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McCamey v. Dist. of Columbia Dep't of Employment Services

November 10, 2005; as amended November 23, 2005

CHARLENE MCCAMEY, PETITIONER,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT.



Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services. (DKT10-03).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge

Argued September 27, 2005

Before SCHWELB and RUIZ, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

Charlene McCamey has asked this court to review a decision of the Director of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (DC DOES) denying Ms. McCamey workers' compensation benefits for emotional injuries, including depression, anxiety and auditory hallucinations, allegedly resulting from an accidental physical injury suffered during the course of her employment. Ms. McCamey contends that the Director (as well as the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), whose Compensation Order the Director affirmed) erred as a matter of law by applying the so-called "objective" test to the facts of record. Under the "objective" test, an employee seeking compensation for psychological injury is required to show that a person of normal sensibilities who has no history of mental illness would have suffered a similar psychological injury. See Porter v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 625 A.2d 886, 888-89 (D.C. 1993) (citing the Director's decision in Dailey v. 3M Co. & N.W. Nat'l Ins. Co., H & AS No. 85-259 (May 19, 1988)). Ms. McCamey contends that the "objective" test articulated in Dailey and adopted in Porter has no application where, as here, the claimed emotional injury has been preceded by, and allegedly resulted from, an accident which the employee suffered on the job. Ms. McCamey's argument, though not unreasonable in principle, cannot be reconciled with our decisions in Porter and in Landesberg v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 794 A.2d 607, 614-15 (D.C. 2002). Accordingly, we affirm.

I. THE PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE AGENCY

Ms. McCamey was employed by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) as a visiting instructor for homebound students. On September 29, 2000, while on the job, Ms. McCamey suffered injuries to her forehead, lower back and neck when she fell as a result of the collapse of a table that she and another instructor were moving. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who heard her case found that as a result of the fall, Ms. McCamey suffered frequent, extensive, and excruciating headaches. In addition, following the accident, McCamey was afflicted with "depression, panic attacks, confusion, auditory hallucinations, and memory loss."

The foregoing events, however, occurred in the context of a serious pre-existing psychological illness. During the mid-1990s, several years prior to the accident, Ms. McCamey had begun to experience psychological problems attributable in substantial part to the death of her father, who had spent most of his life in a mental hospital.*fn1 Ms. McCamey was treated by a psychiatrist, Dr. Maria C. Hammill, and subsequently returned to work. It is undisputed that after completing her treatment regimen, Ms. McCamey was capable of performing her regular employment duties without incident. Indeed, the ALJ found that Ms. McCamey had not seen Dr. Hammill for several years prior to the workplace accident.

At issue in this case is Ms. McCamey's claim for temporary total disability benefits arising from the psychological injuries that she attributes to her workplace accident. Dr. Hammill, the treating psychiatrist, was of the opinion that the workplace incident exacerbated Ms. McCamey's pre-existing psychological disorder. Dr. Bruce Smoller, a psychiatrist who examined Ms. McCamey on behalf of DCPS, and who relied in part on an MRI scan of Ms. McCamey's brain and on thyroid tests, opined that the source of Ms. McCamey's psychological injury was not her accident, but rather a pre-existing psychosis. In a "Recommended Compensation Order" entered on April 22, 2003, the ALJ denied Ms. McCamey's claim for psychological injury. Applying to the record before him the Director's analysis in Dailey and this court's decision in Porter, the ALJ found

1. that "claimant herein has presented substantial evidence of a cognizable injury";

2. that Ms. McCamey's "stressors," i.e., the aggravation of her pre-existing psychological condition, "did arise in the course of her employment,"*fn2 but

3. that Ms. McCamey failed to satisfy the "objective" standard approved in Porter, i.e., that a person of normal sensibilities with no history of mental illness would have suffered a similar psychological injury.

Ms. McCamey appealed to the Director of DC DOES. On February 10, 2004, the Director affirmed the ALJ's decision. The Director found, as had the ALJ, that "Claimant's pre-existing condition was exacerbated by a physical injury." The Director reasoned that although Dr. Hammill and Dr. Smoller expressed different opinions, "[n]either opined, and the evidence did not show, that an individual who did not have a pre-existing anxiety disorder would have suffered a psychological injury as a result of trauma to the head." Ms. McCamey filed a timely petition for review of the Director's decision.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

The provision of the District's Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act (CMPA) governing workers' compensation claims states that, with exceptions not here applicable, the District of Columbia government "shall pay compensation as specified by this subchapter for the disability or death of an employee resulting from personal injury sustained while in the performance of his or her duty." D.C. Code ยง 1-623.02 (2001). Workers' compensation statutes are to be "liberally construed for the benefit of the employee . . ." and "[d]oubts, including the factual, are to be resolved in the employee's favor." Harris v. District of Columbia Office of ...


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