Heyl Royster

 


Heyl Royster

 

Bowen V. IWCC: Appellate Court Refuses To Hear Appeal

By: Christopher Drinkwine
Co-Chair Appellate Practice Group

Appealing a decision of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission to the Circuit Court is a complex process, which requires multiple filings within the short span of twenty days. See 820 ILCS 305/19(f). Once the appropriate Circuit Court issues its decision, a party may appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, Workers’ Compensation Commission Division, as the next level of judicial review. The Illinois Appellate Court jealously guards its appellate jurisdiction as we were reminded last month in Bowen v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2021 IL App (4th) 200268WC, when the Appellate Court—not once but twice—dismissed appeals because the Circuit Court neither confirmed nor set aside the Commission’s decision.

Bowen: The Facts

After the Commission awarded Joseph Bowen benefits, his employer brought two actions for judicial review in the Circuit Court. In the first, the employer challenged the imposition of a § 19(l) penalty and the denial of a credit under § 8(e)(17). In the second, the employer challenged the denial of a § 19(f) motion to correct a reputed clerical error, namely, the omission of a credit under § 8(e)(17). The Circuit Court reversed the Commission’s award of a penalty under § 19(l) reasoning that, effectively, the Commission had already allowed a credit under § 8(e)(17).

The parties appealed and the Appellate Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because three issues remained unaddressed by the Circuit Court: (1) the propriety of the Commission’s decision to deny the employer a credit pursuant to § 8(e)(17); (2) the Commission’s denial of the employer’s § 19(f) motion; and (3) the Commission’s vacation of the arbitrator’s award of attorney fees to Bowen pursuant to § 16. The Appellate Court dismissed the consolidated appeals for lack of jurisdiction because the Circuit Court left these issues unresolved and, consequently, there was no final judgment for the Appellate Court to review.

Thereafter, the Circuit Court held that the Commission’s failure to deduct the § 8(e)(17) credit from Bowen’s award of permanent partial disability benefits was erroneous as a matter of law and against the manifest weight of the evidence. The Circuit Court also held that the Commission’s denial of § 16 attorney fees was neither against the manifest weight of the evidence nor an abuse of discretion, and affirmed that denial on review. The Circuit Court held further that Bowen was entitled to a credit of 22.5% loss of use of the right leg pursuant to § 8(e)(17), to be deducted from the Commission’s award of 20% loss of use of the right leg pursuant to § 8.1b(b), resulting in no additional permanency payable. Finally, the Circuit Court found that the Commission’s denial of the employer’s § 19(f) motion was mooted by its order correcting the credit calculation.

Bowen: The Holding

After the Circuit Court’s new order was entered, Bowen appealed and the Appellate Court sua sponte held that it lacked jurisdiction. The Appellate Court explained that its jurisdiction is limited to deciding appeals from final judgments and under § 19(f)(2) of the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Appellate Court explained that the Circuit Court’s judgment is final, executable, and appealable only if the Circuit Court confirms the Commission’s decision or, alternatively, sets aside the Commission’s decision without a remand. The Appellate Court stressed that the Circuit Court may confirm part of the Commission’s decision and set aside another part, but each part of the decision that comes under challenge in the Circuit Court must be either confirmed or set aside.

The Appellate Court determined that the Circuit Court neither confirmed nor set aside the Commission’s denial of a § 8(e)(17) credit. The Appellate Court acknowledged that the Circuit Court characterized the Commission’s denial of the credit as against the manifest weight of the evidence and as legally erroneous. It also acknowledged that the Circuit Court declared that the employer was entitled to a credit of 22.5% against the loss of use of petitioner’s right leg, and thereby “entered such decision as” the court deemed to be “justified by law.” However, according to the Appellate Court, before entering its own decision on this point the Circuit Court must set aside the Commission’s decision on this point. The Appellate Court explained that unless the Circuit Court sets aside the part of the Commission’s decision denying the credit, two opposing decisions on the credit will be in force: a decision by the Commission and a decision by the Circuit Court. The Appellate Court concluded that the respondent’s claim to a § 8(e)(17) credit remained unresolved—and, hence, the Circuit Court’s judgment remained nonfinal and nonappealable.

Conclusion

The required filings and short deadline in expediting the appeal of a decision by the Commission are both friend and foe to our clients. Our careful attention to these requirements occasionally results in the dismissal of an appeal filed by a careless petitioner’s counsel. Conversely, when the Commission’s decision is adverse to our clients, we must immediately inform them of the pros and cons of appealing and quickly expedite an appeal to the Circuit Court where appropriate. Depending on where an accident occurs and/or where the party defendant is located, one of 23 Judicial Circuits has the power to review a Workers’ Compensation Commission decision. The many Circuit Courts throughout the state are trial courts with Circuit and Associate Judges presiding over a wide variety of civil and criminal cases and consequently, the Judges do not necessarily hear disputes involving Commission decisions on the regular basis. It is rare that an appeal from the Commission ends at the Circuit Court level. Bowen makes clear that in order to have the Circuit Court’s decision reviewed by the Appellate Court, we must be diligent in assuring that the Circuit Court is aware of the requirements under § 19(f) of the Workers’ Compensation Act and either confirms the Commission’s decision or sets it aside without remanding.