Neifert, Byrne & Ozga, P.C.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Court of Appeals Reverses Commissioner's Summary Judgment Decision in Favor of SIF

Stowe v. Second Injury Fund of Iowa, No. 16-0599 (Iowa App. Jan. 25, 2107) presented the somewhat unusual situation where the commissioner had disposed of a case on summary judgment grounds.  Claimant had settled her case against the employer on an agreement for settlement and in the settlement documents had indicated that the injury was an injury to the left thumb.  When claimant brought an action against the Fund, the Fund filed for summary judgment, claiming that an injury to the thumb was not a qualifying injury for SIF purposes.  The deputy and commissioner agreed and the case was dismissed.

Claimant filed a petition for judicial review and the district court reversed the decision of the agency, finding that the commissioner erred in ruling as a matter of law the settlement agreement precluded claimant from seeking Fund benefits on the basis of a hand injury.  The court noted that the Fund was not a party to the settlement agreement and also found there was no support in the record to substantiate the agency's finding that claimant had acknowledged that the injury was not to her hand.  Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to claimant, the district court reversed and remanded.

On appeal, the Fund argues that the doctrine of judicial estoppel barred a claim for a hand injury because it was inconsistent with her statement in another proceeding that this was an injury to the thumb.  The COA notes that judicial estoppel prohibits a party who has successfully and unequivocally asserted a position in one proceeding from asserting an inconsistent position in a subsequent proceeding.  The court note that the positions in the two proceedings need not only be inconsistent, but "so inconsistent that one necessarily excludes the other."

The court discusses the definition of the word "hand" and notes that an injury to the thumb, by itself does not automatically exclude an injury to the hand in ordinary parlance.  Because Stumpff v. Second Injury Fund makes clear that a finger injury can qualify as a hand injury, the same can be said of the thumb.  The court noted that the documents attached to the settlement agreement supported the claim of a hand injury.  The court concluded that the district court was correct, affirms the action of the district court and remands the case to the agency.

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