Pulaski v. Bureau of Workers' Comp.

Decision Date22 April 2022
Docket Number29356
Citation2022 Ohio 1344
PartiesJASON S. PULASKI Plaintiff-Appellant v. BUREAU OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION, et al. Defendant-Appellee
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

(Civil Appeal from Common Pleas Court) Trial Court Case No 2021-CV-1922

OPINION

LEWIS, J.

{¶ 1} Plaintiff-Appellant, Jason Pulaski, appeals from the judgment of the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court rendered in an action on a workers' compensation appeal commenced by Pulaski from a decision of the Ohio Industrial Commission. The trial court granted employer CCBCC, Inc.'s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim under Civ.R. 12(B)(1) and Civ.R. 12(B)(6). For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's decision.

I. Facts and Procedural History

{¶ 2} On May 18, 2019, Pulaski sustained an injury during his course of employment at CCBCC, Inc. ("CCBCC") in Montgomery County, Ohio ("May injury"). He subsequently filed a workers' compensation claim which was assigned Claim No. 19-151434. The claim was certified and allowed for a "right shoulder strain and right labrum tear." Pulaski underwent an operation for his injuries on or about August 16, 2019.

{¶ 3} On or about September 19, 2019, Pulaski slipped down some stairs at home. As he was falling, he reached out with his injured right arm and grabbed a handrail, at which time he heard a pop and experienced an immediate onset of pain. He was later diagnosed with a new tear in his right shoulder ("September injury").

{¶ 4} On November 30, 2020, CCBCC filed a C-86 motion with the Ohio Industrial Commission ("Commission") requesting (1) the termination of temporary total disability as a result of the allowed conditions having reached maximum medical improvement; (2) a declaration that Pulaski's temporary total disability compensation and medical expenses paid after the September injury are overpaid; and (3) a declaration that the September injury was an intervening injury such that no further compensation and/or medical benefits be paid in the claim.

{¶ 5} A district hearing officer ("DHO") with the Commission conducted a hearing on January 22, 2021, and subsequently issued an order on January 27, 2021. After invoking the continuing jurisdiction of the Commission based on newly discovered evidence and changed circumstances, the DHO found that Pulaski had suffered an intervening injury to his right shoulder that was first documented on September 19, 2019. The order terminated payment of temporary total disability compensation as of September 19, 2019, and ordered that compensation and medical bills paid between the time of the intervening September injury and the date of the hearing be declared overpaid and be recouped in accordance with the non-fraud provision of R.C. 4123.511(K). The DHO further found that Pulaski had reached maximum medical improvement ("MMI") for the allowed conditions. Finally, the DHO denied CCBCC's request that no further compensation and/or treatment be payable under the claim.

{¶ 6} Pulaski appealed from the DHO's decision, and a hearing was held before a staff hearing officer ("SHO"). On April 3, 2021, the SHO affirmed the order of the DHO. The SHO found that Pulaski had experienced an intervening injury on September 19, 2019, due to the slip and fall at his that caused a new tear in his right shoulder. The SHO found that the event constituted an intervening injury sufficient to break the causal connection between the allowed conditions and Pulaski's symptoms and problems regarding his right shoulder after the September injury. The SHO stated that any compensation and medical benefits paid after September 19, 2019, were due to the September injury and not due to the allowed conditions in the claim. As such, the SHO ordered that all authorized compensation and medical benefits awarded after September 19, 2019 be vacated, and this compensation and medical benefits be declared overpaid and subject to recoupment pursuant to R.C. 4123.511(K). Lastly, the SHO found that Pulaski's allowed conditions had reached MMI. The SHO made no explicit ruling on CCBCC's request that no further compensation and/or treatment be payable in the claim.

{¶ 7} Pulaski appealed the SHO's decision to the Commission, which declined to hear the appeal under R.C. 4123.511(E). On May 13, 2021, Pulaski filed a notice of appeal and complaint in the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court pursuant to R.C. 4123.512. Attached to Pulaski's notice of appeal were copies of the DHO's order, the SHO's order, and the decision of the Commission declining to hear the appeal.

{¶ 8} On June 2, 2021, CCBCC filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. CCBCC subsequently filed an answer to Pulaski's complaint.

{¶ 9} On January 3, 2022, the trial court granted CCBCC's motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The trial court stated that R.C. 4123.512 only allows appeals in a common pleas court based upon right to participate claims, not extent of disability claims. The trial court found that the appeal before it involved the extent of disability due to the DHO's explicit denial of CCBCC's request that no further compensation and/or treatment be payable in the claim. Given that the trial court found it lacked jurisdiction, it also found that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

{¶ 10} Pulaski timely appealed from the order of the common pleas court and requested that the appeal be expedited. We granted the motion to expedite the appeal and will now address Pulaski's two assignments of error.

II. Jurisdiction of the Common Pleas Court

{¶ 11} Pulaski's two assignments of error state:

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY RELYING ON THE DISTRICT HEARING ORDER TO GRANT APPELLEE'S MOTION TO DISMISS WHEN THE STAFF HEARING ORDER TERMINATED APPELLANT'S RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION FUND.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY GRANTING APPELLEE'S MOTION TO DISMISS WHEN THE STAFF HEARING ORDER HELD THAT THE ALLEGED INTERVENING INJURY BROKE THE CAUSAL CONNECTION BETWEEN APPELLANT'S DISABILITY AND THE ALLOWED CONDITIONS OF HIS CLAIM.

{¶ 12} Both assignments of error revolve around the issue of whether the trial court erred in granting the motion to dismiss due to a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Because these issues are interrelated, they will be considered together.

A. De Novo Review

{¶ 13} The trial court granted CCBCC's motion to dismiss under both Civ.R. 12(B)(1) and 12(B)(6). When reviewing a dismissal by the trial court pursuant to either Civ.R. 12(B)(1) or 12(B)(6), we consider the matter de novo. Carter v. Trotwood-Madison City Bd. Of Edn., 181 Ohio App.3d 764, 2009-Ohio-1769, 910 N.E.2d 1088, ¶ 26 (2d Dist.). In a de novo review, we give no deference to the trial court's decision but instead apply the same standard that the trial court should have used, thus conducting our own independent review. Coterel v. Reed, 2016-Ohio-7411, 72 N.E.3d 1159, ¶ 11 (2d Dist.).

{¶ 14} Civ.R. 12(B)(1) provides for the dismissal of a complaint for "lack of jurisdiction over the subject-matter[.]" Subject-matter jurisdiction does not relate to the rights of the parties, but to the power of the court to hear and decide a case on the merits. State ex. Rel. Jones v. Suster, 84 Ohio St.3d 70, 75, 701 N.E.2d 70 (1998). When a trial court rules on a Civ.R. 12(B)(1) motion, the court must determine whether the claim raises any action cognizable in that court. State ex rel. Bush v. Spurlock, 42 Ohio St.3d 77, 80, 537 N.E.2d 641 (1989). However, "[t]he trial court is not confined to the allegations of the complaint when determining its subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to a Civ.R. 12(B)(1) motion to dismiss, and it may consider material pertinent to such inquiry without converting the motion into one for summary judgment." Southgate Development Corp. v. Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., 48 Ohio St.2d 211, 358 N.E.2d 526 (1976), paragraph one of the syllabus.

{¶ 15} On the other hand, a motion to dismiss under Civ.R. 12(B)(6) for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Volbers-Klarich v. Middletown Mgt, 125 Ohio St.3d 494, 2010-Ohio-2057, 929 N.E.2d 434, ¶ 11. The trial court may not consider matters outside the pleading or the motion shall be treated as a motion for summary judgment. Civ.R. 12(B). However, materials incorporated within a complaint are considered part of that pleading and may be considered in determining a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion. Williams v. Dayton Water, 2020-Ohio-4332, 158 N.E.3d 654, ¶ 13 (2d Dist.). "In order for a complaint to be dismissed under Civ.R. 12(B)(6) for failure to state a claim, it must appear beyond doubt from the complaint that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him to relief." Cincinnati v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp., 95 Ohio St.3d 416, 2002-Ohio-2480, 768 N.E.2d 1136, ¶ 5. "A court must presume that all factual allegations in the complaint are true and must make all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Wagers v. Kettering Affiliated Health Servs., 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 28192, 2020-Ohio-11, ¶ 7, citing Volbers-Klarich at ¶ 12.

B. Worker's Compensation Review

{¶ 16} Judicial review of Commission rulings may be sought in one of three types of proceedings: by direct appeal to a common pleas court under R.C. 4123.512, by...

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