Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Randy V. Hefner, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mullins, J.
An employer and insurance carrier appeal the district court's judicial review decision affirming the workers' compensation commissioner's commutation decision. AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.
Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.
Pilgrim's Pride Corporation and Zurich North American (the employer) appeal the district court's ruling, which affirmed the commutation decision of the workers' compensation commissioner. The deputy commissioner granted Johnie Eakins's request for a partial commutation of his workers' compensation benefits, awarding him a lump sum amount rather than weekly benefit payments.*fn1 The deputy's decision was affirmed by the commissioner.
The employer sought judicial review asserting (1) substantial evidence does not support the agency's decision in light of Eakins's lack of investment experience or success and (2) the agency erred in holding the proposed commutation should be revised to the values as of the filing of the commutation decision. The district court denied the relief sought in the judicial review petition, affirming the agency's decision. It found substantial evidence supported partial commutation, which it believed was based largely on an assessment of Eakins's credibility. It also found the correct date to calculate the discount rate for the commutation was the date when the partial commutation was ordered, not the date the decision becomes final on appeal. The employer raises the same issues on appeal from the district court's judicial review decision.
I. SCOPE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW.
Iowa Code section 17A.19 (2009) governs judicial review of agency decisions. The district court acts in an appellate capacity when it exercises its judicial review power. Neal v. Annett Holdings, Inc., 814 N.W.2d 512, 518 (Iowa 2012). We apply the same standards of section 17A.19(10) when we review the district court's decision to determine whether we reach the same conclusions as the district court. Id. If our conclusions are the same we affirm; otherwise, we reverse. Id.
Our standard of review depends on the issues raised on appeal. Jacobson Transp. Co. v. Harris, 778 N.W.2d 192, 196 (Iowa 2010). "Because of the widely varying standards of review, it is 'essential for counsel to search for and pinpoint the precise claim of error on appeal.'" Id. With respect to its claim that the partial commutation was in error, the employer claims the agency "failed to properly apply controlling legal principles" and "the facts . . . are inadequate to satisfy the governing legal standards." The first claim alleges the agency erred in its application of law to the facts, which under section 17A.19(10)(m) will be reviewed to determine if it is "irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable." We allocate some deference to the agency, but less than we give the agency's factual findings. Larson Mfg. Co. v. Thorson, 763 N.W.2d 842, 850 (Iowa 2009). The second part of the employer's claim alleges substantial evidence does not support the agency's decision, which is reviewed under section 17A.19(10)(f). As factual findings are clearly vested in the discretion of the agency, we will defer to the agency's findings if they are based on "substantial evidence." Id. "The question before us is not whether the evidence supports different findings than those made by the commissioner, but whether the evidence 'supports the findings actually made.'" Id. (citation omitted).
Finally, the employer asserts the agency erred in ordering the commutation to be revised to the commuted values at the time of the signing and filing of the decision. The employer contends the date that the value should be set is the date the case becomes final after appeal. As this claim involves an interpretation of law that has not been clearly vested by a provision of law in the discretion of the agency, we are free to substitute our own judgment de novo for the agency's interpretation. See Iowa Code § 17A.19(10)(c); Jacobson, 778 N.W.2d at 196.
Under Iowa Code section 85.45, future workers' compensation benefits may be commuted to a present worth lump sum payment under certain conditions including a finding by the commissioner that the commutation is in the worker's best interest. See Iowa Code § 85.45(1)(b). Our courts have distilled a number of factors to determine whether a commutation is in the best interest of the worker, which include:
1. The worker's age, education, mental and physical condition, and actual life expectancy (as contrasted with information provided by actuarial tables).
2. The worker's family circumstances, living arrangements, and responsibilities to dependents.
3. The worker's financial condition, including all sources of income, debts ...