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Duplechin v. St. Landry Parish School Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

February 7, 2018

AMY DUPLECHIN
v.
ST. LANDRY PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL.

         APPEAL FROM THE OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION - DISTRICT 4 PARISH OF EVANGELINE, NO. 14-03930 ANTHONY PALERMO, WORKERS' COMPENSATION JUDGE

          Richard E. Smith The Law Office of Richard E. Smith, APLC COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Amy Duplechin

          Courtney T. Joiner Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice, LLP COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: St. Landry Parish School Board

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Marc T. Amy, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.

          MARC T. AMY, JUDGE.

         The claimant school teacher reported a worsening of her underlying respiratory condition after alleged exposure to mold in her middle school classroom. The employer denied her claim. After the claimant filed a disputed claim form and the parties submitted the matter on briefs and exhibits, the workers' compensation judge denied benefits upon a finding that the claimant failed to sustain her burden of proof as to causation. The claimant appeals, questioning the denial of benefits and seeking an award of benefits, penalties and attorney fees. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The record in this workers' compensation matter indicates that the claimant, Amy Duplechin, began employment as a teacher with the St. Landry Parish School Board in 2000. During her employment, Ms. Duplechin suffered from respiratory symptoms which resulted in periodic absences from her work. These absences included a month-long period of extended sick leave in 2001, [1] a 2005 semester-long medical sabbatical, [2] and another semester-long medical sabbatical in 2011. In the physician's statement accompanying this latter sabbatical, Dr. Jose Santiago, indicated a February 9, 2011 diagnosis of sarcoidosis. The School Board subsequently granted the claimant an extended sick leave from January 14, 2013, through February 25, 2013. Dr. Santiago again noted sarcoidosis as the claimant's diagnosis. By February 28, 2013, however, Dr. Santiago indicated that the claimant was "ready to return" to "her full duties[.]"

         The claimant alleges that the present matter arose when she returned to prepare her classroom for the fall 2013 semester on July 31, 2013. She explained in her deposition that, upon moving a shelf in the classroom, she discovered black mold on the back of the shelf and a type of "mushroom growth all along the side of [the] air conditioner unit." Notes submitted into evidence by the School Board indicate that both the claimant and custodial staff cleaned the visible condition. The notations further reveal that the claimant was moved to a different classroom and was provided with an air filtration device.[3] By the end of August 2013 however, the air filtration device was removed.

         The claimant explained in the deposition entered into evidence that she last worked on October 1, 2013 "[b]ecause of [her] sarcoidosis and the effects that it has on [her] body." Additionally, in the claim form instituting this matter, she alleged that she "discovered the mold in the classroom and as a result of working in the mold infested classroom has developed an aggravation of her condition of lung sarcoidosis." By the proceeding, the claimant suggested that the School Board "failed to timely pay indemnity benefits and failed to timely authorize/pay medical benefits." In turn, she sought payment of penalties and attorney fees due to a failure to reasonably controvert her claim.

         The parties submitted the matter to the workers' compensation judge on briefs and exhibits. After consideration, the workers' compensation judge determined "that the law and evidence favors the defendant for the reasons assigned in open court."

         The claimant appeals, asserting that:

[1.] The Trial Court committed manifest error and was clearly wrong in finding that AMY DUPLECHIN did not prove a causal connection between her current physical condition and exposure to mold.
[2.] The Trial Court committed manifest error and was clearly wrong in finding that AMY DUPLECHIN is not entitled to ...

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