Thursday, June 9, 2011

Court of Special Appeals Broadens WCC's Jurisdiction

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (“COSA”) appears to have broadened the jurisdiction of the Workers' Compensation Commission (“Commission”) in cases that are pending on appeal. 

In Sanchez v. Potomac Abatement, Inc., No. 504 September Term, 2010 (Filed April 27, 2010), the COSA ruled, in effect, that Labor & Employment Article Section 9-736(b)(1), which states that the "Commission has continuing powers and jurisdiction over each claim under this title," trumps Labor & Employment Article Section 9-742, which expressly identifies those issues over which the Commission "retains jurisdiction pending an appeal" (medical treatment and temporary total disability benefits provided the WCC granted TT benefits in the order on appeal and the insurer terminated the benefits pending adjudication or resolution of the appeal).

In Sanchez, the Commission issued an award of compensation for permanent partial disability in August, 2006. Sanchez appealed to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.  In July, 2008, Sanchez filed issues for additional benefits during the pendency of the appeal.  The Workers' Compensation Commission agreed with the employer/insurer's position that the Commission did not have jurisdiction pursuant to Labor & Employment Article Section 9-742.  Sanchez appealed that order, also to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, which agreed with the Commission that Section 9-742 limited the WCC's jurisdiction because of the appeal from the August, 2006 award.  Sanchez then appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.

The COSA reasoned that Section 9-742 "was never truly an exclusive jurisdiction statute" and that it never "modified or controlled" Section 9-736.  The Court muddies the waters in writing that "our work is not done by simply concluding that 9-742 does not deprive the Commission of jurisdiction while a previous award is on appeal, and that the agency retains jurisdiction if the new claim is properly authorized under 9-736(b).  It is this Court's duty to harmonize the two related provisions.  At least two possibilities occur to us: 1) retained jurisdiction is mandatory under 9-742, but discretionary under 9-736(b); and 2) jurisdiction is retained under 9-736(b) only if the matter is independent and distinct from the issues on appeal, while such a condition is not imposed on jurisdiction retained under 9-742."  

The Court of Appeals may yet weigh in on this issue, and the Commission may have some discretion even post-Sanchez as it wrestles with a potentially heavier caseload.  Commissioners have indicated that the application of Sanchez will be handled on a case-by-case basis.  

Article contributed by Paul Donoghue

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