Appellant, Darlene D. Darner, was employed by respondent Southeast Idaho In-Home Services ("In-Home"). Her duties at In-Home included assisting senior citizens with housework and personal care needs.
On October 7, 1988, appellant was assigned to help Marion Ruth Moffitt with some of Ms. Moffitt's housework needs. Specifically, appellant was assigned to clean the windows in Ms. Moffitt's mobile home. Appellant alleges that during the course of this work she sustained a back injury. As a result, appellant filed a claim for worker's compensation.
On March 22, 1989, appellant filed a worker's compensation application for hearing. In the application for hearing, appellant claimed that she had an "[i]njured lower back" and claimed a "[t]otal permanent impairment." In addition, she stated that "[w]hile taking down, cleaning & putting back up storm windows & drapes the claimant injured her lower back, she also had to move some furniture."
On April 11, 1989, respondents filed their answer to the application for hearing. In the answer, respondents denied that the accident occurred on or about the time claimed, that the accident occurred during the course of appellant's employment, and that the appellant was disabled. In addition, respondents alleged that appellant's "condition is attributable in whole or in part to a preexisting injury, infirmity or condition."
On January 11, 1990, appellant filed a motion, pursuant to I.C. § 72-312, to join the Special Indemnity Fund of the State of Idaho as a party-defendant. In the motion, appellant stated that "part of the disability which she has received is attributable to an accumulation of prior injuries coupled with the present injury...." On February 9, 1990, the Industrial Commission granted the motion, and it directed appellant to file an amended application for hearing naming the Idaho Special Indemnity Fund as a party-defendant.
On March 5, 1990, respondents filed a motion to bifurcate the proceedings. Respondents requested that the first hearing be limited to the issue of "[w]hether or not a work-related accident occurred for which a compensable claim under Worker's Compensation laws may be allowed." Respondents also stated that "[t]he basis for this motion is that a conflict of evidence exists between witnesses as to whether or not an accident or injury occurred at the time, place, and in the manner specified by the Claimant." The motion was granted by order dated March 12, 1990.
On May 2, 1990, respondents filed an amended answer to the amended application for hearing. The amended answer was identical to the original answer except for the addition of an affirmative defense.
After briefs were filed with the Industrial Commission, the Industrial Commission entered its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order denying appellant's claim on January 15, 1991. The Industrial Commission stated that the issue was "whether Claimant suffered a back injury as the result of an industrial accident on October 7, 1988." The Commission pointed to inconsistencies between the testimony of appellant and Ms. Moffitt, and it stated:
On February 5, 1991, appellant filed a motion for reconsideration. In the motion for reconsideration, appellant pointed to Finding II, wherein the Commission found the photographs of drapes to reveal that the drapes were lightweight. Appellant argued that "those pictures show two sets of drapes, the outside set of drapes being quite heavy." Additionally, appellant stated that the Commission placed too much emphasis on the testimony of Ms. Moffitt, and appellant stated that Ms. Moffitt did not deny that appellant was injured. Appellant contended that the testimony of Ms. Moffitt regarded collateral issues and that a witness cannot be impeached on a collateral matter, citing Mundy v. Johnson, 84 Idaho 438, 373 P.2d 755 (1962). The Commission denied the motion for reconsideration by order dated February 12, 1991.
On February 12, 1991, appellant filed a notice of appeal "from the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order entered in the above entitled action on the 15th day of January, 1991."
A. Standard of Review.
On appeal, appellant challenges Finding V of the Industrial Commission, regarding the credibility of appellant's and Ms. Moffitt's testimony. In Dolph v. Hecla Mining Co., 119 Idaho 715, 715, 810 P.2d 249, 249 (1991), citing Vernon v. Omark Indus., 115 Idaho 486, 488, 767 P.2d 1261, 1263 (1989), this Court stated:
Specifically, with regard to the issue of credibility, the Court has said:
B. Issue On Appeal: Was There Substantial Evidence To Support The Industrial Commission's Finding That Appellant Did Not Sustain The Alleged Back Injury On October 7, 1988?
In Conclusion of Law II, the Commission stated that its conclusion that appellant did not sustain the alleged injury on October 7, 1988 was "[b]ased primarily on the finding that Ms. Moffitt's testimony was more credible than [appellant's] testimony...." The relevant finding, Finding of Fact V, states:
(Emphasis added.) Thus, the Commission's credibility finding consists of two bases: (1) its observation of appellant at the hearing, and (2) the numerous inaccuracies in her testimony.
As to the first basis for the credibility finding, the observation basis, this Court has long recognized that the fact finder, in passing upon a witness' credibility, may consider the demeanor of the witness on the stand, including
State v. Simes, 12 Idaho 310, 316, 85 P. 914, 915 (1906).
In the Commission's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order, it is stated that "[t]he above-entitled matter came on for hearing before Commissioners Will S. Defenbach and Gerald A. Geddes on September 25, 1990 in Pocatello, Idaho." However, the signature lines at the end of the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order are provided for "Gerald A. Geddes, Chairman," "Logan E. Lanham, Member," and "Betty H. Richardson, Member." Of the three commissioners, only Commissioners Geddes and Lanham signed the document, and only Mr. Geddes was present for the September 25, 1990 hearing.
The observation basis for the credibility finding, which goes to the demeanor of appellant on the witness stand, requires that the Commission actually be present for the hearing. The demeanor of a witness cannot be judged unless the judge is present to observe it. In this case, only one member of the three-member Commission observed appellant. Yet, in the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order, the Commission recites its observation of appellant at the hearing as a basis for the conclusion that she did not sustain the alleged injury on October 7, 1988. The observation basis, then, does not provide substantial and competent evidence to uphold the Commission's credibility finding.
This does not, however, end our inquiry. We must uphold the Commission's credibility finding if there is any substantial and competent evidence to support the finding, despite the inadequacy of other evidence. Dolph, 119 Idaho at 715, 810 P.2d at 249.
As to the second basis for the credibility finding, the numerous inaccuracies basis, this Court has stated:
Olvera v. Del's Auto Body, 118 Idaho 163, 164, 795 P.2d 862, 863 (1990), citing Nelson v. Pumnea, 106 Idaho 48, 675 P.2d 27 (1983); Hayes v. Amalgamated Sugar Co., 104 Idaho 279, 658 P.2d 950 (1983); I.C. § 72-732.
An examination of the record reveals testimony from which the Commission could have found that appellant was inaccurate in numerous respects. For example, in her deposition and during the hearing, appellant states that the drapes were heavy, but at an earlier point in the hearing appellant stated that "the drapes weren't heavy, the rod." In addition, Ms. Moffitt testified that the drapes and rods were not removed in order to clean the windows, but that she, and not appellant, pushed the "sheer curtains and the sheer draperies to the side as far as I could ... because [appellant's] hands might have been wet or soiled." At another point in her deposition, appellant states that she moved "a couch, an overstuffed chair, and several heavy tables, and a TV set." However, during the hearing, Ms. Moffitt testified that she moved the table and that the chair did not need to be moved since it was not in front of a window. Ms. Moffitt also testified that there was no place to move furniture in her home. Finally, Ms. Moffitt testified that appellant did not mention experiencing pain or difficulty or refer to her back hurting.
Although only Commissioner Geddes was present at the hearing, the testimony of all witnesses at the hearing was transcribed and made a part of the record. In addition, the deposition of appellant was made a part of the record. Thus, even though Commissioner Lanham, who was the other signator of the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order, was not present at the hearing, the statements made by appellant and Ms. Moffitt were transcribed and thus available for him to read. Indeed, in the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order, the Commission states that it considered the evidence and that the hearing testimony and deposition of appellant was part of the evidence. The numerous inaccuracies provide substantial and competent evidence to uphold the credibility finding because Commissioners Geddes and Lanham were able to judge this aspect of appellant's and Ms. Moffitt's testimony.
The specific question we are faced with, then, is whether a finding of fact with two bases, one of which is not supported by substantial and competent evidence, can be sustained. For this question, we turn to our standard of review and ask whether "there is any substantial evidence to support the Commission's factual findings." Dolph, 119 Idaho at 715, 810 P.2d at 249, citing Vernon, 115 Idaho at 488, 767 P.2d at 1263 (emphasis added.) With this standard in mind, we hold that the second basis for the credibility finding, the numerous inaccuracies basis, being supported by substantial and competent evidence, satisfies our standard of review. Therefore, we affirm the decision of the Industrial Commission.
Costs to respondents.
BISTLINE, J., and CAREY, J. Pro Tem., concur.
BAKES, Chief Justice, concurring specially:
I concur in the majority opinion except its conclusion that it was inappropriate for the Commission to use the demeanor of the witness as a basis for its determining credibility where only one of the two Industrial Commission members who participated in the Commission's opinion had observed the witness. While I agree that there is substantial other evidence to support the Commission's finding, and therefore the credibility finding is not reversible error, I disagree with the majority's conclusion that observation of the demeanor of witnesses cannot be a basis for the Industrial Commission's decision unless each of the commissioners signing on to the decision has personally observed the demeanor of the witness.
JOHNSON, concurring in the result.
I am caught in a dilemma. While I am prepared to concur in the Court's opinion in this case, I view the rationale as being in conflict with the rationale contained in the Court's opinion in Vendx Marketing Company, Inc. v. Department of Employment, 122 Idaho 890, 841 P.2d 420 (1992), issued concurrently with the opinion in this case. Specifically, in this case, after rejecting one of the evidentiary grounds for the Commission's decision, the Court considers alternative evidence for upholding the Commission's decision under the substantial and competent evidence standard. Ordinarily, I would agree with this rationale. In Vendx, however, after rejecting one of the evidentiary grounds for the Commission's decision, the Court vacates the Commission's decision, even though there is other substantial and competent evidence to support the Commission's decision. I am unable to accept this lack of consistency. Therefore, I concur in the result in this case, and dissent in Vendx.