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Hawkins v. Span Systems, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

May 17, 2017

BILLY HAWKINS Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
SPAN SYSTEMS, INC. / DFW INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT OCIP AND LIBERTY MUTUAL FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY Defendant-Appellees

         Appealed from the Office of Workers' Compensation, District 1-W Parish of Webster, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 14-05152, Patrick F. Robinson and Linda Lea Smith Workers' Compensation Judges

          THE LAW OFFICES OF ALEX S. LYONS By: Alex S. Lyons Counsel for Appellant

          THOMAS, SOILEAU, JACKSON, By: J. Chris Jackson Patrick F. Cole Haley G. Baynham Counsel for Appellees BAKER & COLE, LLP

          Before MOORE, PITMAN, and GARRETT, JJ.

          MOORE, J.

         Billy Hawkins appeals a judgment that sustained his employer's exception of res judicata and dismissed his workers' compensation claim. For the reasons expressed, we affirm.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Hawkins, who lives in Minden, Louisiana, was employed by Span Systems Inc., a contractor at DFW International Airport, in Dallas. On September 16, 2013, a coworker "ran into" the lift in which Hawkins was working. At some point, Hawkins filed a claim against Span's insurer, Liberty Mutual, in the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation ("DWC").

         Hawkins then filed the instant disputed claim in the Louisiana Office of Workers' Compensation ("OWC") on August 4, 2014, against Span and Liberty Mutual (collectively, "Span"). Alleging injuries to his neck and back, he demanded wage benefits, medical treatment, penalties and attorney fees.

         Span admitted that Hawkins sustained a work-related injury but argued that he was receiving wages in lieu of benefits and compensation benefits under Texas law, resulting in statutory credit that would offset any Louisiana benefits.

         Meanwhile, the parties proceeded to a hearing in the DWC. On March 26, 2015, the hearing officer rendered a 5½-page Decision and Order ("the DWC ruling") finding that the work-related injury did not extend to and include a disc protrusion at C5-6, cervical radiculitis, lumbar sprain/strain, and multiple disc bulges (L1-2, L3-4, L5-S1); that Hawkins reached maximum medical improvement on February 24, 2014; and that his impairment raising was 5%. The hearing officer ordered Liberty Mutual to pay medical costs and any accrued wage benefits in accord with Texas law, but did not address any complaint of cervical sprain/strain.

         Back in the OWC, Span filed the instant exception of res judicata on May 15, 2015. Citing the DWC ruling, it argued that the matter had been fully adjudicated with a finding that most of Hawkins's symptoms were not the result of the accident. In support, it cited Early v. R & J Technical Servs., 2012-686 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/13/13), 129 So.3d 46, for the principle that an out-of-state workers' compensation ruling was entitled to full faith and credit in the OWC. It conceded that Hawkins's claim for cervical sprain/strain was unresolved and could proceed.

         Hawkins opposed the exception, arguing that his hearing in the DWC did not meet due process standards, and that res judicata does not apply until the plaintiff has an "adequate opportunity to litigate, " Turner v. Maryland Cas. Co., 518 So.2d 1011 (La. 1988). He conceded that Early was superficially on point, but argued that the OWC has continuing jurisdiction over all claims, La. R.S. 23:1310.8, and that the compensation law should be liberally construed to promote recovery. Mostly, he cited the formulation that res judicata requires an examination of "the entire record in the first suit, " Brielle's Florist & Gifts Inc. v. Trans Tech Inc., 2011-260 (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/5/11), 74 So.3d 833; Pickett v. J.B. Tuck Land Clearing, 2012-1409 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/1/13), 157 So.3d 34. He argued that Span must introduce the entire record of the DWC case, not just the DWC ruling.

         At a hearing in February 2016, Span offered the DWC ruling, not the entire record. After argument, WCJ Patrick Robinson sustained the exception with ...


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