Carda v. State of Minn./Dep’t of Human Servs.

Carda v. State of Minn./Dep’t of Human Servs., No. WC17-6030 (W.C.C.A. July 11, 2017).

The Employee appeals the Compensation Judge’s finding that the Employee was capable of working full time without left upper extremity restrictions, and from discontinuance of TTD compensation.

While supervising violent mentally ill residents, the Employee suffered an admitted injury to her left upper extremity when a resident assaulted the Employee with a fiberglass pole.  The Employee was only diagnosed with a strain of the left thumb.  The Employee’s symptoms worsened and were eventually felt in her left shoulder.  Further, the Employee also began to allege psychological concerns as a result of the assault.  After consistent medical treatment without a clear diagnosis, the Employer and Insurer objected to a referral and further EMG and MRI studies.

The Employer and Insurer had an IME conducted by Dr. Bakker, who found the Employee’s work injury resolved and that the Employee was capable of working full time without restrictions.  Dr. Gratzer also examined the Employee and found no need for restrictions due to psychological concerns.  The Employee filed a medical request seeking approval of further studies.  Shortly after, the Employer and Insurer filed a Notice to Discontinue TTD benefits.  Judge Dallner subsequently denied both the Employee’s medical request and Employer and Insurer’s Notice to Discontinue, which brought the issues to hearing.

The hearing took place in November of 2016.  At the time of hearing, the Employee had the intention of having her left upper extremity condition evaluated by Dr. Hess, as approved by Judge Dallner. The Employee, however, did not request a continuance pending Dr. Hess’ evaluation.  The Compensation Judge found for the Employer and Insurer, holding the Employee could work without restrictions and discontinued TTD benefits.  In December 2016, the Employee was evaluated by Dr. Hess, who took the Employee off work for aggressive treatment for work related severe reflex sympathetic dystrophy/CRPS and complex regional pain syndrome.  No party requested the record be reopened. The Employee filed a Notice to Appeal based on Dr. Hess’s post-hearing diagnosis.

The WCCA held that its jurisdiction on appeal is statutory and based on one of four grounds: (1) the order does not conform with Minn. Stat. § 176; (2) judge committed error of law; (3) findings were clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence; and (4) findings were procured by fraud, coercion, or other improper conduct.

The Employee argued the findings committed an error of law by the compensation judge failing to continue the hearing or order the record to remain open pending Dr. Hess’ examination, as authorized by Judge Dallner. The WCCA held that the Compensation Judge has the authority to hold open the record for post-hearing medical evidence, but cannot be compelled to do so on its own motion where no party has so requested. The WCCA also looked into whether “the interests of justice” would provide authority to the WCCA to vacate and remand based off a Minnesota Supreme Court case.  After review, the WCCA held that the administrative body is limited to statutory jurisdiction, and therefore, the WCCA is unclear whether or not it has similar authority.