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Denison Municipal Utilities v. Iowa Workers' Comp. Comm'r

Supreme Court of Iowa

December 19, 2014

DENISON MUNICIPAL UTILITIES, Appellee,
v.
IOWA WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSIONER, Appellant

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Lawrence McLellan, Judge. The Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner appeals from the order of the district court on judicial review, which we treat as a petition for a writ of certiorari, that reversed a $1000 assessment against Denison Municipal Utilities for its failure to file a first report of injury.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Julie A. Burger, Assistant Attorney General, Des Moines, for appellant.

David Brian Scieszinski, of Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

ZAGER, Justice. All justices concur except Waterman and Mansfield, JJ., who dissent. Mansfield, J., joins this dissent.

OPINION

Page 231

ZAGER, Justice.

In this case, we are presented with an appeal by the workers' compensation commissioner (commissioner) from a district court order on judicial review holding the commissioner lacked the authority under Iowa Code section 86.12 (2013) to require the employer, Denison Municipal Utilities (DMU), to file a first report of injury. The district court accordingly reversed the commissioner's $1000 assessment against DMU for its failure to file this first report of injury. Because DMU challenged the authority and legality of the commissioner's actions in district court, the district court should have treated DMU's appeal as a writ of certiorari. Consequently, we consider the district court's order not as one on judicial review, but rather as an order sustaining DMU's writ of certiorari.

Ultimately, we conclude that Iowa Code section 86.11 does not provide the sole basis for the commissioner to require an employer to file a first report of injury and that DMU was required to file a first report of injury in this case. Further, we conclude that the deputy commissioner's decision that DMU failed to make a sufficient showing of good cause to avoid the $1000 assessment pursuant to Iowa Code section 86.12 was supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the $1000 assessment against DMU was proper, and the district court erred in sustaining DMU's writ of certiorari. Writ annulled.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On January 29, 2013, Kevin Fink filed an " Original Notice and Petition" for alternate medical care with the commissioner.

Page 232

The petition requested alternate medical treatment for knee injuries allegedly sustained during the course of Fink's employment with DMU and alleged an injury date of July 13, 2012. That same day, the commissioner sent DMU a notice demanding that DMU either advise the agency of proof of filing a first report of injury for each alleged injury or immediately file such a report. The notice provided that pursuant to Iowa Code section 86.12, DMU was required to file a first report of injury. It also advised DMU that if it failed to file this report within thirty days, it would be subject to a notice of hearing and a possible assessment of $1000.

Both DMU and its insurance provider, Employers Mutual Casualty Company (EMC), were served with the original notice and petition by certified mail on January 30.

DMU did not file a first report of injury within the thirty-day period. Accordingly, on March 22 the commissioner sent DMU a notice of hearing and proposed assessment notifying it that a hearing was scheduled for April 9. At the time of hearing, DMU would be required to show cause why it had not filed the report and why a proposed $1000 should not be assessed against it for its failure to file the first report of injury as demanded.

The hearing was held as scheduled on April 9 before a deputy commissioner. The only witness to testify on behalf of DMU was the adjustor for EMC. Through the adjustor, DMU first argued that it was not required to file the first report of injury under Iowa Code section 86.11 because Fink had not missed any time from work and Fink was not suffering from a permanent disability or impairment. Therefore, the commissioner had no authority to demand that it file the first report of injury. DMU next argued that Iowa Code section 86.12 only authorizes assessments of $1000 when the first report of injury is specifically required by Iowa Code section 86.11. Since the requirements for filing the report under Iowa Code section 86.11 had not been met, the commissioner lacked the authority to assess $1000 against DMU.

An employee from the division of workers' compensation also testified at the hearing. In response to the deputy commissioner's question why the demand letter had been sent, she testified:

It was sent due to the fact that there was a petition filed by Mr. Fink on an alternate medical care. And when a petition is filed with our agency, if we don't have a corresponding First Report, we require one to be filed.

No first report of injury had been filed as of the time of the hearing. The employee also testified that she was not aware of Mr. Fink's injury, whether he had missed any time from work, or whether he had any permanent disability or permanent impairment. No other evidence was offered on the issue.

On April 26, the deputy commissioner issued her decision.[1] In the decision, the deputy commissioner rejected the argument advanced by DMU that the agency lacked the authority to demand a first report of injury because it was not required under Iowa Code section 86.11. The deputy commissioner specifically noted that Iowa Code section 86.12 authorizes the commissioner to require, by written demand, the employer supply the information required by Iowa Code section 86.10 or file a report required by Iowa Code section 86.11,

Page 233

Iowa Code 86.13, or by agency rule. Thus, the deputy commissioner concluded the requirements for filing a first report of injury pursuant to Iowa Code section 86.11 did not provide sole basis for the commissioner to require an employer to file a first report of injury. The deputy commissioner found DMU received the notice demanding it file a first report of injury and failed to file the report as demanded. The deputy commissioner further concluded that DMU provided no excuse why it had not filed the first report of injury and therefore failed to make a sufficient showing of good cause. Consequently, a $1000 assessment was authorized.

DMU filed a petition for judicial review under chapter 17A, naming both Fink and the commissioner as opposing parties. In its petition, it reasserted its argument that the commissioner did not have the authority to assess $1000 against it because a first report of injury was not required by Iowa Code section 86.11. In addition, it argued the $1000 assessment violated its due process rights because it had no meaningful avenue for appeal given that Iowa Code section 86.29 expressly precluded it from naming the commissioner as an opposing party in actions for judicial review, notwithstanding the fact that the commissioner is the only party interested in assuring that such assessments are upheld. See Iowa Code § 86.29 (2013) (" [I]n a petition for judicial review of a decision of the workers' compensation commissioner in a contested case under this chapter . . . the opposing party shall be named the respondent, and the agency shall not be named as a respondent." ).

On November 5, the district court entered its order on judicial review.[2] On the merits, the district court concluded that the deputy commissioner incorrectly interpreted Iowa Code section 86.12 as authorizing the commissioner to demand DMU file a first report of injury. It further concluded the written demand for the filing of the first report of injury, alone, was insufficient to trigger the $1000 assessment under Iowa Code section 86.12. In its review of the statutory language of Iowa Code sections 86.11 and 86.12, the district court concluded that under the clear language of the statute, there must first be a required report. It further concluded that the first report of injury was not required by Iowa Code section 86.11 since there was no evidence that Fink had been incapacitated for more than three days or that he had suffered any permanent total or permanent partial disability. Therefore, the deputy commissioner's interpretation of the statute was incorrect, and the record lacked substantial evidence to support the $1000 assessment against DMU. The district court reversed the deputy commissioner's $1000 assessment against DMU.

The commissioner appealed the order of the district court, and we ...


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