UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA v. W.C.A.B. (HICKS) No. 2240 C.D. 2010.
16 A.3d 1225 (2011)
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, Petitioner v. WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (HICKS), Respondent.
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
Decided April 5, 2011.
Howard J. Burk, Jonathan B. Sprague and Karyn Dobroskey Rienzi, Philadelphia, for petitioner.
Larry Pitt, Philadelphia, for respondent Andre Hicks.
BEFORE: PELLEGRINI, Judge, and LEAVITT, Judge, and KELLEY, Senior Judge.
OPINION BY Judge PELLEGRINI.
The University of Pennsylvania (Employer) has filed a petition for review from an order of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Board) affirming the decision of the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) denying Employer's suspension and termination petitions because it found that Andre Hicks' (Claimant) loss of earning power was related to his work-related injuries and not due to his criminal convictions. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the Board's decision.
Claimant was employed as a campus police officer and SWAT team member for Employer when he was injured in a car accident on June 25, 2006, in the course and scope of his employment. He suffered a cervical and low back strain and an aggravation of pre-existing degenerative joint disease/facet arthropathy resulting in a right lumbar radiculopathy. Claimant began receiving benefits pursuant to a notice of compensation payable.
At the hearing before the WCJ, Employer presented expert medical testimony by Leonard Brody, M.D. (Dr. Brody), a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, who examined Claimant once on April 2, 2008, and was told by Claimant that he suffered a car accident while on the job. He was further told by Claimant that he was treated at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and released and had been
Claimant offered the expert medical testimony of Norman Stempler, D.O. (Dr. Stempler), Claimant's treating physician, who stated that he first saw Claimant in June 2006 when he was injured in the car accident and had been treating him ever since with therapy and medication with the exception of when he was incarcerated. He testified that Claimant's complaints of chronic low back pain and spasms had been consistent since his first exam, and that he did not believe he could perform his job duties of a campus police officer. Dr. Stempler diagnosed Claimant with chronic lumbosacral musculoligamentous injury and chronic sacroilitis and right lumbar radiculitis. Dr. Stempler opined that Claimant had not fully recovered and could not perform his job duties as a campus police officer, but possibly could perform some work pending his review of a specific job description.
Claimant testified that his job as a campus police officer included apprehension of criminals and suspects and foot and vehicle patrol. He also served warrants and did a lot of strenuous physical training with long arm guns. He did not believe that he was able to return to work due to his continuing pain and injuries and that Employer had not offered him a light-duty position since he last worked as a police officer.
Testifying for Employer was Captain Gerald Leddy (Captain Leddy), the Commanding Officer of the Staff and Administrative Services Unit, who stated that he had been employed by Employer for 26 years and he was responsible for, among other things, certification and qualification issues for Employer's police officers. He testified that Employer's Police Department was governed by the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission (MPOETC), and the statutes associated with that Commission governing qualifications and certification of police officers.
Captain Leddy further testified that as a result of Claimant's criminal convictions, Claimant was not eligible for re-employment as a police officer with Employer and that he could not be certified at this point in time. Captain Leddy stated that it was his belief that the Commonwealth revoked a police officer's certificate number once
Claimant's criminal sentencing hearing transcript was offered into evidence where he was asked "Would you be able to return to work after what's happened here in Court?" and he responded, "No, I will not be able to return to work." (Reproduced Record at 223a.)
Finding Dr. Stempler's testimony to be credible and convincing and Dr. Brody's testimony unpersuasive, the WCJ found Claimant had not fully recovered from his work injury and denied the suspension and termination petitions. The WCJ also was not persuaded by the evidence that Claimant's loss of earning power was for reasons unrelated to his work incident stating:
(WCJ's June 15, 2009 decision at 9.) Employer appealed the WCJ's decision to the Board arguing that the WCJ erred in denying the petitions as a result of Claimant's criminal convictions which were pending on appeal.
The Board stated that although Captain Leddy testified that he believed that if the appeal of a conviction were successful, a police officer could be recertified, Section 306(a.1) of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act (Act)
(Board's September 21, 2010 decision at 4.) The Board then entered an order affirming the WCJ's decision denying Employer's suspension and termination petitions, and this appeal by Employer followed.
Employer again contends that the Board erred in affirming the WCJ's decision because the undisputed evidence established that Claimant's wage loss was caused by factors unrelated to the work injury, i.e., Claimant's post-injury criminal conduct and the resulting convictions.
In response to Employer's first argument, it was Employer's burden to prove that Claimant's wage loss was due to something other than his work-related injury. Here, the WCJ rejected Employer's medical expert's testimony that Claimant had fully recovered from his work injury as less than credible, and found Claimant's medical expert that he could not return to work as a campus police officer most credible.
However, even if we were to address Employer's contention that Claimant's wage loss was caused by his convictions and loss of certification, the WCJ also found that the statutory provisions which Captain Leddy presented found at 53 Pa. C.S. §§ 2161-2171 did not provide for an automatic revocation of Claimant's certification or need for re-certification based on Claimant's criminal convictions. 53 Pa. C.S. § 2164(a)
Accordingly, because there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that Claimant's loss of earnings was unrelated to his work injury and was related to his convictions, the decision of the Board that Claimant's loss of earnings was related to his work injury is affirmed.
AND NOW, this 5th day of April, 2011, the order of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board dated September 21, 2010, at A09-1164, is affirmed.
I concur in the result and agree that Employer failed to prove that Claimant's certification had been revoked or that Employer had discharged Claimant. That absence of evidence was fatal to Employer's case. I write separately only to note that the WCJ lacked jurisdiction to hold whether or not Employer's evidence satisfied the terms of Chapter 21, Subchapter D of the General Local Government Code, 53 Pa. C.S. §§ 2161-2171 (relating to Municipal Police Education and Training).
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