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Lincoln Hockey, LLC v. Dist. of Columbia Dep't of Employment Services

July 8, 2010

LINCOLN HOCKEY, LLC, D/B/A WASHINGTON CAPITALS, ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT, AND JAMIE W. HUSCROFT, INTERVENOR.



Petition for Review of a Decision of the Compensation Review Board, District of Columbia Department of Employment Services. (CRB6-08).

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

Argued April 6, 2010

Before REID and KRAMER, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

Lincoln Hockey, LLC, d/b/a Washington Capitals, petitions for review of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services' (DOES) award of workers' compensation benefits to Jamie Huscroft, a former player in the Capitals' professional hockey organization. Huscroft was injured while playing in a regular-season game for the Portland Pirates, a Capitals minor-league affiliate. He filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits under the District of Columbia Workers' Compensation Act (WCA), and DOES granted his claim. The Capitals contend that DOES erred in finding that Huscroft's claim came within the jurisdiction of the WCA and in declining to limit Huscroft's award according to the work life expectancy of a professional hockey player. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.*fn1

I.

Huscroft was signed by the Capitals in 1999 to a two-year, "two way" contract to play professional hockey. Under this "two way" contract, Huscroft could be assigned to play for the Capitals in the National Hockey League (NHL) or for its minor league affiliate, the Portland Pirates, which competes in the American Hockey League (AHL). The Capitals play their home games in the District of Columbia, while the Pirates play their home games in Portland, Maine. During the 1999-2000 hockey season, Huscroft played in thirty to forty games for the Pirates and in seven games for the Capitals. Huscroft was with the Capitals during the 2000 NHL playoffs, but he did not dress for the games. On October 13, 2000, four games into the second year of his contract, Huscroft suffered a career-ending head injury in a Pirates game played in Quebec, Canada.*fn2 He was thirty-three at the time of the injury, making him one of the oldest players in the AHL.

After the 2000-2001 season ended, when his contract expired, Huscroft filed a claim under the WCA, D.C. Code § 32-1501 et seq. (2001), seeking temporary total disability benefits from May 1, 2001, to July 31, 2001, and temporary partial disability benefits from August 1, 2001, "to the present and continuing." On September 7, 2007, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a Compensation Order finding that an employer/employee relationship existed, that Huscroft's injury was causally related to the accident in the October 2000 hockey game, and that Huscroft was entitled to temporary total disability benefits from May 1, 2001, to July 31, 2001, and temporary partial disability payments from August 1, 2001, to the completion of his work-life expectancy.

On the Capitals' petition for review, the Compensation Review Board (CRB) reversed and remanded the ALJ's Order on the ground that substantial evidence did not support the ALJ's finding that the claim came within the jurisdiction of the WCA. The CRB specifically observed that the WCA covers injuries occurring outside the District of Columbia only "if, at the time of the injury or death, the employment is localized principally in the District of Columbia." D.C. Code § 32-1503 (a)(2) (2001). The CRB remanded, concluding that "a determination is required as to the nature of Respondent's employment relationship with the District at the time of his injury, and whether that relationship constitutes a set of substantial and legitimate contacts with the District more significant here than elsewhere."

On remand, the ALJ considered anew the jurisdictional issue, and on February 29, 2008, it issued a Compensation Order on Remand, again finding that the claim came within the jurisdiction of the WCA. The ALJ found that the Capitals' principal business was playing professional hockey games, that their arena was located in the District of Columbia, that Huscroft was hired principally to play in NHL games, and that ultimately, his participation in AHL games was "ancillary to preparing for NHL games" for the Capitals. The ALJ also rejected an argument that D.C. Code § 32-1508 (3)(W) mandated Huscroft's award be limited by his work-life expectancy as a professional athlete. The ALJ awarded temporary total disability benefits from May to July of 2001 and temporary partial disability benefits from August of 2001 "to the present and continuing."

On June 10, 2008, the CRB reversed and remanded a second time. The CRB concluded that under the WCA, an award of temporary partial disability benefits may not be of an indefinite duration but must be limited to not more than five years, citing D.C. Code § 32-1508 (5). The CRB also remanded for renewed findings of fact with respect to the causal relationship between the injury and the disability. The CRB, however, affirmed the ALJ's determinations with respect to jurisdiction and work-life expectancy. On August 8, 2008, the ALJ made renewed findings on the causal relationship and limited Huscroft's award to five years, pursuant to D.C. Code § 32-1508 (5). On October 31, 2008, the CRB affirmed the compensation award. While the Capitals did not re-argue the issues of jurisdiction and work-life expectancy before the CRB, they preserved their right to petition this court for review of those claims, and they timely filed their petition with this court. We have evaluated their claims under our well-established standards of agency review, and conclude that the compensation award should be affirmed.

II.

We may not disturb a DOES compensation award unless "it is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." Children's Nat'l Med. Ctr. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 992 A.2d 403, 405 (D.C. 2010). We will uphold the agency's decision provided that "(1) the agency made findings of fact on each contested material factual issue, (2) substantial evidence supports each finding, and (3) the agency's conclusions of law flow rationally from its findings of fact." Georgetown Univ. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 971 A.2d 909, 915 (D.C. 2009). We will defer to the agency's interpretation of a statute it administers, unless that interpretation "is unreasonable or in contravention of the language" of the statute. Watergate East Comm. Against Hotel Conversion v. District of Columbia Zoning Comm'n, 953 A.2d 1036, 1043 (D.C. 2008). "Indeed, we must sustain the agency's interpretation even if a petitioner advances another reasonable interpretation of the statute or if we might have been persuaded by the alternate interpretation had we been construing the statute in the first instance." Mushroom Transp. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 761 A.2d 840, 844 (D.C. 2000) (citation omitted).

Because Huscroft's injury was incurred outside the District, the WCA only covers his claim if at the time of the injury, his employment was "localized principally in the District of Columbia." D.C. Code § 32-1503 (a)(2) (2001). In Hughes v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 498 A.2d 567 (D.C. 1985), this court approved the agency's consideration of the following factors in considering whether a claimant's employment was "localized principally" in the District:

1) The place(s) of the employee's business office(s) or facility(ies) at which or from which the employee performs the principal ...


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