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Green v. Town of Lake Arthur

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

September 26, 2018

MICHAEL GREEN
v.
TOWN OF LAKE ARTHUR

          APPEAL FROM THE OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION - District No. 3 PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 08-22034 DIANNE MARIE MAYO, WORKERS' COMPENSATION JUDGE

          Michael B. Miller, Jacqueline K. Becker Miller & Associates COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Michael Green

          Joy C. Rabalais Borne, Wilkes & Rabalais, L.L.C. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Town of Lake Arthur

          Court composed of Marc T. Amy, John E. Conery, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges. Amy, concurs in the result and assigns reasons.

          JOHN E. CONERY, JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, Michael Green, appeals the December 14, 2017 judgment of the workers' compensation judge (WCJ) dismissing without prejudice Mr. Green's fully adjudicated workers' compensation claim.[1] The original workers' compensation claim was reduced to final judgment on October 14, 2009.[2] The December 14, 2017 dismissal was initiated at the request of the WCJ on her own initiative with no reasons or explanation. The final judgment signed was without prejudice and noted that if any dispute should arise between the parties, they were to file a new Form LDPL-WC-1008 claim under the original docket number 08-22034. Finding that Mr. Green's October 14, 2009 final judgment was dismissed without lawful cause, for the following reasons we reverse and vacate in its entirety the WCJ's December 14, 2017 judgment of dismissal and reinstate the judgment dated October 14, 2009.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Green originally filed a workers' compensation claim properly utilizing Form LDPL-WC-1008 on October 14, 2008. The case went to trial before the WCJ on August 24, 2009. Prior to the beginning of trial, counsel stipulated on the record to the following facts; 1) On or about September 23, 2008, Mr. Green was an employee of the Town of Lake Arthur when he suffered a work-related accident while in the course and scope of his employment; 2) Mr. Green's choice of orthopedist is Dr. Michael Heard, and his choice of orthopedic surgeon is Dr. Mark McDowell; 3) The Town of Lake Arthur is self-insured; 4) Mr. Green is entitled to Temporary Total Disability Benefits; 5) The Town of Lake Arthur will pay a penalty of $8, 000.00, the maximum allowed under the law at the time of the trial.

         Two issues remained to be heard by the WCJ at the 2009 trial, the correct calculation of Mr. Green's Average Weekly Wage (AWW), which the WCJ set at $236.67 per week, and the amount of attorney fees owed by his employer. The WCJ awarded Mr. Green $12, 000.00 in attorney fees and $419.15 in court costs. The WCJ's ruling on Mr. Green's initial Form LDPL-WC-1008 claim was reduced to a final judgment on October 14, 2009.

         After the trial in 2009, various unrelated motions were heard and resolved by the WCJ. On April 15, 2014, the parties filed a "JOINT MOTION AND ORDER TO STAY" the case "until a motion is filed by any of the parties." The former WCJ signed the order to stay the case on April 15, 2014.[3] The record does not indicate why the "Joint Motion To Stay" was filed. No motions were filed by either party, and the stay remained in place for over three years.

         On June 26, 2017, the new WCJ, on her own initiative, sent counsel for both parties a "NOTICE OF TELEPHONE STATUS CONFERENCE" (TSC) in Mr. Green's original case, docket number 08-22034. The notice did not explain the nature of the conference but merely stated, "TAKE NOTICE: There will be a Telephone Status Conference in the above case at 9:00 a.m. on 7/6/2017."[4] Again, there is no explanation in the record as to why the WCJ initiated this puzzling unsolicited notice.

         During the telephone conference on July 6, 2017, the WCJ of her own accord stated her intention to lift the April 15, 2014 stay and dismiss Mr. Green's original Form LDPL-WC-1008 claim, as memorialized in a document entitled "NOTES OF COURT." The WCJ's decision was issued following a discussion with counsel during the July 6, 2017 TSC that "there are no pending issues in this case."[5] The WCJ signed an Order on July 6, 2017 that "the Motion to Lift the Stay and to Dismiss shall be filed with the court within ten days of the July 6, 2017 TSC." It was further ordered that if the motion was not received timely, "a Rule to Show Cause will be set."[6] Counsel for the Town of Lake Arthur then drafted and submitted a judgment to the WCJ for her signature at her request.

         On July 11, 2017, in correspondence to the WCJ, counsel for Mr. Green objected to the form of judgment drafted by counsel for the Town of Lake Arthur and indicated it had not been sent to him prior to opposing counsel sending the proposed judgment to the WCJ. The objection was filed on July 13, 2017.[7]

         On July 26, 2017, over the objection of counsel for Mr. Green, the WCJ signed the judgment submitted by the Town of Lake Arthur at her request lifting the stay and dismissing without prejudice Mr. Green's original Form LDPL-WC-1008 claim in docket number 08-22034. The WCJ's self-initiated ruling allowed the parties to file a new Form LDPL-WC-1008 claim under the original docket number 08-22034 if any further action was required in the case.[8]

         On August 1, 2017, counsel for Mr. Green sent correspondence to the WCJ requesting a hearing to be set on the "Motion to Dismiss prior to the decision."[9]

         At the request of Mr. Green's counsel, the WCJ set a hearing on Mr. Green's Motion for August 31, 2017, and treated it as a motion for reconsideration. The notice stated, "The purpose of this hearing is to take evidence and/or hear oral argument on the Plaintiff's request for reconsideration of the Motion to Dismiss filed by defendant in compliance with a court order."[10]

         The WCJ held the hearing as scheduled on August 31, 2017. Mr. Green argued that in dismissing the original Form LDPL-WC-1008 claim, the WCJ would also be dismissing its October 14, 2009 final judgment. Accordingly, if there was any problem in the future, Mr. Green would have to start the claims' process again because of the WCJ's requirement that he file a new Form LDPL-WC-1008 claim. This procedure would, in fact, result in prejudice to his client's rights, despite the language of the WCJ's dismissal, of the October 14, 2009 final judgment "without prejudice."

         Counsel for the Town of Lake Arthur argued in support of the WCJ's dismissal claiming that just because the Form LDPL-WC-1008 claim was dismissed, it had no effect on Mr. Green's October 14, 2009 final judgment. If her client stopped paying, then Mr. Green would have the opportunity to come to the WCJ to enforce the judgment.

         At the hearing, the WCJ maintained her position that Mr. Green's rights were not in jeopardy and stated:

There's no action been taken on this case within the last three years. The stay has been lifted. The Court is going to dismiss this case without prejudice in saying that if an iota of the judgment is violated, you know the vehicle you need to get back in this court.

         No specific reasons were given, and, no legal authority was cited for the WCJ's ruling. Counsel for the Town of Lake Arthur was ordered to prepare a judgment in conformity with the WCJ's ruling. The final judgment submitted by counsel for the Town of Lake Arthur included the language "without prejudice" and was signed by the WCJ on December 14, 2017, from which Mr. Green now timely appeals.

         ASSIGNMENT ...


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