“The Agency is Entitled to Reconcile Competing Evidence, Not Ignore Evidence Completely”

by | Feb 3, 2014

When deciding whether to appeal a decision, evaluate whether the agency considered all evidence presented. As discussed below, a recent Court of Appeals decision reiterated that the agency is not entitled to the usual deference on appeal if it fails to weigh and consider all of the evidence; if the opinion is grounded upon inaccurate facts; or if it relies on misstatements of the record evidence.

JBS Swift & Company and Zurich American Insurance Company v. Hedberg, No. 14-0565 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 14, 2015) involved a Claimant with a work related shoulder injury along with unrelated significant hearing problems and mild cerebral palsy. Taking into account restrictions from the Claimant’s treating physicians, two vocational rehabilitation experts submitted reports that were offered into evidence.

The Deputy Commissioner noted that the vocational rehabilitation report for the employer’s expert included jobs at the Claimant’s employer. Moreover, the Deputy found that the employer offered suitable light duty work and also offered permanent employment within the Claimant’s restrictions. The Deputy noted that the Claimant did not accept the employment, and determined that the Claimant was not an odd-lot worker. The Deputy found 80% industrial disability but not permanent and total disability.

On Appeal, the Commissioner’s designee modified the award to reflect a finding of permanent and total disability. The Commissioner’s designee indicated that the employer’s expert failed to provide descriptions of the available jobs and failed to conduct a market survey as to available positions at the company.

The employer appealed and assigned as error that the Commissioner’s designee failed to give weight to the expert’s opinion regarding industrial disability and also that the she failed to reconcile the award of permanent and total disability benefits with prior decisions refusing to issue such awards after an employer offered suitable work.

The Court of Appeals held that the Commissioner’s designee was required to take the opinion of the employer’s expert into account when rendering a decision, and that the record was clear that the designee simply ignored or overlooked that evidence. The Court stated that, “The agency is entitled to reconcile competing evidence, not ignore evidence completely.” Given that the designee simply ignored it, the agency’s action was found to be unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and the product of illogical reasoning.

Other decisions that echo similar sentiments include: Meyer v. IBP, Inc., 710 N.W.2d 213 (Iowa, 2006)(“…the Commissioner commits error by failing to weigh and consider all of the evidence”); Buttrey v. Second Injury Fund, No. 11-0205 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 5, 2011)(Agency’s “opinion grounded upon inaccurate facts does not warrant deference normally accorded”); Beef Prods., Inc. v. Rizvic, No. 10-2083 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 24, 2011)(Commissioner’s decision is “illogical, irrational and wholly unjustifiable where Commissioner’s findings relied on misstatements of record evidence”).

For questions or additional information on this topic, please contact Iowa Workers’ Compensation attorney Emily R. Motto at EMotto@baylorevnen.com or 402.475.1075.