Monday, September 08, 2003

Comonwealth Court Remands With Direction On Appropriate Findings After Daniels

C. O'Donnell v. WCAB (United Parcel Service) is the first case to apply the Supreme Court's decision in Daniels to find a WCJ's decision to be not a reasoned decision in accordance with Section 422(a) of the Act. The Claimant had cervical injuries from lifting a 115 lb. box. The issues in the case were whether psychiatric treatment was related to the work injury, whether the description of injury should be expanded and whether recommended breast reduction surgery was compensable.

Five doctors testified: the family doctor, the Claimant's psychiatrist and orthopedist and the Employer's psychiatrist and orthopedist. The WCJ rejected opinions that psychiatric treatment was related and opinions that breast reduction surgery was related. The WCJ rejected opinions that the description of injury should be expanded. In the credibility findings the WCJ gave no reasons or nonspecific reasons why the doctors' opinions were credible or not credible.

The Board affirmed based on the Commonwealth Court's ruling in Daniels which held a WCJ issues a reasoned decision when he or she outlines all of the evidence considered, merely states the credible evidence upon which he or she relied, and sets forth the reasons for the ultimate disposition of the petition at issue.

The rub with applying this standard, according to the Supreme Court, was that a reviewing court would be charged with "imagining" the reasons why the WCJ was more convinced by the opinions the WCJ found to be credible. In O'Donnell, the Commonwealth Court gave just a taste of what it could imagine based on bits of five doctors' testimony, then remanded, holding that under the Supreme Court's Opinion in Daniels, the WCJ has to show his or her reasoning. The Commonwealth Court highlighted the quote from footnote 8 in Daniels: "One of the virtues of the legal profession -- and it is a virtue that certainly applies to the judicial decision-making process -- is that it depends upon reasoned articulation. Views are oftentimes shaped, molded, and changed in the very process of articulation."

The Commonwealth Court indicated in the Opinion that with articulated reasoning to support a credibility finding, the Court will: 1) review the record to be sure substantial competent evidence exists to support the elements of the WCJ's logical process; 2) assure that the WCJ's reasoning with respect to uncontroverted evidence is rational as required by Section 422(a); and 3) apply Wintermeyer review to determine whether the WCJ's "conclusions are based on capricious disregard of other evidence." In the case where this is "clear beyond doubt" the Court may engage in appellate review of the resulting credibility finding.

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