April 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: ALJs and PALJs Subject to Financial Disclosure Requirements of C.J.C.s so No Equal Protection Violation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Kilpatrick v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, March 12, 2015.

Workers’ Compensation—Discovery—Maximum Medical Improvement—Petition to Reopen—Evidentiary Rulings.

Claimant sustained an admitted, compensable injury to his left wrist in the course and scope of his employment with Goodwill Industries of Denver (employer). Post-surgery, claimant continued to complain of pain. Following a steroid and lidocaine injection, claimant still had symptoms. Claimant sought additional surgery through his authorized treating physician (ATP). Employer’s insurer (Pinnacol) denied the request.

Soon thereafter, claimant was placed at maximum medical improvement (MMI). The ATP and two other physicians opined that further surgery would not be helpful. Employer filed a final admission of liability.

Claimant was referred to another physician, who recommended further surgery. The ATP signed a statement agreeing with this recommendation and apparently attempting to rescind his previous MMI determination. Claimant petitioned to reopen his claim. The administrative law judge (ALJ) denied the request, and the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) affirmed.

On appeal, claimant argued the ALJ made errors and abused her discretion in denying a discovery request he made concerning Pinnacol’s financial disclosures. He argued that workers’ compensation litigants are treated inequitably as compared to litigants in district court because they do not have access to the financial disclosures of prehearing administrative law judges (PALJs), ALJs, and Panel members. The Court of Appeals found that the PALJ held a hearing at which the parties presented arguments regarding the discovery request, and held that it was reasonable to find disclosing the financial records of hundreds of Pinnacol employees as overly burdensome and having no direct bearing on claimant’s request to reopen his claim. Therefore, there was no error.

Claimant argued that the denial of the request for Pinnacol’s financial records violated his right to equal protection under the law, noting that district court litigants can obtain a written disclosure of the financial records of each justice or judge of a court of record. Employer argued that ALJs and Panel members are subject to the same financial reporting requirements, and therefore there can be no equal protection violation. The Court of Appeals agreed with employer. The Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct (CJC) applies to all full-time judges, which includes the administrative law judiciary. Moreover, pursuant to CRS § 24-30-1003(4)(a), ALJs are subject to the standards of conduct set forth in the CJC. Finally, the Panel conceded that it was covered by the financial disclosure provisions. Therefore, claimant was not treated differently from other civil litigants.

Claimant argued that the ALJ erred by rejecting the ATP’s apparent retraction of his MMI determination and contended that the ALJ was bound by the retraction. The Court found this was a misreading of the case law and that the ALJ was not so bound. Further, there was substantial evidence supporting the ALJ’s MMI finding and denial of the request to reopen.

Finally, claimant challenged a number of the ALJ’s evidentiary rulings, essentially arguing that employer abused the discovery process by failing to disclose evidence and testimony to be presented. The Court found no basis that there was any abuse of discretion in the ALJ’s evidentiary rulings. The order was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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