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Brenda Hernandez F/K/A Brenda Flores v. Osceola Foods

April 24, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Brad McCall, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Vogel, P.J.

An employee appeals the district court order denying her petition for judicial review of the Commissioner's review-reopening decision. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Doyle, JJ.

Brenda Hernandez appeals the district court's ruling affirming the workers' compensation commissioner's decision finding she did not prove she suffered from a change in economic condition*fn1 to allow her claim against her self-insured former employer, Osceola Foods, to be reopened and reviewed. Because the agency decision is supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Hernandez was employed by Osceola Foods from January 2003 until April 2008. She injured her back at work on May 7, 2004. The parties entered into a settlement agreement on May 22, 2006, in which they agreed Hernandez suffered from a degenerative back condition aggravated by her work with Osceola. She was awarded permanent partial disability for a fifteen percent loss of earning capacity resulting in seventy-five weeks of compensation under Iowa Code section 85.34(2)(u) (2003). At that time, she had a permanent thirty-pound lifting restriction.*fn2

She continued to work for Osceola Foods for almost two years after the settlement when her employment was terminated for dishonesty; she improperly filled out an employment application for her husband and intentionally misrepresented his employment history. The next day, Hernandez went to a temporary staffing agency and filled out an application to work at Farley's and Sathers Candy Company, acknowledging she was "able to perform ALL duties" as set forth in the position description, including that she could lift up to fifty pounds. She also answered the question of "What weaknesses do you bring to an employer" as "only if I have emergency [sic]." She was hired through the agency immediately and hired permanently by Farley's and Sathers on September 15, 2008. However, on January 9, 2009, when her lifting restriction became known to Farley's and Sathers, her employment was terminated because she "misrepresented ability to do job."

She filed a petition in review-reopening based on an allegedly greater loss of earning capacity. The deputy commissioner found "Hernandez does have a change in actual earning, but it is due to her dishonest conduct resulting in the loss of her job rather than the work injury." The commissioner affirmed and adopted the deputy's decision. A petition for judicial review was filed in the district court. The district court affirmed the agency's determination finding "The Commissioner is correct that the only change in Hernandez's employability is due to her own actions." She again appeals.

II. Standard of Review

Our scope of review in this case is for correction of errors at law. Kohlhaas v. Hog Slat, Inc., 777 N.W.2d 387, 390 (Iowa 2009).

Iowa Code section 17A.19(10) [(2011)] governs judicial review of agency decision making. We will apply the standards of section 17A.19(10) to determine whether we reach the same results as the district court. The district court may grant relief if the agency action has prejudiced the substantial rights of the petitioner, and the agency action meets one of the enumerated criteria contained in section 17A. 19(10)(a) through (n).

Evercom Sys., Inc. v. Iowa Utils. Bd., 805 N.W.2d 758, 762 (Iowa 2011).

To the extent the commissioner's decision reflects factual determinations that are "clearly vested by a provision of law in the discretion of the agency," we are bound by the commissioner's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence. Further, the commissioner's application of law to the facts as found by the commissioner will not be reversed unless it is "irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable.

Neal v. Annett Holdings, Inc., 814 N.W.2d 512, 518 (Iowa 2012) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence means the quantity and quality of evidence that would be deemed sufficient by a neutral, detached, and reasonable person, to establish the fact at issue when the consequences resulting from the establishment of that fact are ...

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