Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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A Delaware superior court affirmed an Industrial Accident Board (the “IAB” or “Board”) decision denying Appellant Joseph Wilson’s (“Wilson”) petition seeking payment for a cervical spine surgery. The parties agreed the treatment Wilson received was reasonable and necessary. Wilson was injured in a work-related accident on August 1, 2002 while working for Appellee Gingerich Concrete and Masonry (“Employer”). Sometime after the accident, Wilson started treatment with Dr. Bikash Bose (“Dr. Bose”), a certified Delaware workers’ compensation healthcare provider. Wilson’s injury necessitated two related cervical surgeries. The first surgery was performed while Dr. Bose was certified under the Delaware workers’ compensation system (the “Delaware Certification”) according to the requirements set forth in the Act. Employer’s carrier paid the bills related to Wilson’s first surgery. But Wilson’s first surgery proved unsuccessful, and Dr. Bose recommended a second surgery. During the time between Wilson’s first surgery and his second surgery, Dr. Bose’s Delaware Certification lapsed, and he did not seek re-certification for nineteen months. The issue presented was whether the second surgery was compensable given that the treating physician’s certification under the Delaware Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”) had lapsed by the time of treatment. If the treatment was not compensable, as the IAB and superior court held, then Wilson asked the Delaware Supreme Court to anticipatorily resolve the question of whether he could be liable for the bill even though no one asserted such a claim. The Supreme Court concluded Dr. Bose’s lapse rendered him uncertified, and, thus, the disputed bills were not compensable under 19 Del. C. § 2322D. View "Wilson v. Gingerich Concrete & Masonry" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review centered on whether the First Amendment barred claims for defamation and tortious interference with contract against a defendant who, in an email to a law firm, described as “shockingly racist” a lawsuit filed by one of the firm’s partners in his personal capacity. The suit aimed to preserve a nearby high school’s “Indian” mascot. The partner, who claimed to have lost his position with the law firm because of the email, sued his detractor, contending that the characterization of his lawsuit was demonstrably false and pled four causes of action, including defamation and tortious interference with contract. The partner’s detractor, in response, contended her statements about the partner were opinions protected by the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. The Superior Court agreed with the detractor and dismissed the partner’s tort action. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court: the statements at issue did not on their face contain demonstrably false statements of fact, nor did they imply defamatory and provably false facts. "As statements concerning an issue of public concern, moreover, they are entitled to heightened First Amendment protection and cannot form the predicate of the plaintiff’s tort claims." View "Cousins v. Goodier" on Justia Law

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Appellant Nicholas Kroll appealed the Court of Chancery’s dismissal of his complaint. Kroll was terminated from his position as a police officer for the City of Wilmington (the “City”) on the ground that he failed to comply with a departmental requirement that he reside in the City. A second ground was that he violated a departmental regulation regarding dishonesty by giving a false or inaccurate address on annual, required residency affidavits. After his dismissal, he filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the City, its police department, and its mayor, in his official capacity, breached the police Collective Bargaining Agreement (the “CBA”) and his right to due process by modifying the definition of the term “residence” in October 2017, and applying the modified definition to him without giving the Fraternal Order of Police an opportunity to bargain the new definition on behalf of its members. The modification, Kroll argued, was material to the decision to terminate his employment. He also sought an injunction reinstating him as a City police officer with back pay. Appellees moved to dismiss, arguing the Court of Chancery lacked jurisdiction over the complaint’s subject matter. The Appellees argued, in part, that Kroll had an adequate remedy at law in the form of a petition for a writ of certiorari, which was within the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. Appellees had not argued that Kroll’s complaint fell within the CBA grievance procedure (that issue was raised sua sponte by the Court of Chancery in its ruling). The parties agreed the disciplinary action taken against Kroll was not subject to the grievance procedure set forth in the CBA. Appellees agreed the Court of Chancery committed legal error by basing its decision on the CBA’s grievance procedure. They urged the Delaware Supreme Court, however, to affirm on the alternative grounds for dismissal that were asserted in the Court of Chancery. Finding the Court of Chancery did not address Appellees' arguments, the Supreme Court reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Kroll v. City of Wilmington" on Justia Law

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Claimant Christina Zayas, a paratransit bus driver, sued her employer, DART/State of Delaware (“Employer”), for injuries she sustained in a 2016 work incident where a passenger physically assaulted her (the “Incident”). In 2019, Zayas underwent left shoulder arthroscopic surgery performed by Dr. Evan Crain (“Dr. Crain”). After the surgery, Zayas was placed on total disability from May 2019 through October 2019. Zayas filed Petitions to Determine Additional Compensation Due relating to the Incident. Specifically, she sought payment of medical expenses, total disability benefits, and acknowledgement of the compensability of the surgery Dr. Crain performed in 2019. Zayas’ hearing was scheduled for November 2019. Prior to the Hearing, the parties stipulated that the limited issue in dispute was whether the May 2019 surgery was causally related to the Incident. The Board held that Zayas failed to meet her burden of proof that the surgery in 2019 was causally related to the Incident. Notably, although the Board had excluded them, the Board stated in its Decision that Medical Records by Zayas' physician were admissible. A review of the record indicated the Medical Records were never admitted into evidence; and the Superior Court did not consider this inconsistency, or the issues Zayas had raised regarding the medical testimony and records. Nevertheless, the Superior Court affirmed the Board’s decision and found that substantial evidence existed to support the Board’s legal conclusions. On appeal, Zayas again argued the Board erred by not admitting her Medical Records and that it abused its discretion by admitting the Employer's expert's deposition testimony during the Hearing. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded that because Dr. Tadduni, the Employer's expert, refused to answer relevant questions, Zayas was deprived of the opportunity to elicit relevant information. "In essence, Dr. Tadduni unilaterally determined that he would not answer questions concerning Dr. Cary’s treatment of Zayas. In admitting Dr. Tadduni’s testimony, and simultaneously excluding the Medical Records, the Board’s actions prevented Zayas from adequately presenting her case, violated fundamental notions of fairness, and thereby abused its discretion." As a result, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the Superior Court's judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Zayas v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama. They sued the plantations in Delaware in 2012, claiming that while working on the plantations they suffered personal injuries from a pesticide known as 1, 2, Dibromo 3, Chloropropane (“DBCP”). Defendants-Appellees were numerous companies alleged to have caused the Plaintiffs’ exposure to DBCP and their resulting injuries. In 2013 the Superior Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ complaint under what was sometimes referred to as Delaware’s McWane doctrine (the “Dismissal Order”). On December 31, 2018 Plaintiffs moved to vacate the Dismissal Order under Superior Court Civil Rule 60(b)(6). The Superior Court denied the Plaintiffs’ motion, finding that the motion was untimely and Plaintiffs failed to show extraordinary circumstances for vacating the judgment. Plaintiffs have appealed that order to the Delaware Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, however, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Chaverri et al. v. Dole Food Company, et al." on Justia Law

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Claimant LeShawn Washington suffered an injury to his left shoulder in a work-related incident in 2016 and was placed on disability. Upon returning to work, he claimed that his shoulder symptoms had worsened. Claimant filed a petition seeking compensation for a recurrence of temporary total disability (the “TTD Petition”), which the Accident Board (the “IAB”) denied (the “TTD Opinion”). Claimant then filed a permanent impairment ("PI") Petition. Claimant's employer, Delaware Transit Corporation, successfully moved to dismiss, arguing the IAB had previously ruled on the matter during Claimant’s TTD Petition hearing when it stated that Claimant had “fully recovered” from his work injury. In preparing for the hearing on the PI Petition, both parties obtained medical expert opinions regarding the degree of Claimant’s permanent impairment. Both parties’ experts agreed that there was some degree of permanent impairment. Nevertheless, DTC moved to dismiss the PI Petition at the commencement of the hearing. The IAB agreed with the employer, and dismissed the PI petition on those grounds, before considering the permanent impairment testimony. Claimant appealed the IAB’s decision to the Superior Court, arguing that the IAB never concluded that he had “fully recovered.” Furthermore, Claimant argued: (1) the Superior Court erred in concluding that the Board had reasonably interpreted the TTD Opinion; and (2) the Superior Court erred as a matter of law in holding that the Board’s dismissal of his PI Petition was supported by substantial evidence. The Delaware Supreme Court held the Superior Court erred in affirming the Board’s decision to deny Claimant’s PI Petition. "Although the Board is permitted to interpret its own orders and rulings, the Board erred when it dismissed Claimant’s PI Petition based solely on the expert testimony presented in connection with his TTD Petition." The decision was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Delaware Transit Corp" on Justia Law

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The Delaware Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline (the “Board”) reprimanded Dr. Bruce Grossinger, for violating various regulations governing the use of controlled substances for the treatment of pain. Specifically, the Board adopted the detailed report and recommendation of a Division of Professional Regulation hearing officer, who had found that Dr. Grossinger, in his care of a heroin-addicted patient (“Michael”), had not complied with the Board’s rules and regulations. The Board found that Dr. Grossinger failed to, among other things, document Michael’s history of substance abuse, discuss with Michael the risks and benefits of treatment with controlled substances, order urine samples or require pill counts, and keep accurate and complete treatment records. After a hearing, the hearing officer recommended that the Board find Dr. Grossinger guilty of unprofessional conduct and discipline him by placing his medical license on probation for six months and requiring him to complete additional medical education and pay a fine. Board adopted the hearing officer’s findings but reduced Dr. Grossinger’s discipline from probation to a letter of reprimand. Dr. Grossinger appealed the Board’s decision to the Superior Court, which reversed on all but one of the five findings. The Superior Court’s reversal of the Board rested on several legal conclusions, including that some of the regulations that Dr. Grossinger was said to have violated were unconstitutionally vague as applied to him, that expert testimony was required to establish the standard of care under the regulations, and that Dr. Grossinger’s due process rights were violated because the Board relied on evidence - its own expertise - outside the record. The parties cross- appealed: the Board appealed the Superior Court’s reversal of all but one of the findings; and Dr. Bruce Grossinger appealed the Superior Court’s failure to reverse the final finding. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with the Superior Court’s reversal of the Board’s decision and, therefore, reversed. View "Delaware Bd. of Med. Licensure & Discipline v. Grossinger" on Justia Law

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Elizabeth Imbragulio appealed a Superior Court decision that reversed the decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (“the Board”) and concluded that she had been terminated for just cause by her employer, Civic Health Services, LLC (“Civic Health”). The Board cross-appealed, arguing that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to consider Civic Health’s appeal in the first instance because it was not filed in a timely manner. The issue raised by the cross-appeal was whether Superior Court Civil Rule 6(a)’s method for computing time applied to the requirement in 19 Del. C. section 3323(a) that a party seeking judicial review of a decision by the Board must do so within ten days after the decision becomes final. After careful consideration, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Board that it did not, and therefore concluded that the Superior Court did not have jurisdiction over Civic Health’s appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed the Superior Court to vacate its judgment. View "Imbragulio v. UIAB" on Justia Law

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Stephen Powell appealed a Delaware Industrial Accident Board ("IAB") decision to deny his petition for workers' compensation benefits. Powell alleged he sufered a work injury in 2016 while employed by OTAC, Inc. d/b/a Hardee’s (“Hardees”). The IAB held a hearing regarding Powell’s petition in 2018. The IAB heard testimony by deposition from a doctor on Powell’s behalf and from a doctor on Hardees’ behalf. It also heard live testimony from a Hardees General Manager and from Powell himself. After the hearing, the IAB denied Powell’s petition, ruling that he had failed to establish that he injured his rotator cuff while working at Hardees. The IAB concluded that the testimony and evidence was “insufficient to support a finding that Claimant’s injuries were causally related to his work for [Hardees].” Specifically, the IAB noted that both Powell’s “inability to report a specific day of injury” as well as his “failure to seek medical treatment immediately” after the alleged incident detracted from his credibility. Further, it found that although “both medical experts agreed that [Powell’s] treatment was reasonable for his rotator cuff tear, there was insufficient evidence that the rotator cuff tear occurred as the result of the alleged work accident." Powell argued on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court: (1) the Board erred as a matter of law in denying his petition, and he claims that he did present sufficient evidence to demonstrate that his injuries occurred while working at Hardees; and (2) the Superior Court erred in affirming the IAB’s decision and that it exceeded the scope of review by making findings of fact unsupported by the record. After review of the IAB and Superior Court record, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Powell v. OTAC, Inc." on Justia Law

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The State of Delaware appealed a superior court order that affirmed a determination by the Industrial Accident Board (the Board) that Nicholas Gates was working within the course and scope of his employment when he was injured in a motor vehicle collision. At the time of the collision, Gates was employed by the State as a road-maintenance equipment operator for the Department of Transportation (DelDOT). The collision occurred while he was responding to a “call-back” after his normal work hours. He was called back to attend to a roadside accident. Gates sought workers’ compensation benefits from the State for his injury. At the hearing before the Board, the State argued that State of Delaware Merit Rule 4.16 1 and a document titled “Call-Back Pay Guidelines and Recommended Procedure” (the Call-Back Pay Guidelines) were part of Gates’s employment contract. According to these provisions, Gates was not to be paid for a call-back until he arrived at the DelDOT yard. Because Gates’s collision occurred before he arrived at the yard, the State argued, his injury occurred outside the course and scope of his employment and was, therefore, not compensable under Delaware’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act).3 The Board looked to the parties’ prior course of conduct to determine the terms of the employment contract and found that Gates’s injury was compensable under the Act because, based on the parties’ prior course of conduct, he “was working within the course and scope of his employment contract when the motor vehicle accident occurred.” The Superior Court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court, and therefore the Board. Specifically, the Court determined the Board applied the correct legal standard and acted within its discretion in finding, based on Gates’s unrebutted testimony as to the parties’ course of conduct prior to the collision, that the terms of Gates’s employment contract established he was to be paid for a callback from the time he received the call and that, at the time of the collision, he was working within the course and scope of this contract. These factual findings were supported by substantial evidence; the Board did not err in determining that Gates’s injury was compensable under the Act. View "Delaware v. Gates" on Justia Law