VanWagoner v. Beverly Enterprises, No. 97-1355

CourtSupreme Court of Arkansas
Writing for the CourtJ. Rodney Mills; ARNOLD; IMBER; NEWBERN
Citation970 S.W.2d 810,334 Ark. 12
PartiesLaurie VanWAGONER, Appellant, v. BEVERLY ENTERPRISES, Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 97-1355
Decision Date02 July 1998

Page 810

970 S.W.2d 810
334 Ark. 12
Laurie VanWAGONER, Appellant,
v.
BEVERLY ENTERPRISES, Appellee.
No. 97-1355.
Supreme Court of Arkansas.
July 2, 1998.

Eddie H. Walker, Jr., Fort Smith, for Appellant.

J. Rodney Mills, J. Gregory Magness, Fort Smith, for Appellee.

ARNOLD, Chief Justice.

Appellant Laurie VanWagoner appeals the judgment of the Fort Smith District of [334 Ark. 13] Sebastian County Circuit Court dismissing with prejudice her complaint against appellee Beverly Enterprises. The circuit court dismissed her tort action on the ground that it

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was barred by the exclusive-remedy provision of the Workers' Compensation Act, Ark.Code Ann. § 11-9-105(a) (Repl.1996). Thereafter, she filed an appeal with the Arkansas Court of Appeals, which certified the case to this court under Ark. Sup.Ct. R. 1-2(d)(2), as involving an issue of significant public interest or a legal principle of major importance. Particularly, we are asked to resolve the question of whether the circuit court or the Workers' Compensation Commission has jurisdiction to determine whether the Act applies. We hold that the commission has exclusive, original jurisdiction to determine the fact issues establishing its jurisdiction. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, we affirm the circuit court's decision as modified.

Ms. VanWagoner was employed as an administrative assistant at Beverly on February 15, 1995, when she tripped and fell on a rug while walking down a hallway at her place of employment. She filed a notice of injury according to Ark.Code Ann. § 11-9-701 (Repl.1996) on February 29, 1996. On October 15, 1996, Ms. VanWagoner filed a claim for benefits with the commission, claiming that the injuries to her hip resulted from a work-related injury. Thereafter, Beverly controverted the claim, alleging that Ms. VanWagoner's injuries were the result of a noncompensable preexisting condition caused by a prior slip-and-fall accident and a subsequent automobile accident. Beverly further alleged that Ms. VanWagoner's claim was not compensable because she was not performing employment services at the time of the alleged fall under Ark.Code Ann. § 11-9-102(5)(B)(iii) (Repl.1996). Particularly, Beverly contended that Ms. VanWagoner was not engaged in employment services because she was on her way to the break room when the fall occurred.

After a claim representative determined that Ms. VanWagoner's claim was not compensable, a hearing before the Workers' Compensation Commission on the issue of compensability was scheduled for April 9, 1997. On April 3, 1997, Ms. VanWagoner's counsel requested that the commission cancel the hearing. On May 15, 1997, Ms. VanWagoner filed suit against Beverly in [334 Ark. 14] circuit court, alleging that Beverly's negligence in failing to maintain its premises was the proximate cause of her injuries. Beverly moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the jurisdiction resided exclusively in the commission. The circuit court agreed and dismissed the complaint. Ms.VanWagoner appeals.

The Court of Appeals has asked us to decide whether the commission or the circuit court should determine the applicability of the Workers' Compensation Act. Along with the majority of appellate courts that have addressed this issue, we have previously adhered to the rule that the circuit courts and the commission have concurrent jurisdiction to determine the applicability of workers' compensation laws to a given case. See, e.g. Craig v. Traylor, 323 Ark. 363, 915 S.W.2d 257 (1996); Lively v. Libbey Memorial Physical Medical Ctr., Inc., 317 Ark. 5, 875 S.W.2d 507 (1994). This approach, however, is fraught with weaknesses. One practical result of this rule is that the party that acts first inevitably decides which tribunal will resolve the jurisdictional question. Conceivably, if every employee decided to file his or her claim in circuit court, under our current rule, the commission might never decide whether the rights and remedies of the Workers' Compensation Act applied, despite the fact that our legislature has chosen to entrust questions of compensation to its expertise:

(a) The rights and remedies granted to an employee subject to the provisions of this chapter, on account of injury or death, shall be exclusive of all other rights and remedies of the employee, his legal representative, dependents, next of kin, or anyone otherwise entitled to recover damages from the employer....

Ark.Code Ann. § 11-9-105(a) (Repl.1996) (emphasis added). See also Cherry v. Tanda, 327 Ark. 600, 616, 940 S.W.2d 457, 462 (1997), quoting Helms v. Southern Farm Bureau Casualty, 281 Ark. 450, 664 S.W.2d 870 (1984) ("[O]ther statutes must yield to the Workers' Compensation Act because it is in the interest of the public policy to give that act priority as an exclusive remedy.").

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In addition to creating a race to file, the concurrent-jurisdiction approach can lead to duplicative litigation, that is, the simultaneous pursuit of claims in both the commission and in circuit court. See, e.g. Riverside Furniture Corp. v. Rogers, 295 Ark. 452, [334 Ark. 15] 749 S.W.2d 664 (1988). According to one commentator, an even more fundamental problem with this rule is that "it may lead to nonuniform decisions in employee injury cases involving similar facts." Daniel Keating, Employee Injury Cases: Should Courts or Boards Decide Whether Workers' Compensation Laws Apply?, 53 U. CHI. L. REV . 258, 271 (1986). Because juries are more likely than commission officials to be sympathetic to injured plaintiffs in resolving factual issues pivotal to the jurisdictional question, the...

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44 practice notes
  • Hendrix v. Alcoa, Inc., No. CV–15–558
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • December 15, 2016
    ...stipulation, that the "Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission has jurisdiction of this claim." In VanWagoner v. Beverly Enterprises, 334 Ark. 12, 970 S.W.2d 810 (1998), we held that the commission has primary and exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether an employee's injuries are covered......
  • Hendrix v. Alcoa, Inc., No. CV-15-558
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • December 15, 2016
    ...stipulation, that the "Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission has jurisdiction of this claim." In VanWagoner v. Beverly Enterprises, 334 Ark. 12, 970 S.W.2d 810 (1998), we held that the commission has primary and exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether an employee's injuries are covered......
  • Hendrix v. Alcoa, Inc., No. CV-15-558
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • December 15, 2016
    ...stipulation, that the "Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission has jurisdiction of this claim." In VanWagoner v. Beverly Enterprises, 334 Ark. 12, 970 S.W.2d 810 (1998), we held that the commission has primary and exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether an employee's injuries are covered......
  • Curtis v. Michael Lemna & New Champions Golf & Country Club, No. CV-13-1048
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • September 18, 2014
    ...facts are so one-sided that the issue is no longer one of fact but one of law, such as an intentional tort.VanWagoner v. Beverly Enters., 334 Ark. 12, 16, 970 S.W.2d 810, 812 (1998) (internal citations omitted). In adopting this rule, we have explained that the Commission has vast expertise......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 cases
  • Hendrix v. Alcoa, Inc., No. CV–15–558
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • December 15, 2016
    ...stipulation, that the "Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission has jurisdiction of this claim." In VanWagoner v. Beverly Enterprises, 334 Ark. 12, 970 S.W.2d 810 (1998), we held that the commission has primary and exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether an employee's injuries are covered......
  • Hendrix v. Alcoa, Inc., No. CV-15-558
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • December 15, 2016
    ...stipulation, that the "Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission has jurisdiction of this claim." In VanWagoner v. Beverly Enterprises, 334 Ark. 12, 970 S.W.2d 810 (1998), we held that the commission has primary and exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether an employee's injuries are covered......
  • Hendrix v. Alcoa, Inc., No. CV-15-558
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • December 15, 2016
    ...stipulation, that the "Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission has jurisdiction of this claim." In VanWagoner v. Beverly Enterprises, 334 Ark. 12, 970 S.W.2d 810 (1998), we held that the commission has primary and exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether an employee's injuries are covered......
  • Curtis v. Michael Lemna & New Champions Golf & Country Club, No. CV-13-1048
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • September 18, 2014
    ...facts are so one-sided that the issue is no longer one of fact but one of law, such as an intentional tort.VanWagoner v. Beverly Enters., 334 Ark. 12, 16, 970 S.W.2d 810, 812 (1998) (internal citations omitted). In adopting this rule, we have explained that the Commission has vast expertise......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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