17.237(861a)(14) provides that the judiciary must treat the WCAC's factual findings as conclusive on appellate review:

The findings of

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