Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Labor Commission Appeals Board dismissing Appellant's interlocutory objection to the appointment of the medical panel assigned to resolve this dispute, holding that the actual bias standard applied by the Board to resolve Appellant's conflict of interest objection did not comport with the statutory requirements.Appellant sought workers' compensation benefits after he injured his back in a work-related accident. The administrative law judge assigned to the case appointed a medical panel to resolve the dispute and appointed Dr. Jeremy Biggs, an occupational medicine physician, to serve as the panel chair. Appellant moved for interlocutory review, arguing that Dr. Biggs should be disqualified because he had a conflict of interest. The Board rejected Appellant's objections and concluded that the accident had not caused permanent injury. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) where a medical panelist's impartiality could be reasonably questioned the requirement of an impartial medical evaluation has not been met; and (2) remand was required on this basis. View "Gamez v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the district court denying the motion for summary judgment filed by Barnes Bullets asking the district court to rule that the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) barred Layne Kay's claim, holding that the Occupational Disease Act (ODA) may bar Kay's lawsuit.Kay contracted lead poisoning while working at Barnes and sued Barnes under the exception to the WCA permitting employees like Kay to sue over injuries caused by an employer's intentional act. Barnes moved for summary judgment, arguing that the WCA barred Kay's claim where Kay did not present sufficient evidence that Barnes acted intentionally. The Supreme Court vacated the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that Utah law recognizing lead poisoning as an occupational disease raises a significant question as to whether the ODA, not the WCA, covered Kay's claim. View "Kay v. Barnes Bullets" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiffs' lawsuit filed against the employer of Kasey Christiansen, who was killed at work, holding that the district court did not err.The district court dismissed Plaintiffs' lawsuit based on a provision of the Workers' Compensation Act that bars employees from suiting their employers over work-related injuries. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the district court erred in applying the Act's exclusive remedy provision to dismiss their complaint because the intentional-injury exception applied. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because it could not reasonably be inferred that Defendant believed Christiansen's fatal injuries were virtually certain to occur. View "Christiansen v. Harrison Western Construction Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the district court denying Defendant's motion for summary judgment in this lawsuit over a work-related ailment, holding that remand was required.Plaintiff contracted lead poisoning while working for Defendant. A narrow exception in the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) allows employees like Plaintiff to sue over injuries caused by an employer's intentional act, and Plaintiff sued Defendant under this exception. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the WCA barred Plaintiff's claim because he did not present sufficient evidence that Defendant acted intentionally. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court vacated the decision below, holding (1) although both parties assumed that the WCA covered Plaintiff's condition, Utah law has frequently recognized lead poisoning as an occupational disease governed exclusively by the Occupational Disease Act; and (2) therefore, remand was required to determine if Plaintiff's lead poisoning was an occupational disease. View "Kay v. Bullets" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss this complaint alleging negligence and reckless conduct against a physician who performed an independent medical examination (IME) on Plaintiff, holding that even if the physician's IME report constituted an affirmative act with foreseeable harms, he was not liable for Plaintiff's injuries resulting from a delay in workers' compensation proceedings.Plaintiff was injured during the course and scope of his employment. Plaintiff made a claim for workers' compensation benefits, and the claim was coordinated by Broadspire Services, Inc. Broadspire arranged for Dr. Mark Anderson to perform an IME of Defendant's injuries. Anderson concluded that the accident caused Plaintiff to suffer a transient cervical strain and that Plaintiff's remaining symptoms were secondary to pre-existing conditions. Consequently, Broadspire denied Plaintiff various forms of workers' compensation benefits. Three years later, the Utah Labor Condition determined that the accident created additional injuries and ordered that Plaintiff's employer pay historical medical expenses. Plaintiff filed this complaint alleging negligence and reckless conduct against Anderson and vicarious liability against Broadspire. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that policy considerations favor no duty owed by an expert whose professional opinion causes a delay in legal proceedings. View "Kirk v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing on summary disposition the denial of Appellant's appeal from the denial of unemployment benefits, holding that following the plain language of Utah Code 35A-4-403 in requiring a claimant who has obtained a work-search deferral to be nonetheless able and available to accept full-time employment does not produce an absurd result.Appellant sought unemployment benefits after he was temporarily laid off from his job. The Department of Workforce Services denied benefits because Appellant had indicated on his application that he was unavailable to accept full-time work because he would be returning to his former employer. The Department deferred the requirement that Appellant actively seek employment while receiving benefits but still required him to be able and available to accept full-time work under section 35A-4-403. The ALJ and the workforce appeals board denied Appellant's appeal. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that interpreting the statute to require a claimant who had obtained a work-search deferral to nonetheless be able and available to accept full-time employment worked an absurd result. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Department properly denied Appellant's claim for unemployment. View "Arnold v. Department of Workforce Services" on Justia Law

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In this case in which in which a sales representative of Alarm Protection Technology (APT) sought to challenge a set of steps taken by APT to insulate itself from claims for unpaid compensation, the Supreme Court held that the district court did not err in denying a motion filed by Plaintiff.Plaintiff, a former sales representative for APT, filed an action alleging that APT and related parties owed him $348,434 in unpaid commissions. This appeal concerned steps taken by APT to insulate itself, including its payment of an advance in exchange for the execution of a confession of judgment, the entry of a judgment by confession, the issuance of a writ of execution against Plaintiff's claims for unpaid commissions, APT's subsequent purchase of those claims, and APT's substitution as plaintiff on the claims against itself. At issue were the district court's denial of Plaintiff's motion for return of excess proceeds and unused property from APT's purchase of his claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that APT was not required to (1) establish the value of Plaintiff's claims before executing on them and purchasing them, (2) presume that the true value of the claims was established in the allegations of Plaintiff's complaint, and (3) return to Plaintiff exceeds proceeds or remaining property on the basis of those allegations. View "Alarm Protection Technology, LLC v. Bradburn" on Justia Law

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In this case in which a sales representative of Alarm Protection Technology (APT) sought to challenge a set of steps taken by APT to insulate itself from claims for unpaid compensation, the Supreme Court held that the district court did not err in denying two motions filed by Plaintiff.Plaintiff, a former sales representative for APT, filed an action alleging that APT and related parties owed him $143,000 in treble damages for unpaid commissions. This appeal concerned APT's payment of an advance in exchange for the execution of a confession of judgment, the entry of a judgment by confession, the issuance of a writ of execution against Plaintiff's claims for unpaid commissions, APT's subsequent purchase of those claims, and APT's substitution as plaintiff. Plaintiff specifically appealed the denial of his motion to vacate the judgment by confession and quash the writ of execution of his claims and his motion for return of excess proceeds and unused property from APT's purchase of his claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that APT was not required to (1) establish the value of Plaintiff's claims before executing on them and purchasing them, (2) presume that the true value of the claims was established in the allegations of Plaintiff's complaint, and (3) return to Plaintiff exceeds proceeds or remaining property on the basis of those allegations. View "Alarm Protection v. Crandall" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Labor Commission awarding Appellant permanent partial disability under the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA), Utah Code 34A-2-101 to -1005, holding that the Commission's process for determining permanent partial disability benefits is constitutional and that the administrative law judge (ALJ) was not permitted to increase the amount of the award based on Appellant's subjective pain.Based on Commission guidelines, the ALJ based the amount of Appellant's award on a report provided by an assigned medical panel. Appellant argued on appeal that the process for determining permanent partial disability benefits was unconstitutional and that the ALJ erred in failing to augment the medical panel's impairment rating by three percent, resulting in an increased compensation award. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the adjudicative authority of ALJs has not been unconstitutionally delegated to medical panels; and (2) the Commission expressly precludes ALJs from augmenting an impairment rating based on a claimant's subjective pain. View "Ramos v. Cobblestone Centre" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting Albertson's LLC's motion for partial summary judgment concluding that the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Act (UOSHA) preempted Plaintiff's wrongful termination claim, holding that UOSHA does not reflect a clear legislative intent to preempt common law remedies.In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Albertson's fired him because he reported a workplace injury. Plaintiff asserted three causes of action - wrongful termination in violation of public policy, breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The district court concluded that UOSHA preempted Plaintiff's claim for wrongful termination. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that where UOSHA contains no exclusive remedy provision and where Utah Code 34A-6-110(1) instructs that UOSHA does not limit or repeal other legal obligations, it cannot be concluded that UOSHA's structure and purpose demonstrate a legislative intent to preempt common law causes of action. View "Graham v. Albertsons" on Justia Law