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Tilton v. H.J. Heinz Co.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 24, 2019

TERRY TILTON, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
H.J. HEINZ COMPANY and LIBERTY MUTUAL INS. CO., Respondents-Appellants.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeanie Vaudt, Judge.

         An employer and its workers' compensation insurance carrier appeal a district court ruling on Terry Tilton's petition for judicial review of a determination of the workers' compensation commissioner.

          Nathan R. McConkey of Huber, Book, Lanz & McConkey, P.L.L.C., West Des Moines, for appellants.

          Matthew D. Dake and Thomas M. Wertz of Wertz, Dake & Anderson, Cedar Rapids, for appellee.

          Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         H.J. Heinz Company (Heinz) and its workers' compensation insurance carrier appeal a district court ruling on Terry Tilton's petition for judicial review of a determination of the workers' compensation commissioner remanding the matter to the agency for further proceedings. Heinz argues the district court erred in concluding the agency determination is unsupported by substantial evidence and was based upon an irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable application of law to fact.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Tilton began working at Heinz, a soup business, in 1999; she has worked in various positions since that time. Tilton began experiencing back problems early on in her time at Heinz. In 2001, after working in other positions, she began working in the "prep room." Around this time, Tilton realized her back pain was job related. In or about 2010, Tilton began working in the "clean as you go" position, a physically demanding position, until she went on disability in April 2013. Although Tilton's back-pain symptoms increased when she began working in the clean as you go position, she has consistently and extensively sought treatment for her back pain since 2000. Over the years, Tilton has been given various work restrictions relative to her back issues. For example, in January 2006, Tilton's chiropractor placed her under weight and time restrictions for work. Then, from mid-February to late March 2006, Tilton went on disability and was excused from work as a result of her back issues. The record suggests she was also off of work for a period of at least seven weeks in the late summer and early fall of 2007. The record also discloses Tilton was on disability for a period of time in the summer of 2008, although the record does not affirmatively state the length of time this period of disability lasted. In February 2010, Tilton's chiropractor noted Tilton's back issues were "permanent" and she would be subject to "flare ups," some of which "will cause her to miss work," "as they have in the past."

         A medical note from Dr. Dennis Bradley on March 11, 2010, states that Tilton had seen Dr. Gray, who took her off work. Shortly thereafter, Tilton began seeing Dr. Stan Mathew relative to her chronic back pain. Dr. Mathew's notes state Tilton was "still out of work due to low back pain" in April 2010. Tilton engaged in physical therapy over the next few months and, in June, underwent a joint injection. According to the notes from a follow-up appointment in July, the injection only provided relief "for a few days." Dr. Mathew cleared Tilton to return to work "without any restriction," effective July 12. However, Tilton was unable to return to work on that date due to the severity of her back pain. She returned to Mathew the following day and was ultimately scheduled to undergo an epidural steroid injection. That procedure took place in late July. By August 10, Tilton had been "pain free" for roughly two weeks. Her relief continued until early September, and Dr. Mathew cleared Tilton to return to work "without any restriction," effective September 8. Tilton returned to work, but her relief was short-lived. By early February 2011, Tilton's symptoms returned and she again discontinued working. The record indicates she did not return to work until early April. Tilton's back pain "has progressively gotten worse" since she began treatment with Dr. Mathew. Ultimately, on April 15, 2013, being unable to tolerate her back pain anymore, Tilton decided to go on disability. She has not worked since. On May 5, Tilton gave Heinz notice of a work injury that occurred on or about April 15.

         In March 2015, Tilton filed a petition for arbitration and medical benefits with the commissioner alleging a cumulative-trauma injury manifesting on or about April 15, 2013. Following a hearing, the deputy commissioner entered its arbitration decision. The deputy concluded Tilton was aware "by 2011 that her condition was work related, serious, and potentially compensable" and, because "she did not provide notice to her employer until May of 2013 . . . and did not file a petition for benefits until 2015" her claim for benefits was barred by Iowa Code sections 85.23 and 85.26(1) (2015). Tilton appealed the decision to the commissioner. In his appeal decision, the commissioner's designee concluded Tilton's work injury manifested on or before September 8, 2010 and, because she did not give Heinz notice of the same within ninety days, her claim for benefits was barred by Iowa Code section 85.23.

         In 2018, Tilton filed a petition for judicial review of the agency decision in the district court. Tilton argued the agency decision was irrational, illogical or wholly unjustifiable and unsupported by substantial evidence in the record. Following an unreported hearing, the district court concluded the agency applied an incorrect legal standard; substantial evidence does not support the agency decision; and, therefore, the decision was irrational, illogical, and wholly unjustifiable. The court remanded the matter to the agency for further proceedings. As noted, Heinz appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         "Judicial review of agency decisions is governed by Iowa Code section 17A.19" (2018).[1]Brakke v. Iowa Dep't of Nat. Res., 897 N.W.2d 522, 530 (Iowa 2017) (quoting Kay-Decker v. Iowa State Bd. of Tax Review, 857 N.W.2d 216, 222 (Iowa 2014)); accord Warren Props. v. Stewart, 864 N.W.2d 307, 311 (Iowa 2015). The district court acts in an appellate capacity in judicial-review proceedings. Iowa Med. Soc'y v. Iowa Bd. of Nursing, 831 N.W.2d 826, 838 (Iowa 2013) (quoting City of Sioux City v. GME, Ltd., 584 N.W.2d 322, 324 (Iowa 1998)). On appeal, this court "appl[ies] the standards of section 17A.19(10) to determine if we reach the same results as the district court." Brakke, 897 N.W.2d at 530 (quoting Renda v. Iowa Civil Rights Comm'n, 784 N.W.2d 8, 10 (Iowa 2010)); accord Des Moines Area Transit Auth. v. Young, 867 N.W.2d 839, 842 (Iowa 2015). Relief in a judicial-review proceeding is ...


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