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Keeran v. Quaker Oats Co.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

CHRISTINE KEERAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Lawrence P. McClellan, Judge.

         Claimant seeks appellate review of an order affirming final agency action.

          Robert R. Rush and Christoph P. Rupprecht of Rush & Nicholson, PLC, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Kent M. Smith of Scheldrup Blades Schrock Smith, PC, West Des Moines, for appellees Quaker Oats Company and Indemnity Insurance Company of North America.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Amanda R. Rutherford, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee Second Injury Fund of Iowa.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         Christine Keeran challenges the workers' compensation commissioner's denial of her claim for workers' compensation benefits. The agency record shows Keeran sought workers' compensation benefits for cumulative injuries to her knees allegedly sustained during the course of her employment with Quaker Oats. The deputy commissioner found Keeran failed to prove her knee injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment with Quaker Oats and denied her claim for benefits. Because the deputy commissioner found Keeran failed to meet her burden of proof on the issues of causation and compensability, the deputy commissioner concluded the remaining issues presented were moot. Keeran sought intra-agency review of the deputy's decision. The commissioner affirmed the deputy's decision in its entirety and adopted as final the relevant portions of the deputy's decision. The district court affirmed the commissioner's denial of Keeran's claim. Keeran timely filed this appeal.


         Our review is governed by the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act, Iowa Code chapter 17A. See Lakeside Casino v. Blue, 743 N.W.2d 169, 172 (Iowa 2007). The standard of review differs depending on the error alleged. See Jacobson Transp. Co. v. Harris, 778 N.W.2d 192, 196 (Iowa 2010). Factual challenges are reviewed for substantial evidence. See id. "Evidence is substantial if a reasonable mind would find it adequate to reach a conclusion." Quaker Oats Co. v. Ciha, 552 N.W.2d 143, 150 (Iowa 1996). "If the error is one of interpretation of law, we will determine whether the commissioner's interpretation is erroneous and substitute our judgment for that of the commissioner." Jacobson Transp. Co., 778 N.W.2d at 196.


         In her first claim of error, Keeran contends the agency applied the wrong legal standard to determine whether Keeran's injury and disability arose out of her employment with Quaker Oats. "When the agency exercises its discretion based on an erroneous interpretation of the law, we are not bound by those 'legal conclusions but may correct misapplications of the law.'" Meyer v. IBP, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 213, 219 (Iowa 2006) (quoting Stroup v. Reno, 530 N.W.2d 441, 443 (Iowa 1995)).

         "Our workers' compensation statute provides coverage for 'all personal injuries sustained by an employee arising out of and in the course of the employment.'" Id. at 220 (Iowa 2006) (quoting Iowa Code § 85.3(1) (2001)). "This statutory coverage formula gives rise to four basic requirements: (1) the claimant suffered a personal injury, (2) the claimant and the respondent had an employer-employee relationship, (3) the injury arose out of the employment, and (4) the injury arose in the course of the employment." Id. "The failure of any one requirement results in a denial of a claim for benefits." Id. To prove an injury arose out of employment, the claimant must establish a "causal connection exists between the employment and the injury." Id. at 222. In addition to showing a causal connection between her employment and the injury, the claimant must prove her work-related injury is the proximate cause of her disability. See Ayers v. D & N Fence Co., 731 N.W.2d 11, 17 (Iowa 2007). "In order for a cause to be proximate, it must be a substantial factor." Id. (citation omitted). If the alleged injury resulted from the worsening, aggravation, or acceleration of a preexisting condition or injury, a claimant may recover so long as she can show a causal connection between the working conditions and her injury. See Musselman v. Cent. Tel. Co., 154 N.W.2d 128, 132 (Iowa 1967). "In other words, the injury must not have coincidentally occurred while at work, but must in some way be caused by or related to the working environment or the conditions of [her] employment." Miedema v. Dial Corp., 551 N.W.2d 309, 311 (Iowa 1996).

         We conclude the agency applied the correct legal standard to the question of causation. Here, the agency stated Keeran needed only to "show that those natural degenerative processes were accelerated, speeded up or aggravated by her work activities." This is a correct statement of the law. See Musselman, 154 N.W.2d at 132. In addition, the agency also stated Keeran was required to establish any injury was a proximate cause of her resulting disability. See Ayers, 731 N.W.2d at 17. ...

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