The case of Nkanta v. Wal-Mart Stores, No. 12-0475 (Iowa App. Nov. 29, 2012), presented an unusual situation where defendants had presented to the deputy a "confidential " sealed envelope that included an offer to confess judgment. The agency found that offers to confess judgment under Chapter 677 were not applicable to workers' compensation proceedings. The court of appeals affirmed this finding, as well as findings that claimant failed to prove he sustained a permanent work injury and findings that the costs were to be borne by each party.
Claimant sustained an injury to his low back while working at Wal-Mart. Claimant persisted in having difficulties with his back but Drs. Boyett, Koenig and McCaughey concluded that there was no permanent injury. Dr. Chen at UIHC found there was myofascial pain and Dr. Jones performed an IME indicating there was a 5% permanent impairment. The deputy rejected Dr. Jones opinion because he gave no analysis as to why there was an impairment when the diagnostic studies had been normal. At hearing, Wal-Mart had filed a confidential sealed envelope which contain an offer of judgment. The deputy rejected this as offers to confess judgment are not material in awarding costs in this case. Each party was ordered to pay their own costs. On appeal the commissioner affirmed, expressly concluding that offers to confess judgment under Chapter 677 are not available in proceedings under the workers' compensation act. On a motion to enlarge or amend, defendant argued the since claimant had not prevailed, he should be required to pay costs. The commissioner rejected this, finding that claimant had been successful in getting his IME paid for. The district court affirmed.
On the merits of the case, the court of appeals had no difficulty in concluding that the findings of the agency were supported by substantial evidence and affirmed the decision of the agency. On the question of whether claimant should have to pay costs under the offer of judgment, the commissioner reasoned that nothing in either chapter 676 or 677 extends the legislative provisions to the workers' compensation act. The court noted that the commissioner was to be given no deference on this point, as the commissioner had not been given authority to interpret those chapters. The court did note, as had the commissioner, that section 86.40 of the Code gives the commissioner the authority to assess costs. Because the determination of costs was in the discretion of the commissioner, the court gave deference to the commissioner on this point. The court noted that chapter 677 applied to actions in court and did not reference administrative proceedings. The court also notes that chapter 17A and section 85(35) encourage informal settlement of controversies, and specifically provide that settlement are subject to approval by the workers' compensation commissioner. The court concluded that chapter 677 was inapplicable to proceedings before the workers' compensation commissioner.
The court, citing John Deere Dubuque Works v. Caven, noted that deference was to be given to the commissioner's determination of costs, as costs were assessed in the discretion of the commissioner. The court found that the commissioner's determination that chapter 677 was a general cost assessment provision that conflicted with section 86.40 was affirmed by the court. The court also affirmed that it was not an abuse of discretion to require each party to bear its own costs.
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