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06/04/97 VENEZIA TRUCKING v. WORKERS' COMPENSATION

June 4, 1997

VENEZIA TRUCKING, PETITIONER
v.
WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (INSERVCO INSURANCE SERVICES), RESPONDENT; WILBERT MORGAN, PETITIONER V. WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (INSERVCO INSURANCE SERVICES), RESPONDENT



Appealed From No. A94-2463. State Agency Workers' Compensation Appeal Board.

Before: Honorable Rochelle S. Friedman, Judge, Honorable Jim Flaherty, Judge, Honorable Jess S. Jiuliante, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Senior Judge Jiuliante.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jiuliante

OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE JIULIANTE

FILED: June 4, 1997

Petitioners Wilbert Morgan and Venezia Trucking petition for review of a November 7, 1996 order of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) reversing a decision of a Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) granting Morgan's claim petition and Venezia's subrogation petition. Based upon the following, we vacate the Board's decision and remand both matters for further proceedings before a WCJ.

Claimant Wilbert Morgan is an Illinois resident who was previously employed by Venezia. On February 25, 1987, he sustained a work-related injury in Pennsylvania. His claim for workers' compensation benefits was denied by Venezia's carrier, *fn1 so he filed a claim in Illinois. The Illinois Industrial Commission ultimately concluded that Claimant had sustained a work-related injury and had proved his disability. Venezia's insurance carrier denied coverage, and Venezia paid Claimant's benefits out of its general funds.

During the pendency of the Illinois proceeding, Claimant pursued a workers' compensation claim in Pennsylvania. Venezia also filed a claim petition in Pennsylvania as "subrogee for Wilbert Morgan," against Inservco to recoup the funds it had paid to Claimant pursuant to the Illinois decision. The WCJ dismissed both petitions after neither Claimant nor Venezia appeared for a December 26, 1989 hearing, and both appealed, arguing that they had not received notice of the hearing. The WCAB remanded the case, with the condition that both Claimant and Venezia provide an adequate excuse to the WCJ for their failure to attend the final hearing in the initial proceeding. The new WCJ concluded that adequate excuse had been shown, that Venezia could pursue a subrogation claim under Section 319 of the Workers' Compensation Act (Act), *fn2 and that the Full Faith and Credit Clause enabled the WCJ to accept the Illinois Industrial Commission's finding of disability without further testimony.

On March 9, 1994, the WCJ issued a decision granting Claimant's petition and awarding benefits, and granting Venezia's claim for subrogation. Inservco appealed, and the WCAB reversed the WCJ's decision, concluding that neither Claimant nor Venezia presented adequate testimony regarding their failure to appear at the 1989 hearing, and that neither presented sufficient evidence to support their respective petitions. Both Claimant and Venezia appealed the dismissal of their petitions to this Court, and the matters were consolidated for Disposition.

Petitioners raise the following issues for our review: *fn3 1) whether the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution requires the Pennsylvania workers' compensation system to acknowledge and accept the Illinois decision; 2) whether Section 319 of the Act provides for Venezia's subrogation claim; and 3) whether evidence concerning Petitioners' failure to appear for the 1989 hearing was necessary. *fn4 We conclude that the WCJ should not have relied on the Full Faith and Credit Clause to establish either Claimant's entitlement to benefits under Pennsylvania law, or Venezia's right to subrogation, and so remand the cases on that basis.

Full Faith and Credit

Article IV, § 1 of the United States Constitution provides that "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State." This clause serves the function of avoiding relitigation in other states of adjudicated issues. Belote v. State Harness Racing Commission, 688 A.2d 264 (Pa. Commw. 1997) (citing Sutton v. Leib, 342 U.S. 402, 96 L. Ed. 448, 72 S. Ct. 398 (1952)). The Federal implementing legislation for the Full Faith and Credit Clause provides that the records and judicial proceedings of any court of any state "shall have the same full faith and credit in every court with the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1738.

With regard to the full faith and credit issue, the WCJ concluded as follows:

Claimant's entitlement to Workmen's Compensation Benefits, as decided by the Illinois Industrial Commission, should be accepted by this Judge because of the full faith and credit to be afforded to the Illinois award.

(Conclusion Law No. 11.) Based upon this determination, the WCJ concluded that Claimant was entitled to receive total disability benefits under the Pennsylvania Act, and that Venezia was entitled to subrogation--without the presentation of any factual or medical evidence to prove either claim. The WCAB reversed this decision, ...


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