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Dollar v. Baytos

Supreme Court of Kentucky

August 24, 2017

FAMILY DOLLAR APPELLANT
v.
MAMIE BAYTOS, WIDOW OF STEPHEN BAYTOS, DECEASED HONORABLE RICHARD M. JOINER, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE, HONORABLE THOMAS G. POLITES, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE AND WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD APPELLEES AND MAMIE BAYTOS, WIDOW OF STEPHEN BAYTOS, DECEASED CROSS-APPELLANT
v.
FAMILY DOLLAR HONORABLE RICHARD M. JOINER, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE, HONORABLE THOMAS G. POLITES, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE AND WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD CROSS-APPELLEES

         ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2014-CA-001053-WC WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD NO. 06-WC-01247

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT/ CROSS-APPELLEE: FAMILY DOLLAR Melanie Brooke Gabbard Allen Kopet & Associates, PLLC Lewis Paisley Stoll Keenon Ogden, PLLC.

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE/CROSS-APPELLANT: MAMIE BAYTOS Carl Edward Grayson Blankenship Massey 8b Associates, PLLC.

          COUNSEL FOR AMICUS CURIAE: KENTUCKY WORKERS ASSOCIATION (KWA): Jeffery Roberts Roberts Law Office.

          OPINION

          MINTON CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Steven Baytos settled his workers' compensation injury claim with his employer, Family Dollar Stores, for a lump sum. The settlement amount included separate consideration in exchange for Baytos's waiver of all future claims, specifically including future medical expenses and a "full and final waiver of any and all rights he may have to reopen this claim under Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 342.125, for any reason, including a change in condition." Baytos died a year later from his work-related injury; and, two years after that, his widow, Mamie Baytos, who was not a party to the settlement, filed a motion to reopen Baytos's injury claim to assert her own claim for a workers' compensation death benefit.

         The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) allowed Mamie to reopen Baytos's injury claim and awarded her death benefits. The Board reversed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the Board. The Court of Appeals determined that, under Brashear v. Old Straight Creek Coal Corp., [1] claims for death benefits arising from a workers' compensation injury are not derivative of the income benefits the injured employee recovers from the employer. And as such, the Board's opinion was vacated and remanded for further proceedings.

         On Family Dollar's appeal to this Court, we agree with the Court of Appeals that Mamie has a separate and viable claim for death benefits under KRS 342.750, and while we make an exception in today's case, we hold that it was improper for Mamie to assert her claim via reopening Baytos's settled claim.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Baytos was employed by Family Dollar Stores when he suffered a torn thoracic aorta in 2006. He filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits that was settled and approved by an Administrative Law Judge (AU) in 2008. Steven received a lump-sum payment from Family Dollar in exchange for his waiver of any future claims he may have against his employer. Also part of the settlement agreement, Steven agreed to additional sums in exchange for waiver of any future medical expenses and another sum in consideration for his "full and final waiver of any and all rights he may have to reopen this claim under KRS 342.125, for any reason, including a change in condition." His wife, Mamie Baytos', was not part of the settlement negotiations, nor did the final approved agreement include any references to any future benefits to which she may be entitled.

         Steven died in 2009 as a result of his work-related injury. In 2011, Mamie filed a "Motion to Reopen and Award Survivor Benefits to Widow" to seek death benefits. The presiding AU ruled that her claim was viable, but ordered her to prove Baytos's death was caused by a work-related injury in order to recover death benefits under KRS 342.750. Shortly thereafter, her case was transferred to a new AU, who accepted the prior AU's findings of fact and determined that Steven's death was a result of the injury. And so the AU awarded death benefits to Mamie.

         Family Dollar appealed the decision to the Workers' Compensation Board. The employer argued that Mamie's claims for death benefits were barred by the settlement agreement between Baytos and Family Dollar. In turn, Mamie filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, claiming that notice of the appeal was defective. The Board ignored Mamie's motion to dismiss and reversed the ALJ's ruling on the merits, denying her claim for benefits. Baytos appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals.

         The Court of Appeals reversed the Board's decision. First, the panel rejected Mamie's argument that Family Dollar's appeal was improperly noticed. But on the merits, the Court of Appeals determined that under Brashear v. Old Straight Creek Coal Corp. claims for death benefits arising from a workers' compensation injury are not derivative of the income benefits the injured employee recovers from his employer. And as such, the Board's opinion was vacated and remanded for further proceedings. Family Dollar now appeals to this Court.

         II. ANALYSIS.

         A. Family Dollar's Notice of Appeal was Properly Filed.

         Mamie contends that the Board erred by not dismissing Family Dollar's appeal following the ALJ's findings of fact. During the pendency of her claim, the presiding AU retired and was replaced by a new ALJ. She argues that the notice of appeal was defective because it named the incorrect AU. The Court of Appeals disagreed and determined that Family Dollar's appeal was properly noticed. And we concur.

         In 2012, Family Dollar appealed to the Board following ALJ Joiner's opinion and order on the viability of her claim. The Board dismissed the appeal as interlocutory. Shortly thereafter, ALJ Joiner was replaced by ALJ Polites, who eventually issued a final and appealable order and opinion in favor of Mamie's claims. Mamie claims that Family Dollar referenced the incorrect ALJ opinion when noticing its appeal to the Board.

         Family Dollar's notice of appeal began as follows:

[Family Dollar] requests a review by the Workers' Compensation Board of the opinion and award rendered herein by Honorable Richard Joiner, Administrative Law Judge, on June 19, 2012. The order on the petition for reconsideration was entered on July 10, 2012. This appeal was originally filed in August 2012 and was dismissed given the interlocutory nature of the underlying proceedings.
On February 4, 2014, Hon. Tom Polites, ALJ rendered a decision in this claim which now makes the 2012 decision by Judge Joiner final and appealable.

         Essentially, Mamie argues that because Family Dollar stated its desire to review the "opinion and award rendered herein by Honorable Richard Joiner, " the employer failed to notice an ...


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