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09/19/90 CLIFFORD W. TEAL v. DISTRICT COLUMBIA

September 19, 1990

CLIFFORD W. TEAL, PETITIONER
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT. WASHINGTON GAS LIGHT COMPANY, INTERVENOR



Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

Newman and Terry, Associate Judges, and Mack, Senior Judge. Opinion for the court by Associate Judge Terry. Dissenting opinion by Senior Judge Mack.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry

Petitioner seeks review of a decision by the Director of the Department of Employment Services holding him ineligible for workers' compensation benefits because of his failure to give timely notice of injury to his employer, as required by D.C. Code § 36-313 (1988). We affirm the Director's dismissal of petitioner's claim.

Petitioner Teal was an employee of Washington Gas Light Company (WGL) in various capacities from 1970 through 1973 and from 1978 until October 1, 1985. During his employment as a collector at WGL from March 1983 until October 1985, Teal was disciplined for falsification of records and failure to follow company procedures. Teal resigned from his job with WGL on October 1, 1985. In his letter of resignation, he stated:

Effective Oct. 1, 1985, I hereby resign from the employ of Washington Gas. I am doing so because of the unfair treatment and the unnecessary pressure placed by my superiors. I regret this action, however my transfer request has not been acted upon, and I have not adjusted to the promise of dismissal for any minor infraction of any rule.

On October 25, 1985, Teal applied for unemployment compensation. His claim form stated that he had "resigned under duress" from WGL because he "could no longer endure the harassment, double standards or falling prey to their intention of firing me."

After obtaining legal counsel, Teal filed with the Office of Workers' Compensation (OWC) a claim for benefits under the District of Columbia Workers' Compensation Act of 1979, D.C. Code §§ 36-301 et seq. (1988). The claim form, dated January 27, 1986, states the date of injury as October 1, 1985. A month later, on February 27, he signed an OWC form entitled "Employee's Notice of Accidental Injury or Occupational Disease" on which all the other information was typewritten. *fn1 On both forms, and on an "Employee's Claim Application" dated February 25, his injury is described as "neck strain, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, loss of appetite," and its cause was asserted to be "untolerably stressful working conditions." *fn2 WCL received the Notice of Injury form on March 6, 1986.

After an evidentiary hearing on Teal's claim, held on October 9, 1986, the hearing examiner issued a compensation order in which he found that Teal suffered from a post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his employment and awarded him workers' compensation benefits for temporary total disability beginning October 1, 1985. WGL appealed the decision to the Director of the Department of Employment Services, renewing its contention, first made in a motion to dismiss which it had filed before the hearing examiner, that Teal's notice to WCL of his injury was untimely. In August 1987 the Director remanded the case to the hearing examiner for findings of fact and Conclusions of law on the issue of whether Teal had timely notified his employer of his injury, as required by D.C. Code § 36-313 (1983). *fn3

On remand, in an order dated October 14, 1987, the hearing examiner found that Teal did not dispute that he failed to give notice within thirty days from October 1, 1985, the alleged date of injury. According to the examiner's findings, Teal suffered from a "deteriorated mental condition" at that time and lived in virtual seclusion for several months after leaving WGL. In light of this mental condition, the hearing examiner concluded that Teal reasonably knew or should have known that his injury was related to his employment on January 27, 1986, when he consulted an attorney and decided to leek medical assistance. The examiner further found that Teal notified WCL within thirty days after January 27, 1986. The hearing examiner therefore concluded that Teal timely filed his notice of injury.

In a second administrative appeal, the Director held as a matter of law that the hearing examiner was incorrect in his determination that Teal had complied with the requirements of section 36-313, given Teal's failure to notify WCL of his injury within thirty days from October 1, 1985. The Director ruled that an emotional condition or injury does not relieve a claimant of the need to comply with the time requirements of section 36-313 unless the condition rises to the level of legal incompetence. She noted that the hearing examiner, while referring to a "deteriorated mental condition," made no explicit finding of incompetence and that there was no record evidence, and particularly no expert opinion, which would support such a finding. According to the Director, the testimony and medical reports of the psychiatrist who treated Teal failed to show how Teal's post-traumatic stress syndrome could have affected, or did affect, Teal's ability to understand or be responsible for his legal obligations. Instead, the Director said, the record clearly indicated that there was never any doubt that Teal's employment caused his health problems. Accordingly, even assuming that the hearing examiner's finding was correct that Teal did not know the relationship between his injury and his employment until January 27, 1986, the Director concluded that Teal's notice was still untimely under section 36-313 because WGL did not receive notice of Teal's injury until March 6, more than thirty days after January 27.

For these reasons, the Director reversed the hearing examiner and dismissed Teal's claim on the ground of untimely notice. That ruling is now before us on Teal's petition for review.

II

D.C. Code § 36-313 (a) provides that a claimant must notify his or her employer, in writing, of a job-related injury within thirty days after the date of the injury, or thirty days after the claimant knew or should have known of a relationship between the injury and the claimant's employment. It is undisputed that, as both the hearing examiner and the Director found, Teal did not give such notice to WCL within thirty days from the date of his alleged injury, October 1, 1985. *fn4 At issue here is when Teal knew or should have known of a relationship between his injury and his employment.

In deciding this case, we must affirm the Director's ruling unless we conclude that it was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. D.C. Code § 1-1510 (a)(3) (1987); see, e.g., Smith v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 548 A.2d 95, 97 (D.C. 1988); Santos v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 536 A.2d 1085, 1088 (D.C. 1988). The Director in turn was bound by the decision of the hearing examiner, but only to the extent that the findings of fact on which the examiner's decision was based were supported by substantial evidence. Dell v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 499 A.2d 102, 108 (D.C. 1985); George Hyman Construction Co. v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 498 ...


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