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Johnson v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 31, 2017

Brenda Johnson, Petitioner,
v.
District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, Respondent, and Federal Express Corporation and Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Intervenors.

          Argued June 8, 2017

         On Petition for Review of an Order of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services Compensation Review Board CRB-50-16.

          Krista N. DeSmyter for appellant.

          Lisa A. Zelenak, with whom Elizabeth D. Cardona was on the brief, for intervenors.

          Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General, filed a statement in lieu of brief for respondent.

          Before Fisher, Easterly, and McLeese, Associate Judges.

          McLeese, Associate Judge

         Petitioner Brenda Johnson seeks review of decisions by the Compensation Review Board (CRB): (1) concluding that Ms. Johnson suffered from adjustment disorder and major depression, but not post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as a result of a work-related incident; (2) awarding Ms. Johnson temporary total-disability benefits for the period from January 31, 2012, through July 3, 2012, but denying such benefits for the period thereafter; and (3) ordering intervenors Federal Express Corporation and Sedgwick Claims Management Services (collectively "FedEx") to pay Ms. Johnson's medical expenses for treatment related to her adjustment disorder and major depression.[1] We remand to the CRB for further consideration.

         I.

         The following evidence was presented at an evidentiary hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Ms. Johnson worked for FedEx for over twenty- six years as a carrier and operations agent. During a meeting on Friday, January 27, 2012, FedEx supervisors told Ms. Johnson and five coworkers that their positions were going to be eliminated as a result of an internal reorganization. FedEx offered Ms. Johnson a different position, but the position was part-time and Ms. Johnson believed that the position was beyond her physical abilities. Ms. Johnson returned to work on Monday, January 30, but left early after having a breakdown. Ms. Johnson has not worked in any capacity since January 2012.

         In February 2012, Ms. Johnson began seeing a therapist, Patricia Carter, who diagnosed Ms. Johnson with adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression resulting from her job loss. In June 2012, Ms. Johnson sought alternative medical treatment with Dr. Alan Brody, a psychiatrist. Dr. Brody diagnosed Ms. Johnson with PTSD and major depression resulting from her termination on January 27, and he restricted her from working. In July, Dr. Bruce Smoller, a neuropsychiatric specialist, conducted an independent medical examination of Ms. Johnson. Dr. Smoller concluded that Ms. Johnson had "an exaggerated normal human reaction" that "skim[med] the border of a psychiatric disorder." Dr. Smoller stated that Ms. Johnson had no work restrictions, and he expressed doubt about her need for continuing psychiatric treatment.

          The ALJ initially concluded that Ms. Johnson's condition was not compensable because the elimination of her position was not an "accidental injury" covered by the District of Columbia Workers' Compensation Act (WCA). On appeal, the CRB remanded, concluding that under Ramey v. District of Columbia Dep't of Emp't Servs., 950 A.2d 33 (D.C. 2008), Ms. Johnson's claim could be compensable under the WCA if Ms. Johnson demonstrated a psychological injury and an actual workplace condition or event that could have caused or aggravated that injury.

         A new ALJ was assigned to the matter on remand. That ALJ reopened the record, over Ms. Johnson's objection, and instructed the parties to provide evidence of definitions, criteria, and symptoms with respect to PTSD and adjustment disorder. The ALJ ultimately concluded that Ms. Johnson suffered from adjustment disorder -- but not major depression or PTSD -- as a result of her termination. The ALJ awarded Ms. Johnson temporary total-disability benefits from January 31 through July 3, 2012.

         On appeal, the CRB affirmed the ALJ's conclusions that Ms. Johnson suffered from adjustment disorder, that she did not have PTSD, and that she was entitled to temporary total-disability benefits from January 31 through July 3, 2012. The CRB remanded the case, however, for the ALJ to determine whether FedEx had rebutted the presumption of compensability with respect to Ms. Johnson's diagnosis of major depression.[2] On remand, the ALJ determined that FedEx had rebutted the presumption and that Ms. Johnson had not proven that she had major depression. The CRB reversed, concluding that Dr. Smoller's report was insufficient to rebut the presumption, because the report did not specifically address whether Ms. Johnson's diagnosis of major depression was correct or whether that condition was causally related to Ms. Johnson's termination. Accordingly, the ALJ ...


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