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Waltrip v. TS Enterprises, Inc.

Supreme Court of Hawaii

March 1, 2016

DEBORAH J. WALTRIP, Petitioner/Claimant-Appellant,
v.
TS ENTERPRISES, INC., DBA KIMO'S RESTAURANT, and FIREMAN'S FUND INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent/Employer/Insurance Carrier-Appellee, and SPECIAL COMPENSATION FUND, Respondent/Appellee.

CERTIORARI TO THE INTERMEDIATE COURT OF APPEALS (CAAP-11-0000722; CASE NO. AB 2007-047(M) (7-02-002 62))

Deborah J. Waltrip, petitioner pro se

Robyn M. Kuwabe, for respondent, Special Compensation Fund

Robert E. McKee, Jr., for respondents, TS Enterprises, Inc., dba Kimo's Restaurant, and Fireman's Fund Insurance Company

McKENNA, POLLACK, AND WILSON, JJ., WITH RECKTENWALD, C.J., CONCURRING IN THE RESULT, WITH WHOM NAKAYAMA, J., JOINS

OPINION

McKENNA, J.

I. Introduction

This case arises from an accident suffered by Petitioner/Claimant-Appellant, Deborah J. Waltrip ("Waltrip"), while she worked for TS Enterprises, Inc., dba Kimo's Restaurant ("Restaurant"), on Maui.[1] The Special Compensation Fund ("Fund") established under Hawai'i Revised Statutes ("HRS") § 386-151 (1993), is also an interested party.[2] We accepted certiorari to address certain procedural issues implicated by Waltrip's pro se appeal.

In brief, Waltrip was not given an award by the Director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations ("DLIR") for certain aspects of her claimed injuries, and she appealed to the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board ("LIRAB"). Following a hearing, LIRAB issued its Decision and Order ("July 2011 Decision"). Unsatisfied with LIRAB's decision, Waltrip, pro se, filed two separate motions, each of which was denied. The first motion was titled, "Request to Reconsider" ("August Request"). The second motion was titled, "Request That the July 25th, 2011 Decision and Order Be Vacated and That the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board Issue a New Notice of Initial Conference and Restart the Proceedings All Over Again Including New Discovery Deadlines and a Retrial of the Issues" ("September Request"). Waltrip appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals ("ICA").

Fund then filed a motion to dismiss Waltrip's appeal for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that her notice of appeal was untimely filed. The ICA issued an "Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Appellee Special Compensation Fund's May 3, 2012 Motion to Dismiss Appeal for Lack of Jurisdiction" ("Partial Dismissal Order") stating that Waltrip's notice of appeal was untimely as to LIRAB's July 2011 Decision, and was also untimely as to LIRAB's order denying the August Request. See Waltrip v. TS Enters., No. CAAP-11-0000722, at 3 (App. May 31, 2012) (order). As to Waltrip's appeal of LIRAB's order denying her September Request, the ICA concluded that "it appears that we might have appellate jurisdiction over [it]." Id. Accordingly, the ICA permitted the parties to proceed with briefing. Ultimately, the ICA found LIRAB lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Waltrip's September Request when it construed that request as a second motion for reconsideration over which the Board lacked statutory or regulatory authority to rule. See Waltrip v. TS Enters., No. CAAP-11-0000722, at 2 (App. Aug. 28, 2014) (SDO) .

The following timeline provides a sequence of major events relevant to the procedural posture presented by this case:

9/18/2001 - Waltrip is injured at work
9/04/2002 - Waltrip files a workers' compensation claim
1/04/2007 - Director of DLIR issues a decision that awards Waltrip medical care, services, and supplies; temporary total disability benefits; partial disability benefits for her lumbar spine, psychological condition, and left leg; and $250 for disfigurement
1/23/2007 - Waltrip and Employer both timely appeal to LIRAB regarding the Director's January 4, 2007 decision
12/28/2007 - LIRAB temporarily remands the case to the Director for additional findings regarding the Employer's refusal to compensate for a referral and treatment plan
11/14/2008 - Director issues a supplemental decision determining that the referral and treatment plan were unnecessary
12/2/2008 - Waltrip timely appeals the Director's November 14, 2008 supplemental decision to LIRAB
10/12/2009, 7/19-7/21/2010 - LIRAB holds hearings
7/25/2011 - LIRAB issues its Decision and Order ("July 2011 Decision")
8/23/2011 - Waltrip files a "Request to Reconsider" ("August Request")
8/29/2011 - LIRAB issues an "Order Denying Claimant's Request to Reconsider" ("Order Denying August Request")
9/23/2011 - Waltrip files a "Request That the July 25th, 2011 Decision and Order Be Vacated and That [LIRAB] Issue a New Notice of Initial Conference and Restart the Proceedings All Over Again Including New Discovery Deadlines and a Retrial of the Issues" ("September Request")
9/28/2011 - LIRAB issues an "Order Denying Claimant's Motion to Vacate Decision of July 25, 2011" ("Order Denying September Request")
9/29/2011 - Waltrip files a notice of appeal from the July 2011 Decision and Order Denying August Request
10/28/2011 - Waltrip amends her notice of appeal and lists the July 2011 Decision and Order Denying September Request as the subjects of her appeal
5/3/2012 - Fund files a "Motion to Dismiss the Appeal for Lack of Appellate Jurisdiction" ("Motion to Dismiss")
5/31/2012 - ICA issues "Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Appellee Special Compensation Fund's May 3, 2012 Motion to Dismiss Appeal for Lack of Jurisdiction" ("Partial Dismissal Order")
8/28/2014 - ICA issues a Summary Disposition Order ("SDO") vacating the Order Denying September Request and remanding the case to LIRAB for the entry of an order dismissing the September Request for lack of jurisdiction
10/2/2014 - ICA issues its Judgment on Appeal
10/31/2014 - Waltrip files an Application for Writ of Certiorari ("Application")

Upon accepting certiorari, this court ordered supplemental briefing to address the following issues:

1. Whether this court has jurisdiction under Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 602-59(c) (Supp. 2013) to review the Intermediate Court of Appeals' May 31, 2012 "Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Appellee Special Compensation Fund's May 3, 2012 Motion to Dismiss Appeal for Lack of Jurisdiction;"
2. Whether the ICA gravely erred in the May 31, 2012 order by granting in part and denying in part, rather than wholly denying, the Special Compensation Fund's May 3, 2012 Motion to Dismiss and addressing any partial dismissal in its eventual summary disposition order; and
3. Whether the ICA gravely erred in the May 31, 2012 order by granting in pertinent part the Special Compensation Fund's May 3, 2012 Motion to Dismiss with respect to . . . Waltrip's appeal from . . . [LIRAB's] August 29, 2011 "Order Denying Claimant's Request to Reconsider."

We hold as follows:

(1) because: (a) under Hawai'i Rules of Appellate Procedure ("HRAP") Rule 35(a), an order partially dismissing an appeal is not a "dispositional order"; (b) pursuant to HRS § 602-59(c) (Supp. 2011), "[a]n application for a writ of certiorari may be filed with the supreme court no later than thirty days after the filing of the judgment or dismissal order of the intermediate appellate court, " and (c) Waltrip timely filed her application for certiorari from the ICA's Judgment on Appeal, this court has jurisdiction to review both the ICA's Partial Dismissal Order and SDO which underpin the Judgment on Appeal;[3] (2) the ICA did not err in issuing its Partial Dismissal Order, rather than wholly denying Fund's Motion to Dismiss and later addressing any partial dismissal in its eventual SDO, as it has the power under HRS § 602-57(3) (Supp. 2010), "[t]o make or issue any order . . . necessary or appropriate in the aid of its jurisdiction . . ., " and also because it referred to its partial dismissal in its subsequent SDO; (3) in reviewing the Partial Dismissal Order, the ICA did not err in dismissing Waltrip's appeal of LIRAB's (a) July 2011 Decision and (b) Order Denying August Request, for untimeliness; and (4) pursuant to the fundamental tenets that "[p]leadings prepared by pro se litigants should be interpreted liberally, " Dupree v. Hiraga, 121 Hawai'i 297, 314, 219 P.3d 1084, 1101 (2009) (citation omitted), and that "pleadings [and letters] in administrative proceedings are to be construed liberally rather than technically, " id. (citing Perry v. Planning Comm'n, 62 Haw. 666, 685-86, 619 P.2d 95, 108 (1980)); Doe v. Attorney General, 135 Hawai'i 390, 399, 351 P.3d 1156, 1165 (2015) (discussing id.), the ICA erred in holding in its SDO that LIRAB had no authority to rule on the merits of Waltrip's September Request because it was essentially an unauthorized second motion for reconsideration under HRS § 386-87(d) (1993), [4] on the same grounds as the August Request, rather than viewing it as a motion to reopen under HRS § 386-89(c) (1993), [5] when Waltrip's September Request was filed more than a year after LIRAB's hearing and she had attached post-hearing letters from her treating psychiatrist discussing both her physical and mental condition, which could be construed to constitute "substantial evidence . . . of a change in ... a determination of fact related to [her] physical condition" pursuant to HRS § 386-89. Such a motion, however, should have been submitted to the Director of DLIR instead of LIRAB.

Accordingly, we affirm the ICA's Judgment on Appeal. The ICA's Judgment as to the July 2011 Decision and August Request is affirmed. The ICA's Judgment as to the September Request is affirmed on other grounds.

II. Background

A. Work Injury to LIRAB Proceedings

Waltrip sustained a work accident on September 18, 2001 while working for Restaurant. On September 4, 2002, she filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits with DLIR. Waltrip described her work injury as pain in the left knee, reflex sympathetic dystrophy ("RSD"), neuropathy, atrophy, and depression. Waltrip was represented by counsel during the proceedings before DLIR until April 2006. Subsequently, she proceeded pro se. The Director of DLIR issued numerous interim decisions on Waltrip's claim including a January 4, 2007 decision awarding Waltrip medical care, services, and supplies; ...


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