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Atwell v. Fitzsimmons

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

October 21, 2014

MARIANN ATWELL, et al., Respondents,
v.
JAMES FITZSIMMONS, Appellant

Page 671

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 672

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri. The Honorable Patricia S. Joyce, Judge.

For Respondents: Caroline M. Coulter, Heather L. McCreery, and Matthew B. Briesacher, Jefferson City, MO.

For Appellant: Ryan J. McDaniels, Jefferson City, MO.

Before Division I: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Presiding Judge, and Lisa White Hardwick and Karen King Mitchell, Judges. Lisa White Hardwick and Karen King Mitchell, Judges, concur.

OPINION

Mark D. Pfeiffer, Presiding Judge

Page 673

This appeal reveals the problem with the Administrative Hearing Commission--in the context of administrative proceedings conducted outside the purview of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission's authority under Chapter 287, RSMo--usurping the exclusive statutory authority of the administrative tribunals of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission to determine whether an employee's injury shall be deemed to have arisen out of and in the course of employment with the employer and, if so, to what relief the injured employee is entitled.

Mariann Atwell (" Atwell" ), the Director and Appointing Authority[1] of the Division of Offender Rehabilitation Services within the Missouri Department of Corrections (collectively " MDOC" ), dismissed James D. Fitzsimmons (" Fitzsimmons" ) from his merit system position. Fitzsimmons appealed his dismissal to the Administrative Hearing Commission (" AHC" ), which found that Atwell did not have cause to dismiss Fitzsimmons and ordered the MDOC to accommodate Fitzsimmons's injuries during recuperation and to reinstate Fitzsimmons to an alternative duty assignment during recuperation. Atwell and the MDOC petitioned the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri, to review the AHC's decision. The circuit court reversed the AHC's decision, and Fitzsimmons appealed.[2]

Atwell and the MDOC raise multiple points on appeal, arguing in the alternative that the AHC's decision that Fitzsimmons should be reinstated was not supported by competent and substantial evidence upon the whole record, was arbitrary and unreasonable, was in excess of statutory authority, and was a misapplication of the law. Because the AHC erroneously usurped the exclusive role and function of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, we conclude that the AHC's decision is unauthorized by law and unsupported by competent and substantial evidence; thus, we affirm the circuit court's judgment reversing and remanding the AHC's decision.

Page 674

Factual and Procedural Background[3]

Fitzsimmons was employed on October 20, 2008, as a tractor trailer truck driver by the MDOC. By all accounts, Fitzsimmons was an exceptionally good employee.

On February 16, 2011, Fitzsimmons was assigned to make a round trip from Jefferson City, Missouri, to Cameron, Missouri. He stopped at a truck stop in Macon, Missouri, to go to the bathroom, throw away trash, and get a cup of coffee. As Fitzsimmons was getting out of his truck, he slipped on an icy lower step, landed hard on his foot as he slipped and fell on the ground twice, and fractured his ankle in four places.

Fitzsimmons's ankle swelled immediately, but he finished his route and continued to work until he started feeling pain in his ankle four to six weeks later and went to a doctor. The last day he physically worked as a truck driver for the MDOC was March 25, 2011.

Fitzsimmons asserted a claim for workers' compensation benefits with the Risk Management Section of the State Office of Administration as a result of his February 16, 2011 injury. The Central Accident Reporting Office (" CARO" )[4] reviews workers' compensation claims on behalf of state agency employers and represents the interests of state agency employers in disputed claims of compensation under Missouri's Workers' Compensation Act codified in Chapter 287 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. CARO denied that Fitzsimmons's injury arose out of and in the course of his employment with the MDOC. Fitzsimmons filed a formal workers' compensation claim with the Division of Workers' Compensation, and that claim is still pending.

The MDOC operates under one set of policies when an employee's injury arises out of and in the course of employment and another when the injury does not so arise. Under the former, the policy--titled " Employee Injury/Workers' Compensation" and expressly incorporating " Chapter 287 RSMo" (" the MDOC Work Comp Policy" )--attempts to accommodate injured employees by finding temporary alternative duties matching the doctor-prescribed physical limitations while the employee is recuperating from injury. Under the latter, an employee may exercise his right to paid leave, rights guaranteed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ), and to seek leave without pay. However, at such time as an employee fails to report to work for three consecutive work days ...


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