from the Idaho State Industrial Commission.
Idaho State Industrial Commission's findings of fact,
conclusions of law and order dated April 9, 2018, order on
motion for reconsideration dated June 22, 2018, and order on
motion for reconsideration, modification and consolidation
dated June 22, 2018 are set aside and this case
remanded for a new hearing.
Stephan, Kvanvig, Stone & Trainor, Twin Falls, for
appellant. L. Clyel Berry argued.
Augustine Law Offices, PLLC, Boise, for respondents. Paul J.
a worker's compensation case. Mario Ayala was injured
while driving a company truck in 2009, and was injured again
in 2013 after falling from a ladder. The Industrial
Commission assigned his claims to a referee for a hearing.
After the hearing, but before the referee issued
"recommended findings and determination" in
accordance with Idaho Code section 72-717, the Industrial
Commission reassigned the case to itself over Ayala's
objection. Citing the referee's backlog of cases and a
need for efficiency, the Industrial Commission issued an
order finding that Ayala's low-back condition was not
causally related to his 2009 truck wreck, that he was not
totally and permanently disabled under the odd-lot worker
doctrine, and that he suffered disability of 40% of the whole
person inclusive of impairment of his 2009 and 2013
industrial accidents. We set aside the Commission's
findings of fact, conclusions of law and order because Ayala
was denied due process when the Industrial Commission
reviewed Ayala's claims and issued a decision without the
referee's recommended findings and determination. We also
set aside the Industrial Commission's post-hearing order
on motion for reconsideration dated June 22, 2018 and order
on motion for reconsideration, modification and consolidation
dated June 22, 2018 and remand this case for a new hearing.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Ayala was sixty-five years old at the time his worker's
compensation claims went to hearing. He was born to a rural
family in Mexico in 1951, where he completed only the third
grade. At eight-years-old, he dropped out of school to help
his father with plowing and caring for animals on a farm. He
moved to the United States in 1974 in pursuit of a better
life and became a citizen of the United States in 1992. He
has lived in Bruneau, Idaho since moving to the states, and
has worked primarily on farms. Since 1995, he has worked as a
foreman for Meyers Farms on a 1, 250 acre tract that produces
potatoes, corn, and alfalfa.
October, 2009, Ayala was driving a work truck to get a
replacement part for farm equipment. A tire on the truck blew
out, causing the vehicle to swerve back and forth, striking
guardrails on both sides of the road. Not wearing a seatbelt,
Ayala was thrown about inside of the vehicle and was injured.
filed a complaint for worker's compensation benefits
arising out of the truck wreck in November 2012. There is no
dispute that as a result of the collision he sustained
injuries to his neck, left shoulder, and left elbow, each of
which required surgery. What is in dispute is whether Ayala
sustained an injury to his lower back. The State Insurance
Fund and Meyers Farms claim that, at most, the collision
resulted in the temporary aggravation of pre-existing
arthritis and that any present need for surgery was not the
result of an industrial accident. While Ayala's claim for
benefits was pending, he fell from a ladder while working and
injured his right knee, requiring him to undergo total knee
replacement surgery. He filed another complaint for benefits.
Industrial Commission assigned Ayala's claims to a
referee who then consolidated the matters for hearing. The
referee conducted a hearing on October 26, 2016 where Ayala
and Morgan Meyers, a principal of the employer, testified.
After the hearing was over, the parties, in accordance with
Industrial Commission rules of procedure, conducted
post-hearing depositions of expert witnesses and submitted
final briefing. The referee finally took the matter under
advisement on November 3, 2017.
two months later, the Industrial Commission sent a letter to
counsel for both parties informing them that the referee was
facing a backlog of cases. The letter explained that the
Commission was concerned about a delay and was willing to
make its decision based on the record adduced. The letter
also explained that if the parties were not willing to have
the Commissioners do the review without the benefit of the
referee's recommendations, the matter would be handled by
the referee in due course:
The Commissioners are concerned about the delay this will
cause in getting a decision out. The Commissioners are
willing to write this decision on the record adduced to
expedite moving this along. If you are willing for the
Commissioners to do so, we will reassign the case and will
proceed accordingly. If not, resolution of the case will be
handled by Referee Powers in due course.
declined the Commission's offer, with Ayala's lawyer
stating in a letter that, "the decision rendered would .
. . be absent the consideration of Mr. Ayala's
observational credibility which I believe to be an important
consideration in this case."
April 9, 2018, without any recommendations from the referee,
the Commission issued a seventy-one page decision on
Ayala's claims. Before addressing the merits of
Ayala's claims, the decision explained that the
Commission's duty to manage a docket in a timely fashion
supported its decision to overrule ...