Nathaniel Bolden, Jr. v. International Paper Company and Sedgwick Claims Management Services

Annotate this Case

ARKANSAS COURT OF APPEALS
NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION

ca05-490

DIVISION I

NATHANIEL BOLDEN, JR.,

APPELLANT/CROSS-APPELLEE

V.

INTERNATIONAL PAPER COMPANY and SEDGWICK CLAIMS MANAGEMENT SERVICES

APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS

CA05-490

NOVEMBER 30, 2005

APPEAL FROM THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION,

No. F303479,

AFFIRMED ON DIRECT APPEAL AND CROSS-APPEAL

Sam Bird, Judge

Nathaniel Bolden Jr., who began working for International Paper in 1989, underwent a carpal-tunnel surgical release of his right wrist on December 31, 2002, and of his left wrist on November 14, 2003. This appeal and cross-appeal arise from a February 24, 2005, decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission that awarded his claim for benefits regarding the right-hand carpal tunnel syndrome but denied his claim for left-hand carpal tunnel syndrome. Bolden raises two points on appeal, challenging the Commission's denial of his claims for medical benefits for the left extremity and his request to submit additional evidence. On cross-appeal International Paper contends that Bolden failed to present substantial evidence that his right-hand carpal tunnel was the result of his work and failed to present medical evidence [upon the issue of causation]. We affirm on appeal and on cross-appeal.

Bolden appeared pro se at his hearing before the administrative law judge on November 5, 2003, and he has continued to represent himself throughout his appeal. Bolden

sought payment for medical expenses in connection with treatment for the carpal tunnel syndrome that he contended was a result of his work activity with International Paper in 2002. Bolden's testimony at the hearing included a description of his job as Service Operator II at International Paper for the previous year: he said that he basically pulled heavy green pine logs off of a rubberized mat in a continuous operation. In an opinion of November 5, 2003, the law judge denied the claim, finding that Bolden did not prove that his work activity was the major cause of his disability or need for treatment.

On December 3, 2003, Bolden filed with the Commission a notice of appeal and a request that he be allowed "to get a deposition from Dr. Lytle to substantiate the damage to [Bolden's] hands, and to give medical history," and to introduce evidence that he pulled wood from 1990 to 2001. On January 9, 2004, the Commission denied Bolden's request to introduce additional evidence, finding that he had failed to prove that he had been diligent in obtaining the deposition of Dr. Lytle. The Commission noted that Bolden had introduced no evidence that he had submitted to Dr. Lytle a list of seventeen questions (dated July 18, 2003) that Bolden introduced into the record; the Commission further noted that, under the rules of the Commission, Bolden could have requested the deposition of Dr. Lytle and that the respondents would have been responsible for paying for it.

In an opinion of February 24, 2005, the Commission reversed the decision of the law judge, finding that Bolden proved he had sustained a compensable injury in the form of carpal tunnel syndrome on the right. Regarding the issue of causation, the Commission noted:

The claimant was a credible witness, and the description of his work leads the Full Commission to find that the claimant sustained an injury causing physical harm of his right upper extremity and arising out of and in the course of his employment with the respondents. The claimant credibly testified regarding the manual and physical nature of his work with the respondents, and the record shows various complaints of work-related symptoms involving the claimant's upper extremities.

. . . .

The Full Commission finds that the claimant proved his carpal tunnel syndrome to the right wrist was an injury causing physical harm to the body which arose out of and in the course of the claimant's employment with the respondents. The claimant established his compensable injury by medical evidence supported by objective findings, and the claimant proved his compensable injury was the major cause of his need for treatment.

The Commission noted the requirement of Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(4)(D) that a compensable injury must be established by medical evidence supported by objective findings. Finding that Bolden had established the compensability of his claim for carpal tunnel syndrome on the right, the Commission observed that "the primary medical evidence" was a single surgical report from Dr. John O. Lytle, dated December 31, 2002. Dr. Lytle's report stated that a surgical release of the right wrist was performed on December 31, 2002, and further stated, "The nerve was inspected and found to be severely hour-glassed and discolored through the level of the transverse ligament. This was objective evidence of carpal tunnel disease." The Commission found that Bolden "did not establish a compensable injury on the left by medical evidence supported by objective findings."

On March 17, 2005, Bolden filed with the Commission a second motion to submit additional evidence, consisting of Dr. Lytle's post-operative report for the left wrist on November 14, 2003, and reports from Dr. David Rhodes, who performed follow-up surgery. The Commission denied the motion in an order of April 18, 2005, noting that Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-711(b)(3)(A) prohibits the hearing of evidence once an appeal is taken from a decision of the Commission.

Denial of Claim for Left Upper Extremity

As his first point on appeal, Bolden contends that substantial evidence does not support the Commission's finding that he was not entitled to medical benefits for the left upper extremity. He notes that the Commission, in finding that he sustained a compensable injury to the right extremity, determined that he was a credible witness and took into accountthe physical nature of his work with International Paper. He states that his "complaint has been on both hands," and he argues that the same evidence that proved the compensability of the injury to the right hand should prove compensability for the left. International Paper responds that compensability cannot be found in the absence of medical proof. We agree.

Our workers' compensation laws must be strictly construed, and we cannot ignore the requirement of Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(4)(D) that a compensable injury must be established by medical evidence supported by objective findings. When an appeal is taken from the denial of a claim by the Commission, the substantial-evidence standard of review requires that we affirm the decision if the Commission's opinion contains a substantial basis for the denial of relief. Dalton v. Allen Eng'g Co., 66 Ark. App. 201, 989 S.W.2d 543 (1999). There was simply no such evidence before the Commission regarding Bolden's claim for carpal tunnel syndrome of his left hand, and the Commission properly denied the claim on this basis.

Additional Evidence

As his second point on appeal, Bolden contends that the Commission abused its discretion in refusing to allow the introduction of additional evidence to support his claim for carpal tunnel syndrome of his left hand. Challenging the Commission's finding that he was not diligent in securing medical evidence, Bolden points to his statements in a pre-hearing questionnaire that he would like to have Dr. Lytle's testimony, and he points to his telling the law judge of his dilemma of not being able to get the testimony. The Commission, however, noted the absence of evidence that Bolden had submitted questions to Dr. Lytle and noted that Bolden had not availed himself of the opportunity afforded by the rules of the Commission to take the doctor's deposition.

The Commission's discretion should be exercised and the motion to present new evidence should be granted where the movant was diligent and where the new evidence is relevant, is not cumulative, and would change the result. Mason v. Lauck, 232 Ark. 891, 340 S.W.2d 575 (1960). The Commission's exercise of discretion in determining whether to remand for the taking of additional evidence will not be lightly disturbed on appeal. Haygood v. Belcher, 5 Ark. App. 127, 633 S.W.2d 391 (1982). We agree with International Paper that the Commission did not abuse its discretion in refusing to allow the introduction of additional evidence.

Award of Claim for Right-Sided Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

As its first point on cross-appeal, International Paper contends that no substantial evidence supports the Commission's finding that Bolden's right-sided carpal tunnel syndrome was the result of a compensable injury. International Paper complains that proof of Bolden's job duties did not meet diagnostic criteria for occupational carpal tunnel syndrome, as enacted by the Commission in Rule 37, and that no medical evidence attributed the job to the condition or addresses the major cause aspect.

International Paper presents a conclusory argument that Bolden's proof of hand activity on the job did not meet Rule 37's diagnostic criteria for proof of extensive use of the hands in a claim for carpal-tunnel syndrome. Nothing in this argument convinces us that there was no basis for the Commission's finding that the claimant credibly testified "regarding the manual and physical nature of his work with the respondents, and the record shows various complaints of work-related symptoms involving the claimant's upper extremities." As for the argument that no medical evidence addresses causation, we note that medical evidence is not essential to establish the causal relationship between the injury and a work-related accident. See Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. VanWagner, 337 Ark. 443, 990 S.W.2d 522 (1999); Stephens Truck Lines v. Millican, 58 Ark. App. 275, 950 S.W.2d 472 (1997). Thus, there is no merit to the first point on cross-appeal.

Medical Evidence

As its second point on cross-appeal, International Paper contends that Bolden did not present sufficient medical evidence to sustain his burden of proof. International Paper points out that for a year-and-a-half before the right-extremity surgery, Bolden's job duties were less strenuous than they had previously been and that he rotated through three different jobs after the change. International Paper complains that Bolden did not file his claim for benefits until after his 2002 surgery and that he completely failed to meet his burden of presenting medical evidence upon the issue of causation stated to a reasonable degree of medical certainty. The credibility of a claimant's testimony regarding causation is a matter for the Commission, and there is no statutory requirement that medical testimony must establish causation. See Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. VanWagner, supra; Stephens Truck Lines v. Millican, supra. Thus, there is no merit to these arguments.

Affirmed on direct appeal and cross-appeal.

Robbins and Griffen, JJ., agree.