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Aarp and Arch Insurance Co v. Donald Whitacre

May 15, 2013

AARP AND ARCH INSURANCE CO., PETITIONERS-APPELLEES,
v.
DONALD WHITACRE, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Carla T. Schemmel, Judge.

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

A workers' compensation claimant contends that the district court erred in reversing an agency decision awarding him benefits. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

Donald Whitacre appeals the district court's reversal of a workers' compensation decision in his favor. He argues the district court erred in concluding his injury did not arise out of his employment.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Seventy-nine-year-old Whitacre worked part-time as a janitor for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). One day, while on a coffee break with his supervisor, Pat Faught, Whitacre began to choke. He stood up to get a drink of water and, as he did so, stumbled and hit the corner of Faught's desk and the corner of the office wall. He landed head first on the floor.

Whitacre sustained injuries to his head and face. He underwent surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain and continued to suffer adverse health consequences.

Whitacre petitioned for workers' compensation benefits. Following an evidentiary hearing, a deputy commissioner concluded Whitacre's injury arose out of his employment. The deputy awarded him medical expenses and weekly compensation benefits. The deputy's decision was affirmed on intra-agency appeal.

AARP and its insurer, Arch Insurance Company, sought judicial review. The district court ruled that the agency erred in concluding Whitacre's injury arose out of his work with AARP. This appeal followed.

II. Standards of Review

Whether an injury arose out of employment is "'a mixed question of law and fact.'" Lakeside Casino v. Blue, 743 N.W.2d 169, 173 (Iowa 2007) (citation omitted). The factual aspect "requires the Commissioner to determine 'the operative events that gave rise to the injury.'" Id. (citation omitted). The legal aspect is "'whether the facts, as determined, support a conclusion that . . . [the] injury arose out of the employment.'" Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted).

The facts are essentially undisputed. Both sides focus on whether those facts support a legal conclusion that the injury arose out of Whitacre's employment. This argument implicates the standards of review set forth in Iowa Code section 17A.19(10)(c), (m) (2011), which states:

The court shall reverse, modify, or grant other appropriate relief from agency action, equitable or legal and including declaratory relief, if it determines that substantial rights of the person seeking judicial relief have been prejudiced because the agency action is any of the following:

. . . . (c) Based upon an erroneous interpretation of a provision of law whose interpretation has not clearly been vested by a provision of ...


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