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Carter v. Treasurer of State of Missouri

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

August 29, 2017

PHILLIP CARTER (DECEASED);
v.
TREASURER OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI - CUSTODIAN OF THE SECOND INJURY FUND, Respondent. EDITH CARTER, Appellant,

         Appeal from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission

          Before: Alok Ahuja, Presiding Judge, Thomas H. Newton, Judge and Cynthia L. Martin, Judge

          CYNTHIA L. MARTIN, JUDGE

         Edith Carter ("Mrs. Carter") appeals from a final order entered by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ("Commission") denying her workers' compensation claim which sought an award for permanent total disability benefits as the surviving dependent of Phillip Carter ("Mr. Carter"). We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Mr. Carter was injured at work on January 25, 2005. He filed a timely claim for workers' compensation benefits. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") awarded Mr. Carter permanent total disability benefits against the Second Injury Fund ("Fund") on August 18, 2009. The August 18, 2009 award did not include factual findings identifying Mr. Carter's dependents at the time of his workplace injury. Specifically, the award did not find that Mrs. Carter was Mr. Carter's dependent at the time of his injury. The ALJ's August 18, 2009 award was not appealed and became final twenty days after its entry.[1]

         Mr. Carter died on April 13, 2014 of causes unrelated to his workplace injury. The Fund ceased payment of Mr. Carter's permanent total disability benefits at that time.

         Mrs. Carter filed a motion with the Commission to substitute herself as the claimant in Mr. Carter's workers' compensation case for the purpose of reinstating his permanent total disability benefits so they could be paid to her. Carter v. Treasurer of Mo. (Carter I), 506 S.W.3d 368, 370 (Mo. App. W.D. 2016). The Commission dismissed Mrs. Carter's motion to substitute. Id. We affirmed the Commission's dismissal of the motion to substitute. Id. at 373.

         While Mrs. Carter's appeal from the Commission's dismissal of her motion to substitute was pending, Mrs. Carter separately filed a petition in the circuit court asking that the ALJ's August 18, 2009 award be entered as a judgment pursuant to section 287.500.[2] Carter v. Treasurer of Mo. (Carter II), 506 S.W.3d 373, 375 (Mo. App. W.D. 2016). The circuit court entered the award as a judgment. Id. Mrs. Carter then sought to "enforce the judgment by ordering the Fund pay [Mr. Carter's] permanent total disability benefits to her for her lifetime." Id. Following an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court found that Mrs. Carter was a dependent entitled "to receive [Mr. Carter's] permanent total disability benefits . . . pursuant to Schoemehl v. Treasurer of Missouri, 217 S.W.3d 900 (Mo. banc 2007)." Id. at 375-76. We reversed, finding that the circuit court's authority pursuant to section 287.500 was limited to the purely ministerial action of entering a judgment on the ALJ's August 18, 2009 award. Id. at 376-77. We thus found that the circuit court had no authority to determine factual issues regarding Mrs. Carter's status as a dependent that were not included in the August 18, 2009 award. Id.

         While the proceedings at issue in Carter I and Carter II were pending, Mrs. Carter filed a new claim for compensation with the Commission. The claim form identified Mrs. Carter as the "injured employee, " and identified the date of the accident or occupational disease as "death from unrelated cause." The claim form did not identify an employer. The claim form indicated that recovery was sought from the Fund for permanent total disability. Where the claim form asked the "employee" to identify "what the employee was doing and how the injury occurred, " Mrs. Carter attached a page explaining why she believed she was entitled to recover "dependent benefits pursuant to Schoemehl v. Treasurer of the State of Missouri, 217 S.W.3d 900 (Mo. banc 2007)."

         The ALJ issued an award and decision denying Mrs. Carter's claim for compensation. The ALJ found that Mrs. Carter's claim for compensation failed as a matter of law because the claim is only for "Schoemehl benefits, " and as a result, Mrs. Carter "neither experienced any compensable injury that would be the subject of a valid workers' compensation claim, nor was she an employee pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act." [L.F. 38] The ALJ found that Mrs. Carter "filed a new injury number that does not contain any of the valid elements of a workers' compensation claim, " and noted "[t]his is not the vessel by which to obtain Schoemehl benefits which [Mrs.] Carter claims arise from her deceased husband's past worker's compensation claim." [L.F. 38]

         Mrs. Carter appealed the ALJ's decision to the Commission. The Commission affirmed the award and decision of the ALJ, adopting the ALJ's findings, conclusions, decision and award except as modified or supplemented by the Commission's award. The Commission's award modified the ALJ's award and decision to find "that it has no basis upon which to award [Mrs.] Carter benefits under this claim for compensation."[3] [L.F. 42] The Commission's award supplemented the ALJ's award and decision by holding as follows:

On October 25, 2016, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District handed down its opinion in [Carter I], a claim founded upon the very same facts as the instant claim (Injury No. 14-045845). The [Carter I] court ruled that [Mrs. Carter's] contingent right to Schoemehl benefits was extinguished ("not preserved") when the award granting permanent total disability benefits to her husband (the injured employee) became final, because the award did not contain a finding that [Mrs. Carter] was employee's dependent at the time of his injury. Inasmuch as both claims derive from the same facts, we conclude [Mrs. Carter's] contingent right to Schoemehl benefits was extinguished when the ...

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