Young v. Dist. of Columbia Dep't of Emp't Servs.

Citation241 A.3d 826
Decision Date03 December 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19-AA-1111,19-AA-1111
Parties David YOUNG, Petitioner, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, Respondent, and Institute for Public-Private Partnership and Travelers Indemnity Company, Intervenors.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District

Benjamin T. Boscolo, Greenbelt, MD, for petitioner.

Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren L. AliKhan, Solicitor General, and Caroline S. Van Zile, Principal Deputy Solicitor General, filed a statement in lieu of brief for respondent.

Scott E. Snyder, New York, NY, for intervenors.

Before Glickman and Easterly, Associate Judges, and Ruiz, Senior Judge.

Glickman, Associate Judge:

Petitioner David Young, who has been quadriplegic since a work-related accident in 2006, filed a disability claim with the Adjudication and Hearings Division (AHD) of the Department of Employment Services (DOES) for modification of his residence to enable him to use specialized physical therapy equipment recommended by his physician. Travelers Indemnity Company, the workers’ compensation insurer of Mr. Young's employer, agreed to pay for the equipment and the necessary home modifications. Mr. Young and Travelers are at loggerheads, however, over the choice of contractor to do the home remodeling. After a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that the AHD is without jurisdiction under the District of Columbia Workers’ Compensation Act of 19791 (WCA) to resolve the dispute over contractor selection because, the ALJ concluded, the dispute did not "pertain to the character and sufficiency of a medical aid." The Compensation Review Board (CRB) upheld that interpretation of the WCA. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand for a determination of Mr. Young's claim on its merits.


On March 26, 2006, while working abroad for the Institute for Public-Private Partnership (IPPP), Mr. Young was in a car crash that left him with severe cervical spinal cord injuries

. In 2016, Mr. Young's physician recommended that he use a rehabilitative machine manufactured by Hocoma AG called an "Erigo Pro" to improve his muscular, circulatory, and cardiovascular functioning. The Erigo Pro is a large robotic device designed, per its manufacturer, to enable the safe mobilization of bed-ridden patients "in order to counteract the negative effects of immobility and accelerate the recovery process with intensive sensorimotor stimulation." The device measures 89’’ x 34’’ x 95,’’ weighs approximately 661 pounds, and requires an estimated 169 square feet of space in which to operate. Enlargement and other structural modifications of Mr. Young's residence, which is in Florida, are necessary to accommodate the Erigo Pro.

IPPP and Travelers do not dispute Mr. Young's need for the Erigo Pro, and Travelers agreed to pay the considerable cost of acquiring it and modifying Mr. Young's home to enable its installation there. There also appears to be no material dispute as to what structural modifications should be made. What is in dispute is which home improvement contractor should be selected to carry out the work. Mr. Young objects to the contractor selected by Travelers, based on his dissatisfaction with the quality of its previous work on his home and flaws he perceives in its plans for the Erigo Pro-related renovations. Travelers, however, rejects the alternative contractor selected by Mr. Young because it declined to assure Travelers that its subcontractors would have workers’ compensation coverage for their employees. Travelers's stated concern (which Mr. Young disputes) is that hiring an "uninsured" contractor to do the work could result in a violation of Florida law and subject Travelers to additional liabilities and costs.2

Thus, the contested issue before the ALJ was whether to issue a compensation order requiring Travelers to pay for the modification of Mr. Young's residence by his chosen contractor. The ALJ declined to resolve this issue on its merits, however. Saying "there is no provision [in the WCA] related to home modification to construe," and finding that the parties’ contractors had proposed identical structural changes to accommodate the Erigo Pro, the ALJ concluded that the dispute over the choice of contractor "does not pertain to the character and sufficiency of a medical aid" and was therefore "beyond this administrative court's purview." The ALJ therefore denied Mr. Young's claim for relief for lack of jurisdiction.

The CRB agreed with the ALJ's rationale and affirmed. Stating without further analysis that AHD's statutory "authority to hear and determine all questions in respect of any claim [does not] include everything a Claimant could possibly associate with his work-related injury," and finding no "statutory authority" explicitly supporting Mr. Young's position, the CRB ruled that the WCA does not authorize AHD to "decide a dispute related to the selection of a subcontractor with regard to a home renovation."

Mr. Young contends that the CRB's ruling is erroneous and does not flow rationally from a reasonable interpretation of the WCA. He argues that even though the WCA does not mention home renovations specifically, it provides that AHD (as the Mayor's agent) has "full power and authority to hear and determine all questions in respect of any claim,"3 and that it must resolve this dispute because the proposed home modifications are "part and parcel" of his medical care.


Under D.C. Code § 2-510(a)(3) (2016 Repl.), we will affirm the CRB's decision "unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with the law."4 This appeal presents a pure question of law: whether the WCA authorizes AHD, in adjudicating a claimant's request for a compensation order approving home modifications necessary to aid the employee's rehabilitation, to resolve a dispute over the contractor chosen by the employee to perform the modifications. "We review this issue de novo , ‘recognizing that this court is the final authority on issues of statutory construction.’ "5

Normally, in construing the WCA, if "the plain meaning of the statutory language is unambiguous," our "inquiry need go no further."6 If there is ambiguity in the operative statutory language, we ordinarily will accord "great weight" to the CRB's considered interpretation, provided that it is reasonable and not inconsistent with the language and purpose of the WCA.7 "However, the degree of deference to be accorded to such agency interpretation is a function of the process by which that interpretative ruling has been arrived at and the degree to which the agency's administrative experience and expertise have contributed to the process. For example, [w]hen it appears that the agency (or, in this case, the [CRB] ) did not conduct any analysis of the language, structure, or purpose of the statutory provision, it would be incongruous to accord substantial weight to [the] agency's determination.’ ... Likewise, ‘if the agency's decision is based upon a material misconception of the law, this court will reject it.’ "8

Finally, we "recognize that workers’ compensation statutes are to be liberally construed for the benefit of the employee , and that, accordingly, ambiguous provisions are to be construed with reference to the statute's manifest purpose."9


The statutory provisions in question here are found in D.C. Code §§ 32-1507 ("Medical services, supplies, and insurance") and 32-1520 ("Procedure in respect of claims").

In pertinent part, § 32-1507(a) provides that:

The employer shall furnish such medical, surgical, vocational rehabilitation services, including necessary travel expenses and other attendance or treatment, nurse and hospital service, medicine, crutches, false teeth or the repair thereof, eye glasses or the repair thereof, artificial or any prosthetic appliance for such period as the nature of the injury or the process of recovery may require.

Section 32-1507(b) adds that "[t]he Mayor ... shall have the authority to determine the necessity, character, and sufficiency of any medical aid furnished or to be furnished,"10 and that "[d]isputes ... on the issue of necessity, character, or sufficiency of the medical care or service furnished ... shall be resolved by the Mayor upon application for a hearing[.]"11 Section 32-1520(a) underscores that "the Mayor shall have full power and authority to hear and determine all questions in respect of any [compensation] claim."12

The CRB endorsed the ALJ's conclusion that the dispute over Mr. Young's choice of contractor did not pertain to the "character" or "sufficiency" of medical aid within the meaning of § 32-1507. The only explanation they provided for this interpretation of the statute was that the WCA contains no provision expressly pertaining to home modifications, and that the modifications proposed by each party's contractor were identical.13

We agree with Mr. Young that this cursory explanation is unsatisfactory, and that the CRB has adopted an unreasonable interpretation of the WCA to which we owe no deference. The conclusion simply does not follow from the scant reasons given for it, and it is inconsistent with both the plain statutory language and the purpose and history of the provisions at issue.

There is no dispute that the proposed structural modification of Mr. Young's residence to accommodate the Erigo Pro device constitutes an essential component of what § 32-1507 refers to as the "medical care or service"—the "medical aid"—to be furnished to Mr. Young. Subsection (a) states the employer "shall furnish such medical ... services, including ... artificial and prosthetic appliance[s] for such period as the nature of the injury or the process of recovery may require," and Mr. Young requires the modification of his home to be able to use the Erigo Pro (certainly an "artificial appliance") to ameliorate his injuries and recover some of his functioning. That, of course, is...

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