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In re Compensation of Maldonado

Court of Appeals of Oregon

September 26, 2018

In the Matter of the Compensation of Ramon M. Maldonado, Claimant.
v.
Ramon M. MALDONADO, Respondent. SAIF CORPORATION and Arrowhead Ornamentals, Petitioners,

          Argued and submitted September 12, 2017

          Workers' Compensation Board 1404365

          David L. Runner argued the cause and fled the briefs for petitioners.

          Ehren J. Rhea argued the cause for respondent. Also on the brief was Dunn & Roy, PC.

          Before Garrett, Presiding Judge, and Ortega, Judge, and Powers, Judge. [*]

         Case Summary: Employer Arrowhead Ornamentals and its workers' compensation insurance carrier, SAIF, seek review of an order of the Workers' Compensation Board (the board) reversing the administrative law judge's order upholding SAIF's denial of claimant's injuries. SAIF assigns error to, among other things, the board's reliance on the "law of the case" doctrine in evaluating the evidence. Held: It was error for the board to rely on the law of the case doctrine to reject SAIF's position.

         Reversed and remanded.

         [294 Or.App. 253] POWERS, J.

         Employer Arrowhead Ornamentals and its workers' compensation insurance carrier, SAIF, seek review of an order of the Workers' Compensation Board (the board) reversing the administrative law judge's (ALJ) order upholding SAIF's denial of claimant's injuries. SAIF assigns error to, among other things, the board's reliance on the "law of the case" doctrine in evaluating the evidence. We conclude that the board erred in applying and relying on the law of the case doctrine. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.[1]

         We review the board's order for substantial evidence and legal error, ORS 656.298(7); ORS 183.482(8), and substantial reason, Christman v. SAIF, 181 Or.App. 191, 197, 45 P.3d 946 (2002). We summarize the facts in a manner consistent with the unchallenged factual findings of the board. SAIF Corp. v. Bales, 274 Or.App. 700, 701, 360 P.3d 1281, rev den, 360 Or. 237 (2016).

         Claimant sustained a compensable low back injury when he shook dirt off of a 50-pound tree root ball. After the injury, claimant saw several physicians, including multiple physicians at SAIF's request, who came to varying conclusions about claimant's back condition, for which he received diagnoses of spondylolisthesis, spondylosis, and injury from the work incident. SAIF initially denied claimant's claim but, by stipulation, SAIF ultimately agreed to accept a claim for lumbar strain/sprain, L3-4 disc protrusion, and L5-S1 disc protrusion. SAIF's stipulation was limited to those conditions.

         After the claim was accepted, claimant began treatment. In providing treatment, several physicians concluded that claimant's symptoms were due to his preexisting spondylolisthesis. However, one physician, Dr. Keenan, concluded that claimant needed treatment for spondylolisthesis, and that the spondylolisthesis had been worsened by the work-related injury. Accordingly, claimant initiated a new/ omitted medical condition claim for his spondylolytic defect/ spondylolysis condition, which SAIF denied.

         [294 Or.App. 254] Claimant contested, and the ALJ upheld, SAIF's denial; the ALJ found the opinions of the physicians relied on by SAIF more persuasive. Claimant then appealed the ALJ's order to the board, arguing, among other things, that the medical opinions on which SAIF relied were contrary to the "law of the case," and therefore unpersuasive. The board agreed, reasoning that the medical opinions of causation on which SAIF relied were rooted in analyses that were "contrary to issues decided as a matter of law" in the stipulation, and were therefore "inconsistent with the 'law of the case' and unpersuasive." The board reversed the ALJ's order and set aside SAIF's denial of the spondylolytic defect/spondylolysis condition.

         Here SAIF challenges the board's application of the law of the case doctrine. As explained below, SAIF is correct that the board ...


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