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Georgetown University Hospital v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Services

January 25, 2007

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, PETITIONER,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT, JEANNISE PROCTOR, INTERVENOR.



Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services No. CRB31-03.

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

Argued January 5, 2007

Before KRAMER, FISHER, and THOMPSON, Associate Judges.

The Compensation Review Board affirmed an award of workers' compensation benefits to Jeannise Proctor, and her employer has petitioned for review of that decision. Finding the underlying compensation order to lack sufficient clarity, we remand for further proceedings.

I. Factual Background

Ms. Proctor worked for Georgetown University Hospital, operating a food stand where she sold coffee, sodas, and snacks to visitors and employees. On May 29, 2001, Ms. Proctor was refilling a refrigerated display case with sodas, using a cart to hold the door open.When she finished restocking the case, Ms. Proctor moved the cart, and she claimed that the door struck both of her knees when it swung shut.The Hospital voluntarily paid temporary total disability benefits from May 26, 2001, through February 18, 2002, and also paid for arthroscopic surgery on her left knee. However, when Ms. Proctor sought an extension of temporary total disability benefits and authorization for treatment to her right knee, the Hospital declined to pay, asserting that her right knee had not been injured during the work-related incident. After conducting an evidentiary hearing, an administrative law judge concluded that Ms. Proctor remained temporarily and totally disabled from February 18, 2002, through March 31, 2002, and authorized additional medical treatment, including a prescribed arthroscopy to the right knee.

Ms. Proctor's knees had been injured before. For example, on March 4, 2001, she sought treatment at Providence Hospital, complaining of pain and swelling in her right knee. Her knee was x-rayed and aspirated, and the ALJ found that "30 ml of clear synovial fluid with small particles of cartilage were removed from [Ms. Proctor's] right knee."

At the administrative hearing, Ms. Proctor testified and offered the medical reports of her treating physician, Dr. Klimkiewicz, who interpreted the MRI of her right knee as showing "a complex tear over the posterior horn of the medial meniscus." Georgetown offered the testimony of Ms. Proctor's supervisors and its own medical expert, Dr. Gordon, who opined that Ms. Proctor's meniscus could not have been torn, nor could the injury have been aggravated, by the incident on May 29, 2001. It also produced the refrigerated display case, seeking to demonstrate that the closing door could not possibly have hit both of Ms. Proctor's knees as she alleged.

The ALJ found, and all parties agree, that the presumption of compensability, D.C. Code § 32-1521 (1) (2001), was properly triggered and rebutted, and therefore dropped from the case. Weighing the evidence without applying a presumption, the ALJ concluded that "the incident which occurred on May 29, 2001, resulted in the torn meniscus of the right knee as [Ms. Proctor] alleges." The Compensation Review Board ("the Board") affirmed the compensation order, concluding that it was "supported by substantial evidence in the record and is in accordance with the law."

II. Standard of Review

This court's review of agency decisions in workers' compensation cases is governed by the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act. D.C. Code §§ 2-501 et seq. (2001). See D.C. Code § 32-1522 (b)(3) (2001). In conducting our review, "[w]e must determine first, whether the agency has made a finding of fact on each material contested issue of fact; second, whether the agency's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole; and third, whether the [Board's] conclusions flow rationally from those findings and comport with the applicable law." Mills v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs.,838 A.2d 325, 328 (D.C. 2003) (citing Ferreira v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs.,667 A.2d 310, 312 (D.C. 1995)). "Substantial evidence" means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Children's Defense Fund v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 726 A.2d 1242, 1247 (D.C. 1999).

Although our review of agency decisions is deferential, it is by no means "toothless." Our principal function "in reviewing administrative action is to assure that the agency has given full and reasoned consideration to all material facts and issues." Dietrich v. District of Columbia Bd. of Zoning Adjustment, 293 A.2d 470, 473 (D.C. 1972); accord, Gay v. Dep't of Employment Servs., 644 A.2d 1326, 1328 (D.C. 1994). "The court can only perform this function when the agency discloses the basis of its order by an articulation with reasonable clarity of its reasons for the decision." Dietrich,293 A.2d at 473; accord, Felicity's, Inc. v. District of Columbia Bd. of Appeals & Review, 851 A.2d 497, 502 (D.C. 2004); Branson v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 801 A.2d 975, 979 (D.C. 2002).

III. Discussion

In a workers' compensation case, we review the decision of the Board, not that of the ALJ. Providence Hosp. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 855 A.2d 1108, 1111 (D.C. 2004). In doing so, however, we cannot ignore the compensation order which is the subject of the Board's review. Here the compensation order reflects enough confusion that we cannot say the Board's decision to affirm was supported by substantial evidence. See Mayo v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs.,738 A.2d 807, ...


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