The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Youngs v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on May 10, 2012.
Workers’ Compensation—Attorney Fees and Costs.
In this workers’ compensation action, appellants Patrick Youngs and his counsel, Chris Forsyth, sought review of the final order entered by the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) affirming the administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order assessing the employer’s attorney fees and costs against Forsyth, individually, because appellants requested a hearing on an issue that was not ripe for adjudication. The judgment was affirmed.
This case presented an issue of first impression: whether CRS § 8-43-211(2)(d) requires that reasonable attorney fees and costs be assessed when only one issue, among others raised, in a request for a hearing is not ripe for adjudication at the time such request is made. The Court of Appeals concluded that any person requesting a hearing on an issue that is not independently ripe for adjudication when the request is made, even though there are other ripe issues in the same request, must be assessed the reasonable attorney fees and costs of the opposing party in preparing for such hearing.
Youngs sustained an admitted, work-related injury in March 2005. He was awarded benefits for an 8% impairment to his left upper extremity and a 5% impairment to his left lower extremity. The ALJ denied his claim for permanent total disability (PTD), and the Panel affirmed the order. During the pendency of the appeal on the PTD, appellants filed an application for a hearing on a “petition to reopen [permanent partial disability (PPD)] and PTD pursuant to [section] 8-43-303 fraud/mistake.” Employer argued that fraud or mistake had already been argued and decided.
The ALJ dismissed the petition to reopen, finding that the reopening issue had been improperly endorsed, but declined to assess employer’s attorney fees and costs. The Panel held that the plain language of CRS § 8-43-211(2)(d) required an assessment of fees and costs and remanded for a determination of that amount. The ALJ assessed fees and costs of $23,308.54 against Forsyth, individually, and the Panel affirmed.
The Court of Appeals held that the ALJ and the Panel properly determined that the petition to reopen was not ripe when the request was made. When the request was made, these issues were on appeal and, in fact, were not fully adjudicated until much later when the U.S. Supreme Court denied appellants’ petition for a writ of certiorari.
Appellants also argued that other issues in their request for hearing were ripe, which negated the prohibition on endorsing unripe issues. The Court found that the plain language of the statute and the intent of the provision do not allow for such an exception.
Appellants further argued that the amount of fees assessed was “erroneous.” The Court disagreed, finding the fees and costs assessed are within the ALJ’s sound discretion and that there was no abuse of that discretion in this instance.
Appellants raised several evidentiary issues, none of which the Court found was an abuse of the ALJ’s discretion. The judgment was affirmed.
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