Petition for Review of a Decision of the Office of Hearings and Adjudication Compensation Review Board, (CRB 08-205).
Submitted February 25, 2010
Before PRYOR, TERRY, and STEADMAN, Senior Judges.
Petitioner Elizabeth Sheppard has asked us to review a decision of the Compensation Review Board (CRB) that her claim for permanent partial disability (PPD) was not "deemed accepted" under D.C. Code § 1-623.24 (a-3) because that provision applies only to claims to initiate payment of disability benefits, while petitioner's claim constituted a subsequent request for a different type of benefit than her initial claim. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the order of the CRB.
On January 1, 1983, petitioner, Elizabeth Sheppard, who was employed as a health technician at D.C. General Hospital, was involved in a work-related accident and injured her left knee. Petitioner continued working until she noticed a recurrence of the injury in 1998; she then timely filed a claim for disability benefits and began receiving total temporary disability (TTD) compensation. Petitioner returned to work on March 25, 1999, and her benefits were terminated in April of that year. Petitioner filed a second request for TTD compensation the following year, claiming that she suffered from a recurrence of her knee injury. The Department of Employment Services (DOES) granted her request in December 2002. Ms. Sheppard indicates that she received TTD compensation until she retired from her job in 2004.
On January 25, 2006, petitioner wrote a letter to the D.C. Office of Risk Management, Disability Compensation Program (DCP), requesting PPD compensation benefits for an alleged seventy-three percent loss of use of her left leg relating to the injury sustained in 1983. DCP acknowledged receipt of the request in March 2006, however, as of the time of the hearing giving rise to the instant appeal, it had still neither accepted nor rejected petitioner's request for PPD benefits.
When DCP did not decide the claim within thirty days of the request, petitioner applied for a formal hearing with the Department of Employment Services (DOES). The hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Fred D. Carney, Jr. on September 10, 2007. During the hearing, petitioner requested that her claim to DOES for PPD benefits be deemed accepted pursuant to a provision of the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act (CMPA), D.C. Code § 1-623.01 et seq. (2006 Repl.), that was enacted by the D.C. Council in 2005. Under the "deemed accepted" provision of the CMPA,
[i]f the Mayor or his or her designee fails to make a finding of facts and an award for or against payment of compensation within 30 calendar days, the claim shall be deemed accepted, and the Mayor or his or her designee shall commence payment of compensation on the 31st day following the date the claim was filed....
D.C. Code § 1-623.24 (a-3)(1) (2006 Repl.).
The ALJ determined that the "deemed accepted" provision applied only to initial claims, which in Ms. Sheppard's case was her 1998 request for TTD benefits and not her 2006 request for PPD benefits. He determined that the "guidelines promulgated in the subsections that immediately precede § 1-623.24 (a-3)(1), are guidelines that refer to processes related to an initial claim," (citing D.C. Code §§ 1-623.24 (a), (a-1) and (a-2)), and that because all provisions of the statute are "inextricably linked" and must therefore be read together, Ms. Sheppard's PPD request was not the type of claim contemplated by the statutory provision. Petitioner appealed the ALJ's decision to the Compensation Review Board (CRB) and the CRB upheld the decision.
We review an agency decision to determine whether its findings are supported by substantial evidence. Jackson v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 955 A.2d 728, 731 (D.C. 2008). We will affirm an agency decision unless "it is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." Wiley v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 984 A.2d 201, 204 (D.C. 2009) (citing D.C. Code § 2-510 (a)(3) (2001)). Its legal conclusions are reviewed de novo and must follow rationally from the factual findings. Howard Univ. Hosp. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 960 A.2d 603, 606 (D.C. 2008). Because of the CRB's special expertise in administering the CMPA, we "defer to their reasonable interpretations of ambiguous provisions in that legislation." Id. at 606. This deferential standard of review means we must uphold the CRB's interpretation of the CMPA even if petitioner advances another reasonable interpretation or if we would have been persuaded by petitioner's interpretation if construing the statute in the first instance. Smith v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 548 A.2d 95, 97 (D.C. 1988).
Petitioner contends that her request for PPD benefits is a claim to initiate benefits within the meaning of Section 2324 (a) of the CMPA. Relying on the definition of "claim" as an "assertion that an individual is entitled to benefits" and a "simple request for compensation," she contends that her request for PPD benefits fits within this definition. She argues that the statute lacks modifiers and limiting language to suggest that the type of claim contemplated is a claim accompanied by a supervisor's report ...