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JONES & LAUGHLIN STEEL CORPORATION v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (12/04/78)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: December 4, 1978.

JONES & LAUGHLIN STEEL CORPORATION, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD, JAMES DAVIS AND COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, RESPONDENTS

Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of James Davis v. Jones & laughlin Steel Corporation and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. A-72486.

COUNSEL

Raymond F. Keisling, with him Will & Keisling, for petitioner.

Thomas W. Henderson, with him Patrick F. McArdle, and McArdle, Henderson, Caroselli, Spagnolli & Beachler, for respondent, Davis.

Sandra S. Christianson, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent, Commonwealth.

Judges Blatt, DiSalle and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge DiSalle.

Author: Disalle

[ 39 Pa. Commw. Page 26]

This case comes before us by way of a petition for review of an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) affirming a referee's decision assessing workmen's compensation liability pursuant to The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Act)*fn1 exclusively against the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (Employer) for the benefit of James Davis (Claimant). The referee found as a fact that Claimant became totally disabled due to silicosis and anthraco-silicosis on January 2, 1975, as a result of his exposure to silica dust and coal dust hazards during his term of employment with the Employer. In a subsequent finding of fact and, more importantly, in the ultimate award of compensation, the referee assessed the full amount on the Employer pursuant to Section 108(k) of the Act, added by Section 1 of the Act of October 17, 1972, P.L. 930, as amended, 77 P.S. 27.1(k).*fn2

The only issue presented by this case is whether Employer should be solely responsible for paying the

[ 39 Pa. Commw. Page 27]

    compensation award.*fn3 Employer contends that since the referee found that Claimant's total disability was caused by both silicosis and anthraco-silicosis, deriving from exposure to silica dust and coal dust,*fn4 and

[ 39 Pa. Commw. Page 28]

    these occupational diseases as they relate to the coal dust hazard are set forth in Section 108(q) of the Act, added by Section 1 of the Act of October 17, 1972, P.L. 930, as amended, 77 P.S. 27.1(q),*fn5 the joint liability provisions of Section 305.1 of the Act, added by Section 2 of the Act of December 6, 1972, P.L. 1627, 77 P.S. § 411.1,*fn6 should have been applied. And, since the operative date of the disability in this case is admitted as being January 2, 1975, Section 305.1 would impose equal liability on Employer and the Commonwealth for the compensation awarded Claimant.

Initially, we note that Section 427 of the Act, added by Section 3 of the Act of February 8, 1972, P.L. 25, 77 P.S. § 876.1, provides that this Court's scope of review in workmen's compensation cases is that defined in Section 44 of the Administrative Agency Law, Act of June 4, 1945, P.L. 1388, as amended, 71 P.S. § 1710.44, which limits us to a determination of whether or not an error of law was committed, constitutional rights were violated or findings of fact necessary for the adjudication are unsupported by substantial evidence. Since the referee's findings of fact are undisputed and, indeed, are not the subject of this petition for review, they are binding on the Board and this Court. Our sole task is to determine whether the referee erred as a matter of law in applying Section

[ 39 Pa. Commw. Page 29108]

(k) rather than Section 108(q), and further, whether the Board compounded this error by affirming the referee's decision.

The referee did find as a fact that Claimant's disability was due to silicosis and anthraco-silicosis arising from exposure to silica dust and coal dust hazards. For reasons unapparent from the record, the referee nevertheless awarded compensation on the basis of silicosis arising from exposure to silica dust alone. In considering whether the referee thereby erred, the Board sought to reconcile this seeming inconsistency. The Board interpreted the referee's decision to mean that although the referee believed that silica dust and coal dust hazards existed, the coal dust hazard was so negligible as to warrant the award of compensation on the basis of the silica dust hazard alone.

The obvious problem with this interpretation is that it does not accurately reflect the clear and unambiguous wording of the referee's seventh finding of fact. As stated, this finding, viewed in the context of the entire award, does not admit of the Board's interpretation. It may be true that other evidence exists in the record to support the Board's interpretation. However, it is clear that where, as here, the referee's findings of fact are unchallenged, the legal conclusions derived therefrom, though properly within the purview of the Board's review, must accurately reflect those findings. Barnold Shoes, Inc. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 10 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 73, 308 A.2d 189 (1973).

By specifically finding, upon reconsideration of the matter, that a coal dust hazard existed and that this gave rise to anthraco-silicosis, the referee was obliged to give some consideration to Section 108(q) and the joint liability provisions of Section 305.1 applicable thereto. By applying Section 108(k) exclusively, the

[ 39 Pa. Commw. Page 30]

    referee erred as a matter of law. In striving to clarify this inconsistency, the Board went beyond the bounds of the undisputed findings of fact and thereby compounded the referee's error. The Board erred in so doing.

Order

And Now, this 4th day of December, 1978, we affirm that part of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board's order dated June 27, 1977, which upheld the referee's award of workmen's compensation benefits to James Davis, and judgment is entered on the award. That part of the Board's order which upheld the referee's assessment of liability for compensation solely against Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation is reversed; and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Labor and Industry, Bureau of Occupational Injury and Disease Compensation shall be liable for payment of 50% of the compensation awarded and Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation shall be liable for the remaining 50%.

Disposition

Affirmed in part and reversed in part.


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