December 17, 2017

Archives for May 30, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Constitutional Violation by Using ALJs in Workers’ Compensation Proceedings

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sanchez v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado—Constitutionality—Separation of Powers—Equal Protection.

Claimant sustained a back injury at work lifting a hydraulic unit from his truck. Within two months he was back to work and placed at maximum medical improvement. Soon thereafter he complained of excruciating lower back pain, but both his original doctor and a specialist concluded that this new lumbar strain was not work-related but related to normal age-related degenerative changes.

Claimant sought temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits from the date of his injury and temporary total disability (TTD) benefits from when his low back pain flared up. An  administrative law judge (ALJ) rejected the request for benefits, finding that (1) his lower back pain was unrelated to his work injury, and (2) because he had continued working, claimant had not suffered a wage loss and was not entitled to either TPD or TTD benefits. The ALJ dismissed his requests. The Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) affirmed but remanded the case to the ALJ to determine whether claimant was entitled to change his physician.

On appeal, claimant argued the separation of powers doctrine is violated by having workers’ compensation cases heard in the executive branch. In rejecting this argument, the court of appeals followed Dee Enterprises v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, which held that the statutory scheme for deciding workers’ compensation cases does not violate the separation of powers doctrine.

Claimant then argued his equal protection claims should be analyzed under the strict scrutiny standard. The court held that the rational basis test applies to equal protection challenges in the workers’ compensation context. Under that test, “a statutory classification is presumed constitutional and does not violate equal protection unless it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the classification does not bear a rational relationship to a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Claimant argued that his and other workers’ compensation litigants’ rights to equal protection were violated because workers’ compensation cases are not heard by judges. The court concluded that legitimate governmental goals provide a rational basis for employing executive branch ALJs and the Panel to decide workers’ compensation cases. The court rejected claimant’s contention that his right to equal protection was violated because his claim was heard by an ALJ and the Panel.

Claimant then contended that the Panel’s dual role as decision-maker and then-named litigant if a case is appealed “reeks of impropriety.” The requirement that the Panel be added as a party is not arbitrary and serves the purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act of ensuring thorough and expeditious review and enforcement of ALJ and Panel orders.

Claimant also challenged on equal protection grounds C.R.S. § 8-43-404(5)(a)(II)(A), which exempts governmental entities and health care providers from providing an injured worker with a list of four physicians from whom the worker may seek medical care for his injury. The court concluded that a rational basis exists for excluding employees of those two types of employers from the four-physician referral requirement. Thus, there was no equal protection violation.

The court rejected claimant’s three non-constitutional arguments, which were that: (1) the exemption from the four-physician referral requirement did not apply because claimant’s employer did not meet the requirements of C.R.S. § 8-43-404(5)(a)(II)(A); (2) substantial evidence did not support the ALJ’s factual findings; and (3) the ALJ made numerous evidentiary errors.

The Panel’s order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Unavailability of Transcript of Child’s In Camera Interview Violated Parents’ Due Process Rights

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of H.K.W. on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—In Camera Interview of Child—Record of In Camera Interview.

The Weld County Department of Human Services (the Department) filed a dependency or neglect petition regarding 6-year-old H.K.W. The child was initially removed from the home and placed with father, and three days later with special respondents. In a prior dependency and neglect case, the child had also been placed with special respondents.

The trial court adjudicated the child dependent or neglected. Father and mother complied with the court ordered treatment plans. Father, mother, and special respondents later moved for an allocation of parental responsibilities. The child’s guardian ad litem (GAL) moved for an in camera interview with the child. None of the parties objected. The court agreed to interview the child and told the parties it would have a record made that would be sealed unless the matter was appealed. There were no objections.

The interview with the child was recorded but not transcribed, and none of the parties requested a transcript. At a subsequent hearing, the court allocated parental responsibilities to special respondents and set forth a parenting time schedule for mother and father. In making its findings, the court relied extensively on the child’s statements during the in camera interview. Father and mother appealed, and father requested a transcript of the interview. The trial court denied father’s request.

On appeal, father and mother argued that the trial court erred by relying on the in camera interview with the child, which was not admitted into evidence, as the basis for its allocation of parental responsibilities decision. They asserted their due process rights were violated because without access to the interview transcript, they were unable to contest the court’s findings or the information on which it relied.

Although the Children’s Code does not specifically allow a court to conduct an in camera interview with a child, C.R.S. § 19-1-106(5) provides that a child “may be heard separately when deemed necessary” by the court. The Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act (UDMA) provides that the “court may interview the child in chambers to ascertain the child’s wishes as to the allocation of parental responsibilities.” Read together, the court of appeals concluded that a trial court is permitted to conduct an in camera interview with a child to determine a child’s best interests and how to allocate parental responsibilities within a dependency and neglect proceeding.

The Children’s Code does not address whether a record of an in camera interview with a child must be made. The UDMA requires the trial court to make a record of the interview, which must be part of the case record. The court concluded that, unless waived by the parties, a record of the interview must be made. Further, the record must be made available, upon request, in situations when a parent needs (1) to determine whether the court’s findings, insofar as they relied on facts from the interview, are supported by the record, or (2) an opportunity to contest information supplied by the child during the interview and relied on by the court.

In this case, the parents requested access to a transcript only after they filed a notice of appeal. By not requesting access earlier, they waived their right to access the transcript to rebut information presented during the interview, but they did not waive their right to access the transcript for the purpose of contesting the bases for the court’s findings related to the interview. Thus, the trial court erred in not ordering the transcript to be made and made part of the record on appeal.

The trial court was ordered to have the in camera interview transcribed and transmitted, as a suppressed document, to the court as a supplement to the record on appeal. Following supplemental briefing, the court will issue an opinion addressing the merits of the appeal.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Announcement Sheet, 5/30/2017

On Tuesday, May 30, 2017, the Colorado Supreme Court issued three published opinions.

England v. Amerigas Propane & Indemnity Insurance Co. of North America

People v. Opana

In the Matter of the Title, Ballot Title and Submission Clause for 2017–2018 #4

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 5/26/2017

On Friday, May 26, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

United States v. Haupt

Schwab v. State of Kansas

Iselin v. The Bama Companies, Inc.

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, some published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.