State ex rel. Mitchell v. Robbins & Myers, Inc.

Decision Date07 September 1983
Docket NumberNo. 82-1640,82-1640
Citation6 Ohio St.3d 481,6 OBR 531,453 N.E.2d 721
Parties, 6 O.B.R. 531 The STATE, ex rel. MITCHELL, Appellee, v. ROBBINS & MYERS, INC., et al., Appellants.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Appellee, Napoleon S. Mitchell, was employed as a laborer with Robbins & Myers, Inc., appellant herein, when he sustained an injury to his back on August 1, 1974. Appellee continued working until August 14, 1974, but failed to report to work thereafter.

On March 20, 1975, appellee filed an application with the Bureau of Workers' Compensation for benefits, claiming that he strained his lower back while lifting a sixty-pound stator during the course and scope of his employment with Robbins & Myers, Inc. The claim was subsequently allowed for "chronic sprain and strain of the lumbosacral spine." Appellant, a self-insured employer, then began making temporary total disability payments to appellee. The payments, however, were discontinued after approximately eight weeks.

Appellee then filed an application with the Industrial Commission, also an appellant in this appeal, for additional benefits. On September 2, 1980, a hearing was conducted before a district hearing officer regarding the continuation of temporary total disability benefits. At the conclusion of the hearing, the district hearing officer issued the following order: " * * * [T]hat claimant is not totally disabled at this time." This finding was upheld by the Dayton Regional Board of Review and the commission affirmed.

Thereafter, appellee brought this action in mandamus in the court of appeals alleging that the commission's order is unsupported by the evidence and therefore constituted an abuse of discretion. The court of appeals allowed the writ.

The cause is now before this court on an appeal as of right.

Michael J. Muldoon, Columbus, for appellee.

Martin, Browne Hull & Harper and William R. Groves, Springfield, for appellant Robbins & Myers, Inc.

Anthony J. Celebrezze, Jr., Atty. Gen., and Robert J. Kent, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellant Industrial Com'n of Ohio.

PER CURIAM.

In the syllabus of State ex rel. Ramirez v. Indus. Comm. (1982), 69 Ohio St.2d 630, 433 N.E.2d 586 , the definition of temporary total disability was set forth as follows: "Under R.C. 4123.56, temporary total disability is defined as a disability which prevents a worker from returning to his former position of employment."

In addition to the aforementioned definition, this court has recognized that " * * * there must be a causal connection between an injury arising out of and in the course of a worker's employment and his harm or disability * * *." Gilbert v. Midland-Ross (1981), 67 Ohio St.2d 267, 270, 423 N.E.2d 847 . See, also, Fox v. Indus. Comm. (1955), 162 Ohio St. 569, 125 N.E.2d 1 .

Appellants do not contest that the medical evidence included in the record indicates that appellee's disability prevents him from returning to his former position of employment. Rather, it is appellants' contention that certain medical evidence of record clearly indicates that appellee's disability was attributable to a prior back injury, occurring in late 1968, and not from any incident which occurred on August 1, 1974.

In support of this contention, appellants rely upon the medical reports of Drs. Paul J. Matrka and John Q. Brown. Dr. Matrka's medical report provides, in part, as follows:

" * * * I feel that the question here is by the patient's own history as to what the actual injury was to precipitate this type of pain since there was no actual slipping or trauma other than lifting an object. I am certain that this degenerative change was pre-existent to this lifting injury and wonder if this would not be based on the degenerative change as opposed to any frank injury."

Dr. Brown's conclusion provides:

" * * * The claimant did not mention any previous history of back injury, but on reviewing the file it was found that there was a history of back injury about 3 years prior to 1972 when he fell backwards over his tool box. Upon questioning him about this, he stated yes that he had had a back injury prior to [August 1, 1974] * * *.

" * * *

"This claimant apparently has had previous back trouble prior to the injury of 8/1/74 and has had apparently severe degenerative changes occurring in the lumbar area."

Based upon these medical reports, as well as hospital records relating to appellee's 1968 injury, appellants argue that the reasoning for the denial of the claim by the district hearing officer, which was subsequently affirmed by the commission, is that no direct and proximate causal relation exists between the August 1974 injury and appellee's disability. Specifically, appellants maintain that appellee's disability stems from degenerative arthritis resulting from his injury in 1968.

As cogently observed by the court of appeals, the reasoning forwarded by the district hearing officer in denying the claim and the reasoning now advanced by appellants is markedly different. Although evidence of a prior injury exists within the record, the commission's order denying compensation does not indicate that appellee's disability was unrelated to the August 1974 occurrence; instead, the order simply states "that [the] claimant is not totally disabled at this time." (Emphasis added.)

Appellants correctly state that causal connection is a necessary condition precedent to obtaining an award under the Workers' Compensation Act. Fox, supra. However, it is incumbent upon district hearing officers, regional boards of review and the commission to weigh the evidence and reach a conclusion regarding causation, as well as the existence and degree of a claimed disability.

The subject order contains no qualifications. As such, we construe the order in a single fashion; that is, that appellee was not at the time of the hearing disabled from any injury. A careful review and examination of the record, however, reveals that there is no evidence to support this finding as all of the evidence contained therein indicates that appellee was temporarily and totally disabled and that he could not return to his former position of employment. Accordingly we apply the rationale set forth in State ex rel. Kramer v. Indus. Comm. (1979), 59 Ohio St.2d 39, 42, 391 N.E.2d 1015 , wherein it was concluded that "[w]here there is no evidence upon which the commission could have based its factual conclusion an abuse of discretion is present and mandamus becomes appropriate."

Moreover, if, as appellants suggest, the district hearing officer and the commission had actually meant something else when the order was issued and subsequently approved, then they should have so stated. See, e.g., R.C. 4123.515 which requires district hearing officers to state the reasons for their decisions. E...

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