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Cosby v. Treasurer of State

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

June 25, 2019

DOUGLAS COSBY, Appellant,
v.
TREASURER of the STATE OF MISSOURI as CUSTODIAN of the SECOND INJURY FUND, Respondent.

          APPEAL FROM THE MISSOURI LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION

          Patricia Breckenridge, judge.

         In 2014, Douglas Cosby injured his left knee at work. He subsequently filed a workers' compensation claim against his employer and the second injury fund alleging he was totally or, alternatively, partially disabled as a result of his knee injury combined with his preexisting disabilities. Following an evidentiary hearing, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") determined Mr. Cosby was not entitled to permanent total disability ("PTD") or permanent partial disability ("PPD") benefits from the fund pursuant to section 287.220.3.[1] The labor and industrial relations commission affirmed the ALJ's award. On appeal to this Court, Mr. Cosby asserts the commission erroneously interpreted section 287.220 to find he was not entitled to PPD benefits from the fund because his knee injury occurred after January 1, 2014. Alternatively, he contends interpreting section 287.220.3(2) to not provide PPD benefits from the fund violates the Missouri open courts provision as well as his due process and equal protection rights.

         The commission did not erroneously conclude Mr. Cosby was not entitled to PPD benefits under section 287.220.3(2), which provides that PPD claims against the fund shall not be filed for injuries occurring after January 1, 2014. Although Mr. Cosby contends section 287.220.2 controls the award of PPD benefits in this case because all his preexisting disabilities occurred prior to January 1, 2014, the statute defines the term "injuries" to mean injuries arising out of or in the course of employment. Section 287.220.2, therefore, does not apply because Mr. Cosby's knee injury, which arose out of the course of his employment, occurred after January 1, 2014. Rather, section 287.220.3, which by its plain and ordinary language pertains to all claims against the fund for injuries occurring after January 1, 2014, applies and does not authorize an award of PPD benefits to Mr. Cosby.

         Furthermore, section 287.220.3, as applied to Mr. Cosby, does not violate the open courts provision or his due process and equal protection rights. Section 287.220.3(2)'s failure to authorize PPD claims against the fund does not arbitrarily deny access to Missouri courts; rather, it eliminates a statutory cause of action - PPD claims against the fund - after January 1, 2014. Additionally, Mr. Cosby's due process violation argument conflates statutory ambiguity with vagueness and, therefore, does not establish that section 287.220.3 violates his right to due process. Finally, while section 287.220.3 treats claimants differently based on whether their injuries occurred prior to January 1, 2014, or whether the claimant is seeking PPD or PTD benefits, the statute is not wholly irrational in that the fund was insolvent at the time the legislature amended the statute to eliminate PPD benefit claims against the fund. Accordingly, section 287.220.3 satisfies the rational basis test. The commission's decision is affirmed.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On January 22, 2014, Mr. Cosby was working as a carpenter for Drake Carpentry, Inc., when he fell off a ladder and injured his knee. Mr. Cosby was diagnosed with a cartilaginous loose body evident in the patellofemoral joint of the left knee. He subsequently underwent knee surgery to remove the loose body and otherwise repair the patellofemoral joint.

         On February 24, 2014, Mr. Cosby filed a claim for workers' compensation against Drake Carpentry and the fund. Drake Carpentry and Mr. Cosby reached a settlement with respect to the January 2014 injury. He requested a hearing before an ALJ, however, to determine the fund's liability for PTD or PPD benefits. The ALJ conducted a hearing at which Mr. Cosby testified regarding four preexisting conditions: (1) a knee injury in 1974; (2) bilateral inguinal hernias in 2002; (3) a left shoulder rotator cuff tear in 2004; and (4) a right shoulder rotator cuff tear in 2008. He introduced expert testimony that he suffered the following permanent disability percentages: 30 percent PPD at the left knee for the 2014 injury; 15 percent PPD at the left knee for his 1974 injury; 25 percent PPD at the left shoulder for the 2004 injury; and 25 percent PPD at the right shoulder for the 2008 injury.

         On July 28, 2016, the ALJ issued its award, finding Mr. Cosby was not entitled to any benefits from the fund. In doing so, the ALJ concluded Mr. Cosby was not entitled to PTD benefits because he continued to work as a carpenter following the 2014 injury.[2] The ALJ then reasoned that, because Mr. Cosby's injury occurred after January 1, 2014, he was not entitled to PPD benefits from the fund under section 287.220.3(2). Mr. Cosby appealed to the commission, which affirmed the ALJ's award.

         Mr. Cosby appeals. Because he challenges the constitutional validity of section 287.220, this Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the appeal. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to article V, section 18 of the Missouri Constitution, this Court reviews the commission's decision to determine if it is "supported by competent and substantial evidence upon the whole record." Additionally, section 287.495.1 provides, in pertinent part:

Upon appeal no additional evidence shall be heard and, in the absence of fraud, the findings of fact made by the commission within its powers shall be conclusive and binding. The court, on appeal, shall review only questions of law and may modify, reverse, remand for rehearing, or set aside the award upon any of the following grounds and no other:
(1) That the commission acted without or in excess of its powers;
(2) That the award was procured by fraud;
(3) That the facts found by the commission do not support the award;
(4) That there was not sufficient competent evidence in the record to warrant the making of the award.

This Court reviews questions of law de novo. Mantia v. Mo. Dep't of Transp., 529 S.W.3d 804, 808 (Mo. banc 2017).

         Section 287.220.3(2) Applies

         In his first point, Mr. Cosby asserts the commission erred in concluding the fund was not liable for PPD benefits because he established he was entitled to such benefits under section 287.220.2. He contends the commission erroneously interpreted and misapplied the law when it determined section 287.220.3(2) controlled because all of his preexisting disabilities occurred prior to January 1, 2014, and section 287.220.2 can be interpreted to apply to such injuries. He further asserts the commission failed to harmonize sections 287.220.2 and 287.220.3 in evaluating whether he was entitled to PPD benefits.

         When interpreting statutes, this "[C]ourt must ascertain the intent of the legislature by considering the plain and ordinary meaning of the terms and give effect to that intent if possible." Mantia, 529 S.W.3d at 809 (internal quotation omitted). "In determining the intent and meaning of statutory language, the words must be considered in context and sections of the statutes in pari materia, as well as cognate sections, must be considered in order to arrive at the true meaning and scope of the words." S. Metro. Fire Prot. Dist. v. City of Lee's Summit, 278 S.W.3d 659, 666 (Mo. banc 2009).

         Section 287.220 controls claims against the fund for PPD benefits. In 2013, section 287.220 was ...


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