WILLIAM A ALSTON V CHRYSLER CORPAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
WILLIAM A. ALSTON,
November 3, 2000
LC No. 00-114065
SILICOSIS, DUST DISEASE, and LOGGING
INDUSTRY COMPENSATION FUND,
December 26, 2000
Before: White, P.J., and Doctoroff and O'Connell, JJ.
This case is before us as on leave granted pursuant to a remand from the Supreme Court.
461 Mich 923 (1999). Defendant Chrysler Corporation appeals from a decision of the Worker's
Compensation Appellate Commission (WCAC). The WCAC reversed the magistrate's decision
finding that the Silicosis, Dust Disease, and Logging Industry Compensation Fund (the fund) was
responsible for paying plaintiff 's benefits under subsection 531(1) of the Worker's Disability
Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.531(1); MSA 17.237(531)(1). We affirm the WCAC's
Our review of a decision of the WCAC is limited to whether the WCAC exceeded its
authority or committed an error of law. Luster v Five Star Carpet Installations, Inc, 239 Mich
App 719, 725; 609 NW2d 859 (2000). The findings of fact made or adopted by the WCAC
within the scope of its powers are conclusive on appeal in the absence of fraud.
418.861a(14); MSA 17.237(861a)(14); Mudel v Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co, 462 Mich 691,
701; 614 NW2d 607 (2000); DiBenedetto v West Shore Hosp, 461 Mich 394, 401; 605 NW2d
300 (2000). "If there is any evidence supporting the WCAC's factual findings, and if the WCAC
did not misapprehend its administrative appellate role in reviewing decisions of the magistrate,
then the courts must treat the WCAC's factual findings as conclusive." Mudel, supra at 709-710.
However, a decision of the WCAC may be reversed if it is based on erroneous legal reasoning or
the wrong legal framework. DiBenedetto, supra at 401-402.
Defendant Chrysler Corporation contends that the magistrate found that plaintiff was
disabled by pneumoconiosis and that the WCAC made an error of law in requiring that Chrysler
prove that pneumoconiosis is a threat to the automobile industry before it could obtain
reimbursement from the fund. We disagree.
The magistrate found that plaintiff was disabled by a work-related dust disease resulting
from his exposure to asbestos. The magistrate did not expressly state the type of dust disease
from which plaintiff suffered. However, the magistrate stated in her findings that she accepted
the diagnoses and conclusions of Dr. Michael Kelly and Dr. Clyde Wu. The magistrate noted
that Dr. Kelly diagnosed plaintiff with emphysema, mixed dust pneumoconiosis, and diabetes
mellitus. As noted by the magistrate, Dr. Kelly opined that the predominant pathology was
emphysema, but that he also found "sufficient criteria to indicate asbestos as part of the causative
factor." Dr. Kelly could not determine whether cigarette smoking or plaintiff 's work exposures
to asbestos was more important to the development of plaintiff 's disability, but commented that
plaintiff 's work exposures were "a very significant factor in the development of plaintiff 's
emphysema as well as his pneumoconiosis."
With respect to Dr. Wu's conclusions, the magistrate noted that Dr. Wu diagnosed
plaintiff with "a significant degree of pulmonary emphysema, and some degree of asbestosis."1
The magistrate noted Dr. Wu's finding that plaintiff 's work exposures caused the asbestosis and
that plaintiff was disabled as the result of the emphysema and the asbestosis. While Dr. Wu
opined that the basic disability was caused by the emphysema, which was caused by cigarette
smoking, he further concluded that plaintiff 's "degree of asbestosis was significant and would in
and of itself cause a decrease in lung function."
By accepting the conclusions of Drs. Kelly and Wu, the magistrate essentially found that
plaintiff 's disability was caused, at least in part, by mixed dust pneumoconiosis, diagnosed by Dr.
Kelly, and asbestosis, diagnosed by Dr. Wu. Chrysler did not appeal the magistrate's finding that
plaintiff was disabled by a work-related dust disease or the magistrate's acceptance of the
conclusions of Drs. Kelly and Wu. However, the WCAC noted that the testimony of the medical
experts supported the magistrate's finding that plaintiff suffered from a work-related pulmonary
disease. The WCAC then determined that Chrysler was not entitled to collect from the fund
because it failed to show that the work-related diseases from which plaintiff suffered were a
threat to the automobile industry.
The reimbursement of employers by the fund is governed by subsection 531(1) of the
WDCA, MCL 418.531(1); MSA 17.237(531)(1), which provides:
In each case in which a carrier including a self-insurer has paid, or causes
to be paid, compensation for disability or death from silicosis or other dust
disease, or for disability or death arising out of and in the course of employment
in the logging industry, to the employee, the carrier including a self-insurer shall
be reimbursed from the silicosis, dust disease, and logging industry compensation
fund for all sums paid in excess of $12,500.00 for personal injury dates before
July 1, 1985, and for all compensation paid in excess of $25,000.00 or 104 weeks
of weekly compensation, whichever is greater, for personal injury dates after June
30, 1985, excluding payments made pursuant to sections 315, 319, 345, and
801(2), (5), and (6) which have been paid by the carrier including a self-insurer as
a portion of its liability. [Emphasis added.]
The requirement that an employer prove that a disabling disease or condition is a threat to
the industry at issue before it may be reimbursed from the fund is not found in the language of
the statute, but stems from case law interpreting the phrase "silicosis or other dust disease." This
language was first addressed in Felcoskie v Lakey Foundry Corp, 382 Mich 438; 170 NW2d 129
(1969), in which our Supreme Court examined the legislative history of compensation for
disabling dust diseases. The Legislature first made occupational diseases compensable in 1937
when it made thirty-one specific diseases or conditions compensable if they were contracted in a
specific manner in one of the listed occupations. Id. at 444. Three dust diseases, phthisis,
silicosis, and pneumoconiosis, were included in the list if they were contracted in the mining,
quarrying, or grinding industries.2
Id. at 445.
Because of the Legislature's fear that the
prevalence of the listed dust diseases posed an economic threat to the listed industries, the
Legislature enacted § 4 of the now-repealed Workmen's Compensation Act, MCL 417.4; MSA
17.223, which limited compensation for disability due to "silicosis or other dust disease" to cases
of total, not partial, disability.
Felcoskie, supra at 443.
Because the only dust diseases
compensable at the time § 4 was enacted were phthisis, silicosis, and pneumoconiosis, the Court
held that the phrase "silicosis or other dust disease" as used in § 4 necessarily referred only to
phthisis, silicosis, and pneumoconiosis. Id. at 444.
When the Workmen's Compensation Act was amended in 1943 to broaden coverage by
eliminating the schedule of diseases and extending coverage to occupational disabilities as well
as diseases, the phrase "silicosis or other dust disease" was retained. Thus, the Supreme Court
concluded that the phrase "silicosis or other dust disease" was intended "to limit compensation to
silicosis, phthisis, pneumoconiosis, or other dust disease posing such a general threat to the
industry." Id. at 446 (emphasis in Felcoskie). The Court further concluded that, whenever an
employer sought to assert the total disability requirement of MCL 417.4; MSA 17.223, "such
employer shall bear the burden of proving that such disease is so common and widespread as to
present a threat to the industry comparable to silicosis, phthisis, or pneumoconiosis." Felcoskie,
supra at 446.
In 1966, § 4 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, MCL 417.4; MSA 17.223, discussed
in Felcoskie, was replaced by § 5, MCL 417.5; MSA 17.223(1), which provided that employees
suffering from silicosis or other dust diseases would receive the same benefits as other disabled
employees and established a reimbursement scheme for employers through the Silicosis and Dust
Disease Fund. Stottlemeyer v General Motors Corp, 399 Mich 605, 611-612; 250 NW2d 486
(1977). Noting that the purpose of § 5 was the same as the purpose of § 4, in that both sections
were concerned with providing benefits to disabled workers while protecting certain employers
from an undue financial burden, the Court held that the construction of the phrase "silicosis or
other dust disease" that was set forth in Felcoskie with respect to § 4, was also applicable to § 5.
Stottlemeyer, supra. Thus, the Court held that, as used in § 5, the phrase "other dust disease" "is
limited to silicosis, phthisis, pneumoconiosis, or other dust diseases posing a threat to the
industry comparable to the 'mining, quarrying, and grinding industries.'" Id. at 612. In other
words, the Court essentially acknowledged that silicosis, phthisis, and pneumoconiosis present an
economic threat to the mining, quarrying, and grinding industries and, therefore, an employer
need not prove a threat to those industries before it may collect from the fund.
The Workmen's Compensation Act, including § 5, was repealed in 1968, and was
replaced by the WDCA.
Subsection 531(1) of the WDCA, MCL 418.531(1); MSA
17.237(531)(1), retained the "silicosis or other dust disease" language. Chrysler contends that,
because the magistrate found that plaintiff suffered from pneumoconiosis, it was not required to
prove an economic threat to the automobile industry in order to be entitled to reimbursement
from the fund.
However, on the basis of Felcoskie and Stottlemeyer, we conclude that silicosis, phthisis,
and pneumoconiosis are inherently compensable only when arising in the course of employment
in an industry involved in mining, quarrying, or grinding. Actual proof of an economic threat to
the industry is required for silicosis, phthisis, or pneumoconiosis not arising in those industries
and for any other dust disease. This construction furthers the purpose of the fund, which is "to
protect certain industries from the financial jeopardy posed by the possibility of numerous
worker's compensation claims based on dust diseases that are inherent to the nature of the
industry." Faulkner Constr Co v Silicosis, Dust Disease, & Logging Industry Compensation
Fund, 226 Mich App 503, 507; 574 NW2d 685 (1997).3 As noted in Stottlemeyer, "[t]he fund
was created to cushion threatened industries, not to limit the liability of all employers if by
happenstance an employee should suffer from a dust disease." Stottlemeyer, supra at 612.
Therefore, in the instant case, Chrysler was required to show that pneumoconiosis or
asbestosis was an economic threat to the automobile industry. Chrysler neither claimed nor
proved that pneumoconiosis or asbestosis was a threat to the automobile industry. Therefore, the
WCAC properly rejected Chrysler's claim for reimbursement from the fund.
/s/ Helene N. White
/s/ Martin M. Doctoroff
/s/ Peter D. O'Connell
Asbestosis is a form of pneumoconiosis. Faulkner Constr Co v Silicosis, Dust Disease, &
Logging Industry Compensation Fund, 226 Mich App 503, 508; 574 NW2d 685 (1997).
The 1937 legislation made silicosis compensable if contracted in the mining industry, phthisis if
caused by "[q]uarrying, cutting, crushing, grinding or polishing of stone, or grinding or polishing
of metal," and pneumoconiosis if caused by "[q]uarrying, cutting, crushing, grinding, or polishing
of metal." See Felcoskie, supra at 444-445, n 3.
In Faulkner, whether a listed disease, such as pneumoconiosis, must be shown to pose a threat
to the industry involved, if other than the mining, quarrying, or grinding industries, was expressly
left undecided. Faulkner, supra at 508-509.