In Beef Products, Inc. v. Rizvic, No. 1-442 (Iowa App. Aug. 24, 2011), the court addressed a situation where the hearing deputy (Seeck) had concluded that claimant had no permanent disability, and the deputy assigned to write the appeal decision (Walshire) had reversed the arbitration decision and provided a 60% industrial award. Claimant alleged a shoulder injury, and Dr. McMains indicated that there was no causation and no permanency, based in part on the alleged inconsistency of pain drawings completed by claimant at the time of the injury and one year later. Dr. Manshadi found causation and a 10% rating.
Although this would seem to bring the case before the court on a substantial evidence standard, the district court concluded that the appeal decision should be reversed because it was "irrational, illogical and wholly unjustifiable." The district court found that the commissioner embellished the significance of a handful of events and ignored relevant evidence in the record. The court found that the deputy lacked objectivity and overstepped his role as an impartial arbiter of facts and became an advocate for claimant's position. The case was remanded to the agency for a determination of whether claimant sustained a permanent impairment as a result of her injury.
An initial issue presented was whether the defendants had preserved error on the issue of whether claimant's injury arose out of and in the course of employment. The district court had premised its opinion on the question of whether there was a permanent impairment, not whether there was an injury attributable to the employment. Because the defendants did not raise this issue, the court found that it was conclusively determined that claimant suffered a work related injury.
On the permanency issue, the district court reversed because of the "flawed methodology" of the appeal decision. The decision rested in large part on the deputy's conclusion that the pain drawings were consistent rather than inconsistent. The Court of Appeals indicated that rather than being a case of flawed methodology, the district court had improperly re-weighed the evidence. The court found that the deputy's conclusions regarding the pain drawings were not indicative of his alleged lack of objectivity. Nonetheless, the court found that the deputy had inaccurately criticized McMains, and also stated that they were "troubled by the commissioner's inaccuracy in the recitation of the facts." The court also finds that the reliance on Dr. Manshadi was misplaced, as he had provided "little to support his finding" of a 10% upper extremity impairment. Ultimately, the court concluded that it could not say that the determination of whether claimant suffered a permanent impairment as a result of her work injury could be established as a matter of law. The case was remanded to the agency for a determination of this issue. The court also found that the permanency decision was unsupported by the record, and thus was "illogical, irrational or wholly unjustifiable."
Judge Sackett concurred specially, and takes the deputy to task for his alleged lack of objectivity. She finds a lack of objectivity in the deputy's interpretation of pain drawings, his finding for the reasons for claimant's termination, and his credibility findings about claimant's supervisor. This opinion specifically notes that there was no medical evidence finding that the pain drawings were consistent, only the deputy's views of this issue. Judge Sackett indicates that Deputy Walshire lost his objectivity in reviewing the case on appeal and went out of his way to find fault with the employer. She agreed with the majority that the decision should be reversed.
The Rizvic case is one of the few cases where a decision of the agency is found to be illogical, irrational or wholly unjustifiable. Although the majority of the court finds that the deputy's objectivity was not compromised, this alleged lack of objectivity colors the entire decision, and the concurring opinion brings this into even sharper focus. The case does not appear to allow the deputy to base his or her decision on past experiences with various players in the system, which may tend to negate the expertise of the agency in adjudicating its cases. The case makes vulnerable those decisions where a deputy has relied on his or experience to reach a conclusion.
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