Brown v. Perez, No. 15-1023 (10th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs-Appellants Blake Brown, Dean Biggs, Jacqueline Deherrera, Ruth Ann Head, Marlene Mason, Roxanne McFall, Richard Medlock, and Bernadette Smith appealed a summary judgment order upholding Defendants-Appellees Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, and the Office of Workers Compensation’s (“OWC”) (collectively, “the agency”) redactions to documents they provided to Plaintiffs pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, (“FOIA”). Plaintiffs were former federal civilian employees eligible to receive federal workers compensation benefits. If there was a disagreement between a worker’s treating physician and the second-opinion physician hired by the OWC, an impartial “referee” physician was selected to resolve the conflict. The referee’s opinion was frequently dispositive of the benefits decision. To ensure impartiality, it is the OWC’s official policy to use a software program to schedule referee appointments on a rotational basis from a list of Board-certified physicians. Plaintiffs suspected that the OWC did not adhere to its official policy, but instead always hired the same “select few” referee physicians, who were financially beholden (and presumably sympathetic) to the agency. To investigate their suspicions, Plaintiffs filed FOIA requests for agency records pertaining to the referee selection process. Because the Tenth Circuit found that the FOIA exemptions invoked by the agency raise genuine disputes of material fact, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on November 8, 2016.