Labor & Employment § 9-736(b) grants the Workers’ Compensation Commission (hereinafter the “Commission”) the authority to modify its findings or orders, where justified, so long as the application for modification is made within five years after the later of the date of accident; date of disablement; or date of last compensation paid. Upon receiving such a request, the Commission may summarily deny the request without conducting a hearing. Alternatively, it may hold an evidentiary hearing on the issue, after which it can either deny or grant the request. While any new decision reached after an evidentiary hearing is reviewable on appeal by the Circuit Court, a summary denial is not.
In the case of Linda A. Sanders v. Board of Education for Harford County, et al., the Commission’s authority to summarily deny a modification request was reviewed in the appellate courts of Maryland. Specifically, the Court of Appeals considered whether the Commission’s summary denial of a motion to reopen or modify under Labor & Employment § 9-736(b) was subject to judicial review or appeal. The employer, Board of Education for Harford County, and insurer, Maryland Association of Board of Education (“MABE”), hereinafter “Respondents” were represented by Franklin & Prokopik’s own Angela Garcia Kozlowski, Esq. and David A. Skomba, Esq. As a result of Ms. Kozlowski’s and Mr. Skomba’s tireless efforts in representing the Respondents before the Commission, the Circuit Court for Harford County, the Court of Special Appeals, and finally the Court of Appeals, we received a favorable decision from the Court of Appeals. The court held that a summary denial of a motion to reopen or modify under Labor & Employment §9-736 (b) is not subject to judicial review or appeal.
Linda A. Sanders, (hereinafter referred to as “Claimant”) was employed by the Board of Education for Harford County as a bus driver. On October 7, 2014, the Claimant was involved in a work accident involving a special needs student wherein she sustained injuries to her head, neck, spine, and left arm. The Claimant subsequently filed a claim with the Commission and sought authorization for physical therapy and surgery directed at the left shoulder. Following a hearing on the merits, the Commission denied authorization for surgery but granted authorization for physical therapy. The Claimant did not file a petition for judicial review (“appeal”), nor did she file a request for rehearing. Instead, she underwent surgery through her private health insurer.
Over three years later, the Claimant filed a request for modification of the earlier order, wherein surgery was denied. She sought authorization for the surgery and payment of surgery bills in her request. The Commission summarily denied the request, and the Claimant filed a petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Harford County. The Respondents filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the Commission’s summary denial was not subject to judicial review. The motion to dismiss was granted in favor of the Respondents.
Roughly three months later, the Claimant filed a second request for modification wherein she sought the same relief as in the earlier modification request. The Commission again summarily denied the request, and the Claimant again filed a petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Harford County. The Respondents again filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied by the circuit court. The Claimant and Respondents then filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The circuit court ultimately ruled in favor of the Claimant and remanded the case to the Commission for further action on the second request for modification. The Respondents appealed this decision to the Court of Special Appeals.
The Court of Special Appeals eventually ruled in favor of the Respondents and held that the circuit erred in denying the Respondents’ Motion to Dismiss. The court explained that the Commission has broad discretion to deny a request to reopen summarily, and the summary denial is not subject to judicial review the Court of Appeals appealed the case.
After a thorough review and discussion of the applicable authorities, the Court of Appeals held that “where a party requests that the Commission reopen or modify a claim under LE Section 9-736(b) and the Commission summarily denied the request without a hearing and does not consider new evidence or the merits of the request to reopen/modify or make findings with respect to the merits of the request or of the earlier order in a new or amended order denying the request, the Commission’s denial is not subject to judicial review.”
The Court of Appeals explained that pursuant to the plain language of Labor and Employment § 9-736 (b), the Commission is vested with “wide discretion to either modify a finding or order that has previously issued or not to do so under LE 9-736(b), provided that a request to modify is made within the statutory limitations period of five years outlined under LE 9-736(b)(3).” Following an application of a party for modification of an order under LE 9-736(b), the Commission may either grant the request, hold a hearing at which evidence is considered, and afterward issue a decision granting or denying the requested relief. Conversely, the Commission may also deny the request to reopen or modify the order without reopening the case for receipt of additional evidence or a hearing and without considering the merits of the request or earlier order and making new findings. This later course of action, the Court of Appeals explained, “is generally called a summary denial.”
In reaching this decision, the Court of Appeals explained that although Labor & Employment § 9-737 generally provides for judicial review of a decision by the Commission where a petition for judicial review is filed within thirty days after the date of the mailing of the Commission’s order that, “nevertheless, our case law makes clear that the summary denial of a request to modify under Labor & Employment § 9-736(b) is not subject to judicial review.” The court further explained that consistent with more than a century of developing case law, a refusal to reopen a claim constitutes a decision of the Commission, but concluded that such a decision is merely one “not to interfere with a previous decision settling the merits of the instant claim” and that such a decision “is not one intended to be included under a general statutory allowance of an appeal from any decision.” Since, in the instant case, the Claimant filed a request for modification of the Commission’s initial order, which was summarily denied, without reopening, and without addressing the merits of the underlying claim or veracity of the initial order, the Court of Appeals held that the Claimant was not entitled to judicial review of said denial.
Written by associate Kara Parker.