BRETT V. SULLIVAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
WEST CENTRAL COOPERATIVE and FARMLAND MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants-Appellees.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Sarah Crane,
claimant appeals the district court's ruling on judicial
review affirming the award of the Workers' Compensation
M. Wertz of Wertz & Dake, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.
Jeffrey W. Lanz of Huber, Book, Lanz & McConkey,
P.L.L.C., West Des Moines, for appellees.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.
POTTERFIELD, PRESIDING JUDGE.
Sullivan experienced a workplace injury in October 2011 when
the wheel loader Sullivan was driving was struck by a train.
Sullivan's resulting injuries necessitated a lengthy
hospital stay and a number of surgeries. West Central
Cooperative, Sullivan's former employer, and Farmland
Mutual Insurance Company, the employer's insurer,
admitted the injury. They paid Sullivan lost time and
permanent partial disability benefits and covered all of his
issues arising from the workplace injury were contested and
presented to a deputy commissioner of the Workers'
Compensation Commission. One of the issues was whether Sullivan
had a mental-health condition caused by the workplace
accident. The deputy commissioner found:
There are two experts who favor [Sullivan's] position
that he has a mental component stemming from his work injury.
The experts are Dr. Mills and Dr. Gallagher. Their opinions
were detailed in preceding paragraphs. There are two experts
who expressly disagree with Dr. Mills and Dr. Gallagher. They
are Dr. Chesen and Dr. Andrikopolous. Their opinions are also
detailed in preceding paragraphs. The two defense experts
maintain [Sullivan] is malingering and he has no psychiatric
In this case, the old adage, "actions speak louder than
words" applies. For more than two years after the work
injury, claimant attended numerous medical appointments. He
returned to work and performed his duties, even though he had
faced several surgeries, physical therapy sessions, and had
to use such assistive devices as wheelchairs and walkers to
perform his duties. Throughout that timeframe, [Sullivan] did
not report to any of his medical providers or to his
supervisors he was having depression, anxiety, or PTSD.
[Sullivan] did not request treatment or drug therapy for any
mental health issues. His numerous treating physicians did
not observe symptoms consistent with any mental conditions.
Moreover, April Sullivan often attended the medical appointments
with [Sullivan]. She never indicated to the medical providers
there was any change in [Sullivan's] mood or in his
relationship with the family. [Sullivan] is not requesting
medical care for any claimed mental condition.
It is only when [Sullivan] retained the services for his own
experts in the fields of neuropsychology and psychiatry did
[his] mental health become an issue in the case. Even then,
[he] did not seek treatment for any depression, anxiety or
PTSD. It is the determination of the undersigned[:]
[Sullivan] does not have a mental condition that is the
result of his work injury on October 2, 2011.
challenged the deputy commissioner's determination and
argued the award of 60% industrial disability must be
reconsidered in light of this incorrect determination. The
deputy's ruling was adopted by the
commissioner and affirmed in a final agency
sought judicial review. He maintained the commissioner
ignored all expert opinions in the record in rendering his
causation findings and making the determination
Sullivan's workplace accident did not cause a
mental-health injury. The district court disagreed with
Sullivan's claim, noting the ruling adopted by the agency
"walked through each of the expert medical opinions in
depth," with two experts who opined Sullivan had
suffered a mental-health injury as a result of the workplace
injury (Dr. Mills and Dr. Gallagher) and two that opined he
did not (Dr. Chesen and Dr. Andrikopoulous). The commissioner
did not explicitly find doctors Chesen and Andrikopoulous
more credible than the other two experts, but he identified a
number a factual findings-stemming from the reports of Chesen
and Andrikopolous-to support the conclusion Sullivan's
workplace accident did not cause him to suffer from a
mental-health condition. The district court affirmed the
agency's ruling, stating:
Many of the factual findings . . . cited to as a reason for
the determination that Sullivan did not suffer a mental
condition are reflected in the medical expert reports that
align with [the commissioner's] determination. Just as in
[Schutjer v. Algona Manor Care Center, 780 N.W.2d
549, 562 (Iowa 2010)] it is evident the commissioner chose to
rely on certain experts "because those opinions were
more consistent with the factual findings made by the
commissioner." Based on the factual circumstances of
this case, the commissioner was required to evaluate the
timing of Sullivan's complaints of a mental condition and
determine whether he agreed with Dr. Mills and Dr. Gallagher
that Sullivan had experienced a late onset of a mental health
condition nearly two years after the work injury or whether
he agreed with Dr. Chesen and Dr. Andrikopoulos that the
timing was "peculiar" and Sullivan did not have a
mental condition. The court finds that, read in ...