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Moore v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

July 3, 2019

Bryant Moore, Petitioner,
v.
District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, Respondent, and Marshall Heights Community Development, Intervenor.

          Argued October 9, 2018

          Petition for Review of a Decision and Order of the Compensation Review Board of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (CRB-107-15)

          Bryant Moore, pro se.

          Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren L. AliKhan, Acting Solicitor General at the time the statement was filed, and Stacy L. Anderson, Senior Assistant Attorney General, filed a statement in lieu of brief for respondent.

          Gerard J. Emig, with whom Nathan J. Postillion was on the brief, for intervenor.

          Before Fisher and Easterly, Associate Judges, and Ruiz, Senior Judge.

          FISHER, ASSOCIATE JUDGE.

         Bryant Moore injured his back in a 2008 car crash while working for Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, Inc. ("Marshall Heights"). An administrative law judge ("ALJ") dismissed Moore's claim for workers' compensation benefits, and the Compensation Review Board ("CRB") agreed. In an unpublished memorandum opinion and judgment, this court affirmed the CRB's rulings on the two issues that the board had analyzed under D.C. Code § 32-1535 (2012 Repl.) (entitled "Compensation for injuries where third persons are liable"). See Moore v. District of Columbia Dep't of Emp't Servs., No. 15-AA-1293, Mem. Op. & J. at 2-3 (D.C. May 11, 2017).[1] However, we remanded to allow the CRB to address a third argument discussed by the ALJ and preserved for review: whether, by receiving an unapproved settlement from a third-party tortfeasor, "Moore had lost his right to payment for medical services in addition to any right to disability payments." Id. at 3-4. The CRB answered that he had, and we affirm.

         I. Background

         In March 2010 the Office of Workers' Compensation authorized Moore to visit a neurosurgeon and receive medical reimbursements related to the injuries he sustained in the car accident. Marshall Heights made periodic payments to Moore for lost wages and medical benefits that totaled $15, 325.73. (The organization had terminated Moore in March 2009 because it no longer had grant funding for his position.) Moore also sued the parties allegedly responsible for the accident and procured a $15, 000 settlement, unbeknownst to Marshall Heights. In June 2012 Moore sought further payments through the Office of Workers' Compensation. After Marshall Heights discovered that Moore had settled with third parties, it moved to dismiss the claim.

         Although Moore acknowledges that Marshall Heights did not approve his third-party compromise, he contends that the word "compensation" does not encompass medical benefits. The CRB - a panel within the Department of Employment Services - disagreed in a decision issued on June 16, 2017. Adopting statutory interpretation conducted by the ALJ, and focusing especially on the provisions of § 32-1535(e), the board concluded that the result advocated by Moore "is illogical and the statute simply cannot be read this way." Therefore, it said, Moore's unauthorized settlement absolved Marshall Heights from liability for all further payments. Moore again petitioned for review.[2]

         II. Legal Analysis

         This court reviews an agency's interpretation of a statute that it administers using the two-part test of Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). See, e.g., Colbert v. District of Columbia Dep't of Emp't Servs., 933 A.2d 817, 819 (D.C. 2007). "If the intent of [the legislature] is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of [the legislature]." Timus v. District of Columbia Dep't of Human Rights, 633 A.2d 751, 758 (D.C. 1993) (en banc) (quoting Chevron, 467 U.S. at 842-43). "If the statute is ambiguous, however, we must defer to the agency's interpretation of the statutory language so long as it is reasonable." Pannell-Pringle v. District of Columbia Dep't of Emp't Servs., 806 A.2d 209, 211 (D.C. 2002) (citing Chevron, 467 U.S. at 842-43). The court looks not only to the specific language in question but also to the statute as a whole. See id. at 214.

         When an employee is injured by a third party, he or she "need not elect" at the outset between pursuing civil damages from the tortfeasor and receiving compensation under the statute. See D.C. Code § 32-1535(a). However, if the injured person accepts workers' compensation, he must file any action against the third person within six months after the award. See id. ยง 32-1535(b). If the worker does not timely sue the third person, his acceptance of "an award in a compensation order" operates "as an assignment to the employer of all [his] rights . ...


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