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Johnson Controls, Inc. v. Trimmer

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

April 21, 2015


Page 586

Mark Bates, Kirkwood, MO, Counsel for Appellant.

David Whipple, Independence, MO, Counsel for Respondent.

Before Division One: James Edward Welsh, P.J., Thomas H. Newton, and Karen King Mitchell, JJ. All concur.


Page 587

James Edward Welsh, Presiding Judge


Johnson Controls, Inc., appeals the judgment of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission granting David Trimmer's claim for workers' compensation benefits. Because we find that this claim was barred by the doctrine of res judicata, we reverse the judgment.


At the time of Trimmer's claimed injury in 2003, he had worked for Johnson Controls (" Employer" ) for almost thirty years. The vast majority of his job responsibilities for the past twenty-five years involved stacking batteries on and off the production line. The task required Trimmer to physically pick up the batteries and either lift or slide them onto the line or take them off of the line and place them on skids. The batteries weighed up to eighty-five pounds, and the line on which Trimmer worked typically processed around 4,000 batteries per day. Employees were required to process a minimum of 850 batteries every two hours.

On September 9, 2003, Trimmer filled out an injury report for the Employer. It stated that Trimmer had hurt his shoulder while " stacking off" and that the " object, force, action or substance causing the injury/illness" was " batteries." Trimmer reported to a supervisor that day that his shoulder was hurting and that while he was stacking off, he " heard a popping." The supervisor documented this in an investigative report and noted that Trimmer declined her offer to go the " Med Clinic," indicating that he would wait to see if it felt better.

Trimmer's shoulder complaints worsened, and Employer eventually sent him to Dr. David Fretz at Occupational Health Services (" OHS" ) for evaluation and treatment. Dr. Fretz's office note of October 27, 2003, states that Trimmer reported that his shoulder pain came on gradually, that there was no episode at work that clearly caused any injury, and that he does work in a heavy labor job stacking batteries. Dr. Fretz further noted that Trimmer specifically denied any injury or trauma to the left shoulder or any specific event that he could relate to the beginning of the shoulder pain. Dr. Fretz indicated in his records that Trimmer had the onset of pain while working on the line and that the doctor felt it was from a degenerative type condition.

Trimmer next saw Dr. Wendall Bronson for his shoulder pain in February 2004. Dr. Bronson's record of that visit indicates that Trimmer reported that he had " injured

Page 588

his left shoulder last October." Dr. Bronson prescribed physical therapy. At an office visit in May 2004, Dr. Bronson noted that Trimmer's left shoulder " has been bothering him since he fell on it in September." Dr. Bronson noted no improvement from the physical therapy, and he gave Trimmer a cortisone injection in his shoulder. Dr. Bronson ordered an MRI, which showed that Trimmer had suffered a tear of the supraspinatus tendon.[1] Dr. Bronson referred Trimmer to Dr. Bruce Smith, an orthopedic surgeon.

Trimmer saw Dr. Smith for an evaluation on May 24, 2004. Dr. Smith's office note indicates that Trimmer told him that he had injured the shoulder in a fall at work eight months earlier. The note states that the MRI scan showed that Trimmer had suffered a rotator cuff tear. Dr. Smith recommended surgery.

Initial Workers' Compensation Claim and Hearing

Trimmer filed a claim for compensation with the Division of Workers' Compensation (" Division" ) on May 17, 2004. In it, he alleged that, on September 9, 2003, he had injured his shoulder when he " slipped on small rocks from skids that were shipped in from another plant while stacking batteries." The claim was subsequently amended on September 16, 2004, to state simply that the injury to his left shoulder occurred when the employee " fell."

The Employer denied liability, and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) on August 10, 2005. At the outset of that hearing, the ALJ stated that the parties had agreed that the following issues would be determined at the hearing:

One, whether or not the claimant sustained an accident or occupational disease arising out of and in ...

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