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Davidson v. Davidson Masonry & Construction, LLC

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District

September 24, 2019


          Appeal from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission

          Before Division Three: Gary D. Witt, Presiding Judge, Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judge and Thomas N. Chapman, Judge

          GARY D. WITT, JUDGE

         Appellant Scott Davidson ("Davidson") appeals from an order of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ("Commission") dismissing Davidson's application to review his injury settlement with Davidson Masonry & Construction, LLC ("Davidson Masonry") and its insurer, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co. ("Grinnell Mutual"). Davidson alleges that the Commission erred in finding that it was not authorized to review the settlement despite Davidson's allegation that it was fraudulently obtained. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Davidson fractured his right ankle on October 29, 2016, while working on a jobsite for his employer, Davidson Masonry. As a result, Davidson underwent surgery that included implanting screws and hardware into his ankle. Davidson filed a timely claim for workers' compensation benefits. Davidson's surgeon released him from treatment and found that he had reached maximum medical improvement. Following that release, on September 27, 2018, Davidson along with counsel representing both Davidson Masonry and Grinnell Mutual appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") seeking approval of a proposed settlement between the parties.

         Davidson appeared pro se at the settlement conference although the ALJ's notes reflect that Davidson stated he had talked with an attorney prior to the conference. The ALJ conducted a hearing, which included placing Davidson under oath and asking standard questions to determine if he understood the nature of the settlement and did in fact agree to its terms. At the conclusion of the hearing the ALJ approved a Stipulation for Compromised Settlement ("Settlement") signed by Davidson and counsel for Davidson Masonry and Grinnell Mutual. Under the Settlement, Davidson received a lump sum settlement of $11, 097.92. The Settlement provided that it left "medical open for removal of screws and hardware" which the parties agreed would occur at a later date and would be paid for by Davidson Masonry/Grinnell Mutual.

         On October 11, 2018, an attorney entered his appearance as counsel for Davidson and filed a Motion to Set Aside Settlement Agreement ("Motion"), alleging that Grinnell Mutual had intentionally misrepresented the applicable temporary total disability rate, thus fraudulently induced Davidson to settle for less than he was entitled. A conference call was held with the ALJ and counsel for the parties on October 15, 2018, during which the ALJ advised the parties that he retained no jurisdiction to address the Motion.

         Following the conference call, Davidson filed an Application for Review with the Commission, again asserting that the Settlement should be set aside because it was induced by fraud. On October 25, 2018, counsel for Davidson Masonry and Grinnell Mutual filed an Answer to Application for Review asserting that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to review the Settlement.

         On January 30, the Commission entered an order stating that it was "not authorized to consider employee's application for review, " and that the Application for Review was therefore dismissed. This appeal followed.

         Standard of Review

         "The commission is a statutorily created entity and its jurisdiction and authority is defined solely by statute." State ex rel. ISP Minerals, Inc. v. Labor and Indus. Relations Comm'n, 465 S.W.3d 471, 473 (Mo. banc 2015). "Decisions of the Commission in workers' compensation proceedings that are clearly an interpretation or application of law, as distinguished from a determination of fact, are not binding upon [the court of appeals] and fall within [the appellate court's] province of review and correction." Shockley v. Laclede Elec. Co-op., 825 S.W.2d 44, 46 (Mo. App. S.D. 1992) (quoting West v. Posten Const. Co., 804 S.W.2d 743, 744 (Mo. banc 1991)). This Court has authority pursuant to section 287.495.1(1)[1] to review whether the Commission acted within its statutory powers. Section 287.495.1(1). Whether the Commission acted within its statutory powers is a question of law which this Court reviews de novo. Treasurer of State-Custodian of Second Injury Fund v. Witte, 414 S.W.3d 455, 460 (Mo. banc 2013).


         In finding that it lacked statutory authority to review the Settlement, the Commission relied on Shockley v. Laclede Electric Cooperative, 825 S.W.2d 44 (Mo. App. S.D. 1992). In Shockley the employee entered into a settlement with his employer following a workplace injury. Id. at 45. The settlement was approved by an administrative law judge. Id. at 46. Nearly two years later, Shockley filed an amended claim for benefits seeking to reopen his claim requesting additional benefits based on the claim that had been previously settled. Id. at 45. The Commission denied review stating that it lacked jurisdiction to review settlement; Shockley appealed. Id. at 46. The Southern District of this Court agreed with the Commission's finding that "[w]hen a settlement is approved, 'the ...

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