Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Teco/Perry County Coal v. Feltner

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 13, 2019

TECO/PERRY COUNTY COAL APPELLANT
v.
PAUL FELTNER; HON. GRANT ROARK, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE; AND WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD APPELLEES AND MCCOY-ELKHORN COAL CO., INC. APPELLANT
v.
ROBBIE HATFIELD; HON. JANE RICE WILLIAMS, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE; AND WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD; APPELLEES AND ENTERPRISE MINING COMPANY APPELLANT
v.
HERMAN NAPIER; HON. WILLIAM J. RUDLOFF, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE; AND WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD APPELLEES

          ON APPEAL FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NOS. 2015-CA-001951-WC, 2015-CA-000126-WC, 2014-CA-001473-WC WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD NOS. WC-15-00058, WC-13-01486, WC-13-00451

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT ENTERPRISE MINING COMPANY: HUGH BRETTELLE STONECIPHER FOGLE KELLER WALKER, PLLC

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT TECO/PERRY COUNTY COAL: SARAH KATHRYN MCGUIRE BAIRD & BAIRD, P.S.C.

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT MCCOY ELKHORN COAL CO., INC.: MORGAN FITZHUGH HASSMAN & FITZHUGH, PLLC

          COUNSEL FOR WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD: MICHAEL W. ALVEY

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE HERMAN NAPIER: MCKINNLEY MORGAN MORGAN COLLINS YEAST & SALYER

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE PAUL FELTNER: TIMOTHY JAY WILSON WILSON & MCQUEEN

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE ROBBIE HATFIELD: CHARLES P. WHEELER, JR. KIRK LAW FIRM, PLLC

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE HONORABLE GRANT STEWART ROARK: NOT REPRESENTED BY COUNSEL

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE HONORABLE JANE RICE WILLIAMS: NOT REPRESENTED BY COUNSEL

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE HONORABLE WILLIAM J. RUDLOFF: NOT REPRESENTED BY COUNSEL

          OPINION

          VANMETER, JUSTICE

         By statute, workers' compensation claimants suffering hearing loss may not receive income benefits unless their whole person impairment rating ("WPI")-as determined by converting their binaural (both ears) impairment under the Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment ("Guides")-is at least 8%. KRS[1] 342.7305. Other types of non-hearing loss traumatic injury claimants do not have to meet this threshold impairment rating to qualify for income benefits. The issue we must resolve in this case is whether the Court of Appeals erred when it held that this section of KRS 342.7305 violates the equal protection guarantees in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Kentucky Constitution. Upon review, we hold that it did so err as a rational basis exists for treating hearing loss claimants differently from other types of traumatic injury claimants. Accordingly, we vacate that portion of the Court of Appeals' opinion and affirm the respective Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") award of medical benefits and exclusion of income benefits.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background.

         Herman Napier, Robbie Hatfield, and Paul Feltner (collectively "Appellees") all filed claims against their employers (collectively "Appellants") for workers' compensation benefits based on occupational hearing loss. Napier claimed occupational hearing loss resulting from long term, repetitive exposure to loud noise in the workplace. Dr. Raleigh Jones performed the required University Medical Evaluation ("UME") and assigned Napier a WPI of 4%, recommended hearing aids, and restricted Napier to only working with ear protection. At Napier's hearing, the ALJ granted Napier's motion to add a constitutional equal protection challenge and initially ruled KRS 342.7305(2) unconstitutional. However, on rehearing, the ALJ acknowledged that he did not have the authority to determine statutory constitutionality and revised his Opinion and Order to exclude permanent partial disability ("PPD") income benefits, thus only granting medical benefits. The Workers' Compensation Board ("the Board") affirmed and passed the question of constitutionality on to the Court of Appeals.

         Robbie Hatfield filed two hearing loss claims, one resulting from a piece of hot slag, or molten waste material, falling in his ear, and one for occupational hearing loss due to repetitive exposure to loud workplace noise. Dr. Barbara A. Eisenmenger performed the required UME and assigned Hatfield a 4% WPI, recommended hearing aids and ear protection, but cautioned against working in situations where ear protection, i.e. ear plugs, would impede Hatfield's ability to work safely. Hatfield identified his constitutional challenge to KRS 342.7305(2) at a benefit review conference ("BRC") and the ALJ acknowledged this challenge at Hatfield's hearing. The ALJ awarded medical benefits to Hatfield but held that she lacked authority to address the constitutional equal protection challenge. The Board affirmed and held that it likewise lacked authority to address the constitutional question.

         Paul Feltner filed two workers' compensation claims, one for his back and one for occupational hearing loss due to "daily and continuous exposure to noise." His claims were consolidated. Dr. Brittany Brose performed a UME and assigned Feltner a WPI of 5%, recommended hearing aids, and further recommended that Feltner be restricted from jobs incompatible with the use of ear protection devices due to safety concerns. Feltner settled his non-hearing loss claims but listed his constitutional challenge to KRS 342.7305(2) in his BRC filings. The ALJ awarded medical benefits but excluded PPD income benefits because he lacked authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges. The Board affirmed the ALJ's decision and held that it also lacked authority to address the constitutional question.

         The Court of Appeals consolidated the three claims to address the constitutionality of KRS 342.7305(2). Holding that Vision Mining Inc. v. Gardner, 364 S.W.3d 455 (Ky. 2011) was dispositive, the Court of Appeals determined that KRS 342.7305(2) violated equal protection guarantees and was thus unconstitutional. This appeal followed.

         II. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.