Parks v. Norman Mun. Hosp.

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Parks v. Norman Mun. Hosp.
1984 OK 53
684 P.2d 548
Case Number: 60284
Decided: 07/24/1984
Supreme Court of Oklahoma

KAREN ANN PARKS, PETITIONER,
v.
NORMAN MUNICIPAL HOSPITAL, AN OWN RISK INSURER, AND THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION COURT OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA, RESPONDENTS.

Petition for review from the Workers' Compensation Court.

On Certiorari to the Court of Appeals, Div. 4.

¶0 A proceeding by employer to review an order by a three-judge panel of the Workers' Compensation Court (composed of Judges Victor R. Seagle, Dan Rambo and Clint Livingston) which reversed the trial judge, Mary E. Cox, and denied compensation upon a finding that the accident in controversy did not arise out of and in the course of claimant's employment. The Court of Appeals reversed. Certiorari was granted.

OPINION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS AND ORDER OF THE REVIEW PANEL VACATED AND CAUSE REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH THIS PRONOUNCEMENT.

Michael P. Kane, Norman, for petitioner.

H.W. Nichols, Jr., Looney, Nichols, Johnson & Hayes, Oklahoma City, for respondents.

OPALA, Justice:

[684 P.2d 549]

¶1 The principal question presented for our determination concerns the standard to be applied in this court (and in the Court of Appeals) on review of a decision made by a three-judge panel of the Workers' Compensation Court which changed or modified the factual findings of the trial judge.

¶2 We hold that while the three-judge panel is governed, in its re-examination of the trial judge's factual findings, by the clear-weight-of-the-evidence standard, the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals, in reviewing the panel-altered factual determinations, must apply the any-competent-evidence test.

¶3 The trial judge found that the claimant sustained a compensable injury to her back and awarded her temporary total and permanent partial disability benefits. The three-judge panel of the Workers' Compensation Court reversed that decision. It found that claimant did not sustain an injury arising out of and in the course of her employment. The Court of Appeals reinstated the trial judge's award. It held that the panel's finding was unsupported by any competent evidence.

¶4 We granted certiorari to clarify apparent inconsistencies in the statutory law with respect to the standard of review to be applied when corrective relief in an appellate court (Supreme Court or Court of Appeals) is sought from a decision by a three-judge panel which altered the factual findings of the trial judge. The uncertainty as to the applicable standard of review was no doubt occasioned by the comprehensive revisions of the workers' compensation laws in 1977

I

THE TRIAL TRIBUNAL'S INTRA-COURT REVIEW MECHANISM FOR COMPENSATION CLAIMS BEFORE AND AFTER JULY 1, 1978

¶5 Before examining the impact of the 1977 amendatory act both on intra-court [684 P.2d 550] re-examination of compensation claims and on review affordable dehors the trial tribunal, it is helpful first to explore the framework that was designed for the now-defunct State Industrial Court en banc.

¶6 The intra-court re-examination concept first shaped by us in Higgs has some characteristics in common with the so-called appeal by trial de novo.

¶7 The 1977 amendments now in force altered the earlier en banc re-examination design in but two aspects: (1) the intra-court authority to re-examine the trial judge's decision now resides in an assigned three-judge panel rather than in the en banc tribunal and (2) fact findings of the trial judge are now impervious to any alteration unless the panel finds them to be clearly against the weight of the evidence.

¶8 The core teaching of Higgs remains unaffected by the amendatory act of 1977. Now and before, the decision reached on intra-court re-examination replaces by substitution that of the single judge and thereafter, when statutory review dehors the trial tribunal is invoked, it alone stands as the decision of the trial tribunal.

II

STANDARD OF REVIEW UNDER THE PRE-1978 AND POST-1978 WORKERS' COMPENSATION LAWS

A.

¶9 Consistent with the pre-1977 institutional design, a trial judge's decision was amenable to intra-court review in a forum then called the State Industrial Court en banc.

¶10 Because it is limited by the clear-weight-of-the-evidence standard, a panel may reverse or modify the trial judge's findings only after these findings have been determined to be lacking in the requisite evidentiary foundation.

B.

¶11 Pertinent language in 85 O.S. 1981 § 26 clearly provides that "[t]he decision of the Court [Workers' Compensation Court] shall be final as to all questions of fact, and except as provided in . . . [§ 3.6], as to all questions of law". [emphasis added]. This section, now and before the 1977 amendments, refers to that decision of the trial tribunal, whether made by the trial judge or by the panel, which is deemed final. Because in contemplation of law the trial judge's decision, when altered, stands replaced with that of the review panel, there is never more than one final decision to be reviewed in the appellate courts.

¶12 Identical to that in the pre-1977 law,

¶13 In conclusion, § 26 governs the standard of review affordable in the Supreme Court or in the Court of Appeals, while § 3.6 controls the trial tribunal's intra-court re-examination process. The latter restricts the panel's power over a trial judge's fact finding to a review upon application of the clear-weight-of-the-evidence standard. When panel-substituted fact findings are under review in an appellate court, the corrective process is confined to issues of law and is hence governed by the any-competent-evidence test.

¶14 We need not decide here whether the panel-substituted order made in this proceeding is supported by competent evidence. That order must be set aside as facially defective. It is devoid of the critical, statutorily-mandated panel determination that the trial judge's finding (that claimant sustained an accidental personal injury on September 19 and 20, 1982) was "against the clear weight of the evidence". In the absence of that finding, the panel order must be regarded as unauthorized by law.

¶15 The opinion of the Court of Appeals and the order of the three-judge review panel are accordingly vacated for further proceedings not inconsistent with this pronouncement.

¶16 BARNES, C.J., and HODGES, DOOLIN, HARGRAVE and KAUGER, JJ., concur.

¶17 SIMMS, V.C.J., and LAVENDER, J., concur in part and dissent in part.

¶18 ALMA WILSON, J., dissents.

Footnotes:

1 Okla.Sess.L. 1977, Ch. 234 §§ 1-65 at pgs. 587-629. The legislation provided that the act was not to become effective until July 1, 1978. See Sturm, The Workers' Compensation Act of 1977, 3 O.C.U.Law Rev. 1 [Fall 1978] for a further discussion of the 1977 revisions.

2 85 O.S. 1971 § 91 (a).

3 Okla.Sess.L. 1977, Ch. 234 §§ 61 and 64, at pgs. 628, 629 (85 O.S.Supp. 1977 § 3.6 ).

4 85 O.S. 1971 § 91 (a).

5 Amerada Petroleum Corporation v. Hester, 188 Okl. 394, 109 P.2d 820, 821 (1941); see also Higgs v. State Industrial Commission, 197 Okl. 281, 170 P.2d 240, 241 (1946).

6 See footnote 5 supra. This concept was also discussed in Dixon Bros. Lumber & Supply Co. v. Watson, Okl., 353 P.2d 478, 481 (1960).

7 By our analogy to trial de novo we do not intimate that a hearing before the en banc court was in fact a trial de novo. Unlike the latter, the en banc process did not authorize adduction of additional evidence. Consumers Co-op Ass'n. v. Titus, 201 Okl. 344, 205 P.2d 1162, 1163 (1949). En banc review contemplated only a hearing on questions of law and fact or mixed questions of law and fact to be determined solely on the record made before the trial judge. 85 O.S. 1971 § 77 ; McSperitt v. Sooner Service, Inc., Okl., 431 P.2d 443, 445 (1967).

8 Shelton v. Lambert, Okl., 399 P.2d 467, 470 (1965). Pre-1969 Oklahoma law affords at least three discrete instances of a de novo consideration in which substitution of one decision for another could be effected by transfer of the case to another court: (a) from the justice of the peace court to the county or district court, Cullen v. Sloniker, 39 Okl. 353, 135 P. 341 (1913); Faust v. Fenton, 65 Okl. 243, 166 P. 731 (1917); Fuss v. Anderson, 95 Okl. 2, 217 P. 436 (1923); (b) from the probate (county) court to the district court; In Shailer's Estate, Okl., 266 P.2d 613 (1954); and (c) from the city auditor or Secretary of State to the Supreme Court in initiative and referendum petition contests, Shelton v. Lambert, supra; In re Initiative Petition No. 260, State Question 377, Okl., 298 P.2d 753 (1956).

9 From the inception our case law has employed a substitution analysis for gauging reviewability of compensation orders made upon the intra-court re-examination process. When a trial judge's terminal order is vacated in the intra-court review process and the case is remanded for his reconsideration, the decision is treated as interlocutory and hence beyond our reach for corrective relief. Kansas Explorations, Inc. v. Blaine et al., 195 Okl. 428, 158 P.2d 907 (1945); Armour & Co. v. Moore, 206 Okl. 72, 240 P.2d 1113 (1952); Anchor Stone & Materials Co. v. Terry, 207 Okl. 690, 252 P.2d 443 (1953); Vieth v. Cook, Okl., 306 P.2d 1110 (1957); Reid v. Phillips Petroleum Co., Okl., 531 P.2d 340, 341 (1975); and Continental Oil Co. v. Allen, Okl., 640 P.2d 1358, 1360 (1982).

10 Okla.Sess.L. 1939, Ch. 72, Article 2 §§ 2 and 3 at pgs. 580-583. These provisions which amended O.S. 1931 §§ 13363 and 13384, were later carried into the 1941 compilation as 85 O.S. 1941 §§ 29 and 77 , subdiv. 9.

11 For an analysis of the jeopardy effect in a "two-tiered" system for the trial of minor criminal cases see Justices of Boston Municipal Court v. Lydon, §§§ U.S. §§§, 104 S. Ct. 1805, 80 L. Ed. 2d 311 (1984).

12 85 O.S. 1971 § 91 (a).

13 The terms of 85 O.S. 1981 § 3.6 A provide in pertinent part:

"* * * The Court en banc [three-judge panel] may reverse or modify the decision only if it determines that such decision was against the clear weight of the evidence or contrary to law. Upon completion of the appeal, the members of the Court sitting en banc shall issue such order, decision or award as is proper, just and equitable. * * * Appeals shall be allowed on a question of law or a question of fact, or a mixed question of law and fact, and shall be determined on the record made before the Judge. * * *" [emphasis added].

14 The terms of 85 O.S. 1971 § 26 provide in pertinent part:

"* * * The decision of the Commission shall be final as to all questions of fact, and except as provided in . . . [§ 29], of this Article, as to all questions of law."

15 Merrill v. State Industrial Commission, Okl., 290 P.2d 1095, 1098 (1955); Loggins v. Wetumka General Hospital, Okl., 587 P.2d 455, 457 (1978); Wilkinson v. McGehee, Okl., 651 P.2d 671 (1982); Graves v. Safeway Stores, Inc., Okl., 653 P.2d 1236, 1238 (1982); Thomas v. Keith Hensel Optical Labs, Okl., 653 P.2d 201, 203 (1982).

16 Loggins v. Wetumka General Hospital, supra note 15; Matter of Death of Sade, Okl., 649 P.2d 538, 540 (1982); Graves v. Safeway Stores, Inc., supra note 15.

17 Merrill v. State Industrial Commission, supra note 15.

18 Chromalloy-American, Oklahoma Division v. Wright, Okl., 567 P.2d 71, 73 (1977); Graves v. Safeway Stores, Inc., supra note 15.

19 85 O.S. 1981 § 3.6 . See in this connection Hermetics Switch, Inc. v. Sales, Okl., 640 P.2d 963, 965 (1982). The Workers' Compensation Court is required to make specific findings of the ultimate facts responsive to the issues. Butts v. Rose Drilling, Okl., 304 P.2d 986, 988 (1956). Where findings of fact are too indefinite and uncertain for judicial interpretation, the Supreme Court, on review, will vacate order for further proceedings. Gleason v. State Industrial Court, Okl., 413 P.2d 536, 538 (1966).

ALMA WILSON, Justice, dissenting.

¶1 I respectfully dissent. With the 1978 amendments to 85 O.S. 1971 § 77 , now 85 O.S. 1981 § 3.6 (A), the court en banc may reverse or modify the decision of the trial judge only if it determines that such decision was against the clear weight of the evidence or contrary to law. For there to be a meaningful review by either the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court of the en banc decision, particularly where the trial court is reversed on the ground its decision was against the clear weight of the [684 P.2d 553] evidence, our task must be to determine whether the court en banc's reversal was in compliance with its statutorily prescribed standard of review. Absent compliance with its own standard, its decision would be erroneous as a matter of law.

¶2 Review of the decisions of the court en banc by the "any competent evidence" standard could lead to this Court's affirming an en banc's reversal of the trial court where the court en banc's decision was supported by some competent evidence, even though the trial court's decision may have been overwhelmingly supported by the evidence. I do not believe that the Legislature intended such an anomalous result.