The Iowa Court of Appeals recently filed an opinion in the Alevia Green v. North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Authority, affirming and remanding a review-reopening action filed by Green with the Workers’ Compensation Commission. This appeal stemmed from a Deputy Workers’ Compensation Commissioner’s grant of summary judgment to North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Authority (“SWA”), which was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner and appealed to the District Court. The District Court reversed the ruling of the Commissioner. 

Green was initially injured on April 30, 2012, when a truck was unloading paper from a dumpster and the dumpster door fell off hitting Green in the head and neck. Green was found to be at Maximum Medical Improvement on August 8, 2012. However, she allegedly continued to experience migraine headaches. Green sought workers’ compensation benefits for permanent disability, which ultimately proceeded to a hearing before a Deputy Commissioner on October 6, 2014. In an arbitration decision entered on December 19, 2014, a Deputy Commissioner determined Green did not meet her burden of establishing her work injury caused permanent impairment or loss of earning capacity. The Deputy also determined Green was not entitled to any additional temporary benefits or medical benefits, beyond those already paid by SWA. Following an appeal to the Commissioner, who affirmed the Deputy’s decision, Green appealed to the District Court, which reversed the Commissioner’s decision in part. The reversal required a remand to the Commissioner, at which point, the Commissioner found SWA was liable for past medical expenses which occurred between April 30, 2012, and May 17, 2012. 

Green filed a petition for a review-reopening on June 4, 2018, asserting she was permanently and totally disabled as a result of the April 30, 2012, work injury. SWA filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Green could not relitigate the extent of her injuries. On October 11, 2018, a Deputy Commissioner granted SWA’s summary judgment stating, “[t]he issues of [Green’s] entitlement to future medical benefits and temporary and permanent disability were ripe for determination and decided adversely to [her].” Green appealed the grant of summary judgment to the Commissioner, who affirmed the ruling of the Deputy Commissioner. Green sought further judicial review in the District Court. The District Court reversed the Commissioner determining the Commissioner’s finding that Green’s lack of award rendered it incapable of being increased was illogical, and Green’s preclusion from bringing a review-reopening claim was erroneous. The District Court relied on the issue of Green having a “change in condition” stating the fact the parties disagreed on whether there was a “change in condition,” was consequential enough to make it a genuine issue of material fact, and thus, summary judgment was not applicable. 

SWA appealed to the Court of Appeals, which ultimately affirmed and remanded the District Court’s ruling. The Court of Appeals focused on SWA’s argument that Green’s complaint was precluded by res judicata because the Agency determined Green had not suffered permanent impairment following the 2012, work-related injury. Green alleges she had a change of her condition and her current condition constituted a worsening of her physical condition relating to the work event. The Court of Appeals also noted an award of only medical benefits is eligible for a filing of a review-reopening, as was determined in Beier Glass Co. v. Brundige, 329 N.W.2d 280, 282-86 (Iowa 1983). 

A motion for summary judgment is only proper when the moving party establishes there is no genuine issue of material fact and, as such, they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The record is then reviewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, in this case, Green. The Court of Appeals noted the policy of the Court is to, “liberally construe workers’ compensation statutes in favor of the worker.” Beier Glass, 329 N.W.2d at 283. As such, the Court of Appeals held that due to Green’s assertion that her change in condition was proximately caused by the work injury and medical records were submitted in support of her claim, a genuine issue of material fact was created and did not allow for summary judgment in SWA’s favor. 

The Court of Appeals was clear in stating the issue of entitlement to future benefits within the review-reopening process was still to be determined by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commission. However, due to the evidence presented being significant to establish a factual issue concerning Green’s claim, SWA was not entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Thus, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the District Court, finding the Agency erred in granting the SWA’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing Green’s review-reopening petition, and remanded the matter back to the Agency for further proceedings. 

If you have any questions about this case and/or how it impacts matters you are reviewing, please do not hesitate to reach out to our talented attorneys. Sodoro Law Group is a full-service law firm answering to the legal needs of client in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. 

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