Red Cliffs v. Labor Comm'n

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Red Cliffs Regional v. Labor Commission. Filed December 30, 1999 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS


Red Cliffs Regional, Inc.;
and Business Insurance Company,


Labor Commission and Glenda Chambers,

(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 990131-CA

December 30, 1999
  1999 UT App 388 -----

Original Proceeding in this Court

Robert C. Olsen and Theodore E. Kanell, Salt Lake City, for Petitioners
Alan Hennebold, Salt Lake City, for Respondent Labor Commission
Aaron J. Prisbrey, St. George, for Respondent Glenda Chambers


Before Judges Wilkins, Greenwood, and Jackson.

GREENWOOD, Associate Presiding Judge:

Red Cliffs Regional, Inc., and Business Insurance Company (jointly Red Cliffs) petition this court for relief from a final order of the Labor Commission Appeals Board (the Board). We affirm.

Red Cliffs argues we should apply a correction of error standard of review to the Board's application of law to the facts. We disagree. Since the Utah Supreme Court's decision in Morton International, Inc. v. Auditing Division, 814 P.2d 581, 587-88 (Utah 1991), Utah appellate courts have applied an intermediate level of scrutiny to agency determinations when the Legislature has given the agency a grant of discretion in the governing statute. See Osman Home Improvement v. Industrial Comm'n, 958 P.2d 240, 242 (Utah Ct. App. 1998); Caporoz v. Labor Comm'n, 945 P.2d 141, 143 (Utah Ct. App. 1997). In this instance, the Legislature granted the Labor Commission "the duty and the full power, jurisdiction, and authority to determine the facts and apply the law in [the applicable] chapter or any other title or chapter it administers." Utah Code Ann. § 34A-1-301 (1997).

Accordingly, we apply an intermediate standard of review to the Board's jurisdictional determination and to its application of law to the facts. See id. § 63-46b-16(4)(h)(i) (1997); Morton, 814 P.2d at 587-88. "In applying that standard, we determine whether the [Board's] decision exceeded '"the bounds of reasonableness and rationality."'" Osman, 958 P.2d at 243 (citations omitted).

At the outset, we note that we review the action of the Board, not the administrative law judge (ALJ). Only a final decision of the Labor Commission is subject to our appellate review, see Utah Consol. Mining Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 66 Utah 173, 180, 240 P. 440, 442-43 (1925), and, in this case, the final decision of the Labor Commission came from the Board after Chambers appealed to that body.(1) See Utah Code Ann. § 34A-1-303(1) (1997) ("A decision entered by an administrative law judge . . . is the final order of the commission unless a further appeal is initiated."); id. § 34A-1-303(2)(c)(ii) ("A decision of the Appeals Board is a final order of the commission unless set aside by the court of appeals."); see also United States Steel Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n, 607 P.2d 807, 811 (Utah 1980) ("The [ALJ's] findings and order become final as an order of the Commission under [the statute] if the Commission takes no further action in the case.") (second emphasis added)).

We also reject Red Cliffs' contention that the Board erred in making its own findings of fact and credibility determinations that differed from those of the ALJ. Our supreme court long ago declared that the Board may, "in its review of the record made before the Administrative Law Judge, . . . make its own findings on the credibility of the evidence presented." United States Steel Corp., 607 P.2d at 811. Since then, Utah appellate courts have consistently relied on the majority rule that an ALJ's findings are not binding in later agency review proceedings. See, e.g., Giles v. Industrial Comm'n, 692 P.2d 743, 745 (Utah 1984); Chase v. Industrial Comm'n, 872 P.2d 475, 479 (Utah Ct. App. 1994); Commercial Carriers v. Industrial Comm'n, 888 P.2d 707, 710 (Utah Ct. App. 1994); Virgin v. Board of Review, 803 P.2d 1284, 1287 (Utah Ct. App. 1990); USX Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n, 781 P.2d 883, 886 (Utah Ct. App. 1989). The relevant statute, which allows the Board to accept, modify, or reverse the ALJ's findings and adopt its own, also supports our conclusion. See Utah Code Ann. § 34A-1-303(4) (1997).

"'[T]his court grants great deference to an agency's findings, and will uphold them if they are "supported by substantial evidence when viewed in light of the whole record before the court."'" Albertsons v. Department of Employment Sec., 854 P.2d 570, 574 (Utah Ct. App. 1993) (alteration in original) (citations omitted). "Substantial evidence is '"that quantum and quality of relevant evidence that is adequate to convince a reasonable mind to support a conclusion."'" Harken v. Board of Oil, Gas & Mining, 920 P.2d 1176, 1180 (Utah 1996) (citations omitted). "'In applying the substantial evidence test, we review the "whole record" before the court, and consider both evidence that supports the Board's findings and evidence that fairly detracts from them.'" Albertsons, 854 P.2d at 574-75 (citation omitted). We will not overturn the Board's findings if they are supported by substantial evidence, "'even if another conclusion from the evidence is permissible.'" Whitear v. Labor Comm'n, 973 P.2d 982, 984 (Utah Ct. App. 1998) (citation omitted).

On balance, we conclude substantial evidence supported the Board's findings that Chambers was involved in an accident at Red Cliffs, her disability continued until August 1997, and Red Cliffs did
not offer Chambers light work duty.(2) Contrary to Red Cliffs' assertions, the Board considered evidence other than the fact that Chambers failed to immediately report her injury. The Board also relied on testimony from Chambers's co-workers, medical reports, and Chambers's own testimony. The Board noted that certain evidence undermined Chambers's credibility, indicating that the Board considered as part of the record the ALJ's finding that Chambers was not credible. See United States Steel Corp., 607 P.2d at 810 (holding commission generally must consider ALJ's findings as part of record but may reverse ALJ's findings when based on conflicting evidence). Nevertheless, the Board concluded that, based on its own findings, a preponderance of the evidence established Chambers was involved in an accident while working at Red Cliffs.

Furthermore, Red Cliffs was not denied due process when the Board remanded the case to the ALJ. The proceedings in this case were not bifurcated, and Red Cliffs had good reason to present evidence concerning Chambers's injuries during the initial hearing on February 26, 1998. Red Cliffs acknowledged at the start of that hearing that Chambers's claim to disability compensation was an issue. It then chose not to present relevant evidence, even though the ALJ made no preliminary ruling regarding the accident. Moreover, nowhere in its request for a rehearing filed with the ALJ did Red Cliffs ask for a second evidentiary hearing or argue the ALJ erred by not holding such a hearing. Red Cliffs also did not raise the issue in its Request for Reconsideration filed with the Board, but, instead, reversed its prior position that evidence had been presented supporting medical payments after March 25, 1997. We therefore do not address the issue further. See Whitear, 973 P.2d at 985.

Having made its findings of fact, the Board acted reasonably in awarding Chambers benefits. Based on the foregoing, we affirm the order of the Board.

Pamela T. Greenwood,
Associate Presiding Judge



Michael J. Wilkins,
Presiding Judge

Norman H. Jackson, Judge

1. We reject Red Cliffs' argument that the Board had no jurisdiction to review the case. In its Order Denying Request for Reconsideration, the Board concluded that "Chambers elected Appeals Board review in the final sentence of her reply to Red Cliffs' motion for review, dated October 16, 1998, which stated: 'Wherefore, [Chambers] requests the Administrative Law Judge or alternatively, the Appeals Board deny [Red Cliffs'] motion.'" This request, "as well as Red Cliff's subsequent request for reconsideration," the Board determined, was sufficient under section 34A-1-303(a) to invoke the Board's jurisdiction to review the ALJ's order. Red Cliffs has made no argument that Chambers's Request for Review was inadequate to invoke the Board's jurisdiction. Instead, Red Cliffs only points out that the ALJ initially sent the case to the commissioner. That fact alone does not merit reversal of the Board's conclusion that it had jurisdiction, especially since Red Cliffs never objected to review by the Board until its final Request for Reconsideration.

2. Nothing in the record affirmatively shows that Red Cliffs offered Chambers light work duty. In fact, Chambers testified Red Cliffs never made such an offer. Because Red Cliffs has the burden of proving that insubstantial evidence supported the Board's findings, its failure to provide us with evidence contradicting those findings gives us little reason to disturb the Board's determination.