The State ex rel. Ohio State Univ. v. Pratt

Decision Date18 November 2022
Docket Number2021-1350
Citation2022 Ohio 4111
PartiesThe State ex rel. Ohio State University, Appellee, v. Pratt, Appellant; Industrial Commission of Ohio, Appellee.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Submitted August 2, 2022

Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Franklin County, No. 19AP-603 2021-Ohio-3420.

Dave Yost, Attorney General; and Park Street Law Group, L.L.C and Donald P. Beck, for appellee Ohio State University.

Agee Clymer, Mitchell & Portman, Sara L. McElroy, and Eric B. Cameron, for appellant.

Dave Yost, Attorney General, and Cindy Albrecht, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee Industrial Commission of Ohio.


{¶ 1} Appellant, Lori Pratt, gave her former employer appellee Ohio State University, two weeks' notice of her intention to resign. In the ensuing two weeks, Pratt sustained a work injury, had surgery, and accepted an offer of employment from a different employer. The Industrial Commission of Ohio awarded Pratt temporary-total-disability ("TTD") compensation.

{¶ 2} Ohio State asked the Tenth District Court of Appeals for a writ of mandamus ordering the commission to reverse its decision because Pratt had resigned from her employment with Ohio State prior to her injury. The Tenth District granted the writ, relying on its interpretation of our opinion in State ex rel. Klein v. Precision Excavating & Grading Co., 155 Ohio St.3d 78, 2018-Ohio-3890, 119 N.E.3d 386, and Pratt appealed.

{¶ 3} This case presents the question whether our decision in Klein redefined voluntary abandonment of the workforce as voluntary abandonment of the injured worker's position. We answer that question in the negative. We further conclude that Ohio State has not shown that the commission abused its discretion by determining that but for her work injury, Pratt would have remained in the workforce. We therefore reverse the Tenth District's judgment and deny the writ.


{¶ 4} On June 20, 2017, after working for Ohio State for nearly ten years, Pratt submitted a letter of resignation, stating that her last day of work would be July 5. However, on June 24, she sustained injuries while working for Ohio State. Ohio State, a self-insuring employer, allowed her workers' compensation claim for right-elbow injuries. She had surgery on June 27. On June 28, she received a written offer of employment from Sweet Carrot, with work to commence at a "time to be decided by mutual agreement in late summer/early fall [of] 2017." Pratt signed the offer letter, accepting the terms of employment.

{¶ 5} Pratt requested TTD compensation commencing from the date of her injury, which Ohio State initially granted. However, Ohio State later asked the commission to terminate Pratt's TTD compensation based on her resignation letter. A district hearing officer ("DHO") granted the request, because Pratt's "voluntary departure from employment by virtue of her 6/20/2017 resignation * * * precludes receipt of temporary total disability compensation." Pratt appealed.

{¶ 6} In proceedings before a staff hearing officer ("SHO"), Pratt introduced evidence of her job offer from Sweet Carrot. Similar evidence had not been presented to the DHO. The SHO vacated the DHO's order and denied Ohio State's request to terminate TTD compensation. The SHO explained that Pratt "did not voluntarily abandon the workforce when she announced her resignation from employment with [Ohio State] on 6/20/2017. Prior to writing the 6/20/2017 letter, [Pratt] had been in discussion with hiring personnel from Sweet Carrott [sic] for a new job," showing that Pratt did not intend to abandon the workforce.

{¶ 7} The commission refused Ohio State's appeal of the SHO's order. Ohio State moved for reconsideration. The commission declined to exercise its continuing jurisdiction, finding that the SHO's order contained no mistakes of law or fact.

{¶ 8} Ohio State filed this mandamus action in the Tenth District, asking that court to order the commission to reverse its order awarding TTD compensation and declare an overpayment. A magistrate recommended that the court grant a writ ordering the commission to vacate its order, award TTD compensation through July 5, 2017 (the effective date of Pratt's resignation from Ohio State), and deny compensation for periods thereafter. Pratt and the commission objected.

{¶ 9} The court overruled Pratt's objections, sustained a limited objection made by Ohio State, and adopted the magistrate's opinion. The court issued a writ ordering the commission to vacate its order and award compensation only through July 5, 2017. Pratt appealed.[1]


{¶ 10} The Tenth District issued a writ based on its interpretation of Klein, which that court understood to premise voluntary abandonment on an injured worker's departure from the former position of employment rather than the workforce. See 2021-Ohio-3420, 178 N.E.3d 991, ¶ 6 ("While the Commission argues that 'Pratt did not voluntarily abandon the workforce based upon the employment offer,' that is not the test. * * * Under Klein, we must look at whether respondent voluntarily removed herself from her former position of employment * * * "). Pratt asserts that the Tenth District improperly interpreted Klein. Ohio State asserts that the Tenth District interpreted Klein correctly and that the SHO misapplied the law of voluntary abandonment.[2]

A. Legal Standards

{¶ 11} In a direct appeal of a mandamus action originating in the court of appeals, we review the judgment as if the action had been originally filed here. State ex rel. Pressley v. Indus. Comm., 11 Ohio St.2d 141, 164, 228 N.E.2d 631 (1967). Ohio State is entitled to a writ of mandamus if it shows by clear and convincing evidence that it has a clear legal right to the requested relief, that the commission has a clear legal duty to provide that relief, and that there is no adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law. State ex rel. Zarbana Industries, Inc. v. Indus. Comm., 166 Ohio St.3d 216, 2021-Ohio-3669, 184 N.E.3d 81, ¶ 10. When an order of the commission "is adequately explained and based on some evidence, there is no abuse of discretion and a reviewing court must not disturb the order." State ex rel. Aaron's, Inc. v. Ohio Bur. of Workers' Comp., 148 Ohio St.3d 34, 2016-Ohio-5011, 68 N.E.3d 757, ¶ 18.

B. The Tenth District and Ohio State Misread Klein

1. Prior to Klein, we clarified that voluntary abandonment focuses on departure from the workforce, not the position

{¶ 12} In State ex rel. McCoy v. Dedicated Transport, Inc., 97 Ohio St.3d 25, 2002-Ohio-5305, 776 N.E.2d 51, we "trace[d] the history and theoretical underpinnings of the voluntary abandonment rule," id. at ¶ 13. We explained that "[a]s initially conceived, the voluntary abandonment rule rested on the presumption that eligibility for TTD compensation depended upon the claimant's continued employment at the job where the injury occurred." Id. Early decisions relying on this definition included State ex rel. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. v. Indus. Comm., 29 Ohio App.3d 145, 504 N.E.2d 451 (10th Dist.1985), and State ex rel. Ashcraft v. Indus. Comm., 34 Ohio St.3d 42, 517 N.E.2d 533 (1987).

{¶ 13} However, from 1985 through 2000, every case in which we found that voluntary abandonment barred TTD compensation "involved a claimant who had not only abandoned the former position of employment, but who was also unemployed over the claimed period of disability." McCoy at ¶ 22. Thus, we never considered during that time period whether leaving the prior position of employment by itself eliminated eligibility for TTD compensation if the claimant otherwise would have been employed during the disability period. Id.

{¶ 14} When we confronted that question in State ex rel. Baker v. Indus. Comm., 89 Ohio St.3d 376, 732 N.E.2d 355 (2000), we "reexamine[d] the proposition that eligibility for TTD compensation depends generally upon whether the former position of employment would still be available to the claimant when his or her industrial injury stabilizes." McCoy at 22. In Baker, we held that a claimant who left the former position of employment to accept a new position and who subsequently reaggravated the original injury while working at the new job was eligible to receive TTD compensation. Baker at syllabus. We called this situation "maintaining [a] continued presence in the workforce," id. at 383, and explained that our holding merely recognized "the job mobility of today's labor market," id. at 384.

{¶ 15} A contrary rule, we reasoned in Baker, would "consign all workers to a particular employment position and employer unless they were willing to abandon some earned benefits." Id. at 384. We agreed with the judge who dissented from the court of appeals' judgment in that case:" 'The workers' compensation system cannot be used to chain a worker to one specific employer. * * * A change of jobs does not constitute an abandonment of employment and does not automatically break the chain of cause and effect.'" Id., quoting Judge Tyack's dissenting opinion in the court of appeals.

{¶ 16} In McCoy, we extended Baker's holding to apply to injured workers who had been terminated from their former positions (rather than leaving voluntarily) but then reentered the workforce and reaggravated their original work injury, and we concluded that those workers were eligible for TTD compensation. McCoy, 97 Ohio St.3d 25, 2002-Ohio-5305, 776 N.E.2d 51, at ¶ 27. As we said in McCoy, our analysis in Baker "eliminates the 'former position of employment' test as a viable foundation for the voluntary abandonment rule." McCoy at 30.

{¶ 17} Instead, we explained, "the justification for the voluntary abandonment rule emanates from a different source," id...

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