Rork v. Szabo Foods, 682S219

Decision Date10 June 1982
Docket NumberNo. 682S219,682S219
Citation436 N.E.2d 64
PartiesMary RORK, Appellant (Plaintiff below), v. SZABO FOODS, Appellee (Defendant below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Richard L. Russell, Rodney V. Shrock, Bayliff Harrigan Cord Maugans & Russell, P. C., David L. Briscoe, Briscoe & Briscoe, Kokomo, for appellant.

David A. Steckbeck, Richard A. Mann, Steckbeck, Moore & Cohen, Indianapolis, for appellee.

HUNTER, Justice.

This cause is before us on the petition to transfer of Mary Rork, wherein she seeks review of the Court of Appeals' opinion found at Rork v. Szabo Foods, (1981) Ind.App., 426 N.E.2d 1379 (Staton, J., dissenting). We hereby grant transfer, vacate the decision of the Court of Appeals, and remand the cause to the Full Industrial Board of Indiana with instructions for the Board to enter the specific findings of fact upon which its ultimate conclusion is based.

Rork was injured in the course of her employment with Szabo Foods when she fell while leaving work on April 22, 1977. Rork and Szabo Foods disagreed on the questions of liability and compensation for her injuries, prompting Rork to file a claim for workmen's compensation with the Industrial Board.

Therein, Rork alleged she had sustained a "severe ankle sprain, injury to back vertebrae, and related complications diagnoses (sic) as throiditis and softening of bone in the back vertebrae." She alleged that she had attempted to return to work on several occasions, but that continuing pain rendered her unable to fulfill her job duties; she sought compensation for total temporary disability, permanent total disability, and permanent partial impairment.

Pursuant to Ind.Code § 22-3-4-6 (Burns 1974), a hearing was held before a single member of the Industrial Board. There, the parties stipulated to the following matters, as summarized by the hearing officer:

"The parties stipulated and agreed that on or about April 22, 1977, plaintiff was in the employ of the defendant at an average weekly wage of $154.40, and that on said date plaintiff suffered an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of her employment with the defendant. It was further stipulated that thereafter the defendant did pay to the plaintiff 36.568 weeks of compensation at the rate of $102.92 per week for her intermittent temporary total disability up to and including March 13, 1978. The parties further agreed that the depositions of Doctors Smith, Rettig, Halfast and two depositions of Dr. Higgins are to be considered as the medical evidence in this cause."

Based on the evidence presented and the arguments of the parties, the hearing officer concluded Rork had suffered "permanent partial impairment equal to 10% of the body as a whole" and awarded her fifty weeks of compensation at the rate of $60 per week; the hearing officer also found that Szabo Foods was entitled to set-off in the amount of $102.92 per week for a period of 10.568 weeks "for temporary total disability payments paid beyond the statutory 26 weeks." To support the decision, the hearing officer entered the following statements denominated as "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law":

"Said Hearing Judge, having heard all the evidence in said cause, the stipulation of the parties, and having reviewed the entire file and being duly advised in the premises therein, now adopts the stipulation as the Board's findings.

"It is further found that on the day of the accident in question the plaintiff suffered accidental injuries which injuries included an ankle sprain and an aggravation of a preexisting condition of osteoarthritis.

"It is further found that plaintiff also had a preexisting condition of osteoporosis and certain other medical problems unrelated to the accidental injury in question.

"It is further found that there is insufficient evidence to indicate that plaintiff's injuries did not reach a permanent and quiescent state as regards the accidental injury on or before March 13, 1978, and thus plaintiff is not entitled to any additional temporary total disability.

"It is further found that there is insufficient evidence upon which to base a finding of permanent total disability.

"It is further found that plaintiff has suffered permanent partial impairment equal to 10% of the body as a whole, and that any impairment in excess of said 10% is from conditions which are not causally connected to the accidental injury heretofore stipulated."

Rork then exercised her statutory right to appeal the award to the Full Industrial Board. See Ind.Code § 22-3-4-7 (Burns 1974). A hearing was conducted before the Full Board, wherein both parties appeared by counsel and presented arguments to the Board. Following the hearing, the Full Board entered its order affirming the decision of the hearing officer. The order reads in substantive part:

"BE IT REMEMBERED, that pursuant to notice fixing the time and place therefor, the above cause was set for hearing and review by the Full Industrial Board of Indiana, 601 State Office Building, 100 North Senate Avenue, Indianapolis, Indiana, on March 31, 1981 at 9:00 A.M., on Plaintiff's Form No. 16 Application For Review filed November 5, 1980.

"Plaintiff appeared by her counsel, Richard L. Russell; defendant appeared by its counsel, David A. Steckbeck.

"The Full Industrial Board, having heard arguments of counsel and being duly advised in the premises, now finds the Single Hearing Member entered his Award dated October 23, 1980, which said Award was in the following words and figures, to-wit:


"It is further found by the majority of the members of the Full Industrial Board that the Single Hearing Member's decision should be adopted.


"IT IS, THEREFORE, CONSIDERED, ORDERED AND ADJUDGED by the Full Industrial Board of Indiana that the Single Hearing Member's decision is hereby affirmed."

Rork then exercised her statutory right to seek judicial review of the Full Industrial Board's decision. Ind.Code § 22-3-4-8 (Burns 1974). Among the arguments contained in her appeal was the contention that the Full Industrial Board had failed to make findings of fact with the specificity necessary to permit intelligent judicial review of the Board's rationale and conclusion. The majority of the Court of Appeals rejected Rork's argument, concluding the findings of fact were adequate. Id.

In her petition to transfer, Rork challenges the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the findings were adequate. We agree with Rork that the Industrial Board's findings of fact do not satisfy the letter and purposes of the statutory requirement. Ind.Code § 22-3-4-7, supra.

Initially, we note that the Full Industrial Board did not draft its own findings of basic fact; rather, it adopted and incorporated by reference the statements denominated by the hearing officer as his "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law." In and of itself, that practice is neither prohibited by statute nor judicially condemned.

It is observed, however, that the initial administrative stage in the adjudication of workmen's compensation claims is, by statute, defined as a "summary proceeding." Ind.Code § 22-3-4-6, supra, which governs the initial disposition of a claim, reads in its entirety:

"22-3-4-6 Disputes; summary proceedings

"Sec. 6. The board by any or all of its members shall hear the parties at issue, their representatives and witnesses, and shall determine the dispute in a summary manner. The award shall be filed with the record of proceedings, and a copy thereof shall immediately be sent to each of the parties in dispute."

The summary approach outlined by the legislature effectuates a desirable and pragmatic goal in the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act-the speedy disposition of claims. The economic impact on the family which suffers a disabling work-related injury to one of its income-producing members, or to its sole breadwinner, is immediate; a speedy disposition of a compensation claim alleviates that impact. At the same time, a heavy case load composed of claims with significant economic ramifications for the parties confronts the Industrial Board. The summary approach established for the initial disposition of claims provides the Industrial Board with a vehicle by which it may fully utilize its members as single-person hearing officers, thereby expediting the processing and administration of claims.

The statute permits, as occurred here, a single member of the Board to resolve the dispute between an employer and injured employee "in a summary manner." Id. It is not expressly required in the statute that the hearing officer enter the findings of fact upon which the ultimate conclusion is based; instead, the hearing officer need only file "the award" and "the record of the proceedings." Id.

It is the Full Industrial Board which, by statute, is required to enter the findings of fact upon which its disposition is based. Ind.Code § 22-3-4-7, supra ("the board ... shall make an award and file the same with the findings of fact on which it is based ...."). It is the Full Industrial Board's opinion which the legislature has required; the requirement that the seven members of the Board enumerate their findings of fact is a prophylactic measure against arbitrary or hastily drawn decisions, as we explained in Perez v. United States Steel Corporation, (1981) Ind., 426 N.E.2d 29, 32.

"Additionally, the statutory requirement serves to protect against careless or arbitrary administrative action. Answers to difficult questions may easily be stated, but the validity and respect to be accorded the answer lies in the rationale and facts upon which it is founded. The requirement that findings of fact be entered insures that a careful examination of the evidence, rather than visceral inclinations, will control the agency's decision. Davis, 2 Administrative Law Treatise, supra (§ 16.05 (1958) )."

These considerations warrant that the Full Industrial Board cautiously scrutinize any statements or rationale offered by...

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