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Washington v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Services

December 23, 2008

GRAND HYATT WASHINGTON, PETITIONER,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT, AND CORNELIUSBYRNES, INTERVENOR.



Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services. (CRB07-30).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pryor, Senior Judge

Argued November 20, 2008

Before REID and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.

Notwithstanding an existing settlement agreement regarding compensation for legal services rendered on behalf of a claimant in a workers compensation case, the Department of Employment Services (DOES) Compensation Review Board (CRB) upheld a separate claim for attorneys fees subsequent to the agreement. Petitioner, Grand Hyatt Washington (Hyatt), seeks review of this ruling asserting that additional fees are precluded by statute, D.C. Code § 32-1508 (8), and by the settlement agreement. In our view significant questions, regarding finality, bearing on the legal fees were not adequately addressed administratively, and we are compelled to vacate the order under review and remand the case for further consideration.

I.

This matter stems from a claim made by Ryan P. Richie ("Richie") requesting the assessment of attorneys fees and costs against Hyatt in relation to a workers compensation claim arising out of claimant Cornelius Byrnes's work injury at the Hyatt. On July 12, 2004, an administrative law judge (ALJ), after a formal hearing, issued a compensation order awarding the claimant temporary total disability and medical benefits. Claimant Byrnes's counsel, Richie, petitioned the DOES Office of Hearings and Adjudications (OHA), Administrative Hearings Division, for an award of attorneys fees and costs to be assessed against Hyatt for work completed between 2002 and 2004. After other pleadings were filed, the application for attorneys fees and costs was not ruled upon at that time. Hyatt subsequently made two requests, despite opposition, to modify the initial compensation order. A subsequent formal hearing was scheduled in the matter and during the course of discovery for the hearing, the parties reached a settlement.

On or about December 15, 2005, the parties filed a lump-sum settlement agreement executed by all parties in connection with the case. On December 20, 2005, the Office of Workers' Compensation approved the settlement, and Hyatt paid monies pursuant to the terms agreed upon by the parties. This settlement included a provision for attorneys fees and costs,*fn1 and a provision discharging Hyatt from any further liability.*fn2 On December 14, 2006, approximately one year after the approval of the lump-sum settlement, Richie made inquiry regarding the status of his prior application for attorneys fees and costs. On December 28, 2006, an order issued awarding attorneys fees of $9,375.75 and costs of $1,056.05 to be assessed against Hyatt. The ALJ stated in a footnote that the lump-sum settlement did not preclude an attorneys fee award because she "views the benefits secured by claimant's counsel until this point in time, as separate from the additional ones secured in the later occurring case, for claimant through the efforts of counsel. Moreover, the settlement agreement referenced by the parties does not explicitly address any and all prior claims. Thus, it is appropriate to render an award herein."

Following the entry of the order awarding additional attorneys fees and costs, Hyatt noted its request for review to the CRB. On review, the CRB upheld the award of an additional attorneys fees, stating:

As the ALJ correctly points out in her footnote, the settlement agreement referenced by the parties does not explicitly address any and all prior claims. . . . Thus, the Panel must reiterate that a full and final settlement of "this case" refers to the new developments in this matter and not to the amount awarded and paid to petitioner in the 2004 Compensation Order. . . . Neither the subsequent settlement nor the subsequent attorney fee have any relation to the original Compensation Order . . ."

Hyatt seeks review of this order.

II.

This court reviews DOES decisions to determine whether they are "[a]rbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." D.C. Code § 2-510 (a)(3)(A). The court's review of an administrative agency's decision is "limited to the record on appeal" and the court "cannot consider issues or evidence not presented to the agency." Mack v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 651 A.2d 804, 806 (D.C. 1994). We affirm an administrative agency decision when (1) the agency made findings of fact on each materially contested issue of fact, (2) substantial evidence supports each finding, and, (3) the agency's conclusions flow rationally from its findings of fact. Perkins v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 482 A.2d 401, 402 (D.C. 1982) (internal citations omitted). Of course, we defer to an agency's findings if they are "supported by substantial evidence in the record considered as a whole." Cooper v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 588 A.2d 1172, 1174 (D.C. 1991); see also D.C. Code § 2-510 (a)(3)(E).

III.

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