In Webster, Claimant suffered a work injury on March 9, 2016, when he tripped and fell carrying a metal table. Claimant was placed at maximum medical improvement (“MMI”) by the authorized treating physician (“ATP”) on September 12, 2016. Claimant was referred to another doctor for an impairment rating, who found Claimant at MMI as of October 21, 2016 with no permanent impairment. Claimant then underwent a Division Independent Medical Examination (“DIME”) that concurred Claimant was at MMI with no impairment. Claimant then filed for hearing on the issues of permanent total disability and ongoing medical benefits. This hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Cayce. ALJ Cayce was not persuaded by Claimant’s arguments or testimony and denied the benefits sought. Claimant appealed, but ALJ Cayce’s decisions were affirmed and made final.
Claimant then filed another application for hearing in another attempt to secure benefits. This hearing was conducted by ALJ Felter. At the hearing, Claimant submitted a motion seeking that ALJ Felter recuse himself. ALJ Felter found that Claimant did not make any assertions of fact to support a recusal. Rather, ALJ Felter found that Claimant based the motion on disrespectful and scandalous allegations regarding his integrity. For those reasons, ALJ Felter concluded there was no reason for recusal. Considering evidence from physicians and the DIME, ALJ Felter denied and dismissed Claimant’s request for benefits. Claimant appealed to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (“the Panel”) claiming that the ALJ Felter was biased and prejudiced and should have been recused. Additionally, Claimant challenged both the previous order made by ALJ Cayce and the current denial of benefits.
First, the Panel discussed the circumstances under which a party may seek an ALJ’s recusal. A party may be entitled to have an ALJ recused if sufficient facts are alleged, from which an ALJ’s prejudice or bias may be inferred. However, the Panel noted that mere opinions and conclusions regarding the judge’s alleged bias are insufficient to merit recusal. Here, the Panel found that Claimant’s assertions of appearances of impropriety did not provide an adequate factual basis with which to require ALJ Felter’s recusal. Claimant failed to present substantial evidence that ALJ Felter either was – or appeared to be – prejudiced or biased at hearing. For that reason, the Panel found that ALJ Felter had acted properly in not recusing himself at hearing.
Second, the Panel explained that the order it was currently reviewing was decided upon by ALJ Felter and, for that reason, it could not revisit the finalized order from ALJ Cayce from 2017. Therefore, the Panel dismissed Claimants appeal as it pertained to that 2017 order.
Lastly, the Panel found that the ALJ had not abused its discretion in denying Claimant benefitd. The Panel explained that ALJ Felter’s factual findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Panel found that ALJ Felter’s decision to deny Claimant benefits was not an abuse of the ALJ’s discretion. For those reasons, the Panel dismissed Claimant’s appeal altogether.
Webster v. Czarnowski Display Service Inc., W.C. No. 5-009-761-007 (I.C.A.O. Aug. 7, 2020)