Friday, July 25, 2003

The Supreme Court in Daniels Holds That A WCJ Decision Must Provide Enough for Wintermeyer Analysis

Daniels v. WCAB (Tristate Transport) is the long awaited case from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding the reasoned decision requirement of Section 422(a) of the Act. The result is: "... we hold that a decision is "reasoned" for purposes of Section 422(a) if it allows for adequate review by the WCAB without further elucidation and if it allows for adequate review by the appellate courts under applicable review standards. A reasoned decision is no more, and no less."

Cut back to Leon E. Wintermeyer, Inc. and American General Group v. WCAB (Marlowe). Wintermeyer held: "capricious disregard of material, competent evidence is an appropriate component of appellate consideration in every case in which such question is properly brought before the court." I posted on December 12, 2002: "Perhaps foreshadowing Daniels, the Supreme Court did note ... that Section 704 of the Administrative Agency Law will not be interpreted to make judicial review unavailable when substantial evidence supports an agency's factual findings, but it is clear beyond doubt that its conclusions are based on capricious disregard of other evidence..."

Turning to the WCJ's Decision in Daniels, the Supreme Court observed: "Although we can imagine reasons why the WCJ might have been more convinced by Dr. Williams' opinions, there are arguments to be made in favor of Dr. Fabian's opinions as well; more importantly, the reasons we might identify are not necessarily those which were in the mind of the WCJ upon rendering her decision." (emphasis added)

The Supreme Court remanded for only an explanation of the credibility determination favoring Dr. Williams over Dr. Fabian. The finding rejecting the Claimant's credibility without further explanation was accorded deference because the WCJ can make this finding solely on the demeanor of a witness who testifies live. Also, the relevance of the testimony was the Claimant's limitations based on his pain, something that another witness could not entirely rebut.

On remand, the Supreme Court will be looking for the WCJ to identify the factors the WCJ will have considered to make the ultimate credibility determination. The Supreme Court wants to know, as indicated in Wintermeyer, whether the WCJ's "conclusions are based on capricious disregard of other evidence." In the case where this is "clear beyond doubt," an appellate court may engage in judicial review.

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