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Ocasio v. Ollson

January 16, 2009

EDWIN OCASIO AND MARISOL OCASIO, H/W PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JAMES OLLSON AND GRAND RAPIDS TRANSPORT, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: L.FELIPE Restrepo United States Magistrate Judge

Memorandum and Opinion

Before the Court is a motion for partial summary judgment on the basis of collateral estoppel brought by Defendants, James Ollson and Grand Rapids Transport, Inc., and their attached memorandum of law in support thereof (Doc. No. 36), along with the response (Doc. No. 40) and memorandum of law in opposition thereto of Plaintiffs Edwin and Marisol Ocasio (Doc. No. 41).

Also before the Court is Defendants' motion in limine to preclude Plaintiff from claiming injuries not described in his Workers' Compensation compromise and release agreement and the attached memorandum of law in support thereof (Doc. No. 37), and Plaintiffs' response (Doc. No. 39) and memorandum of law in opposition thereto (Doc. No. 42).

The final item pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion in limine to exclude evidence or testimony of the Workers' Compensation claim (Doc. No. 34), memorandum of law in support thereof (Doc. No. 35), and Defendants' response in opposition thereto (Doc. No. 38). For the reasons which follow, Defendants' motions are denied and Plaintiffs' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

1. BACKGROUND

The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, are as follows:*fn1 On December 4, 2003, "while in the course and scope of his employment with Advanced Food Products," Plaintiff Edwin Ocasio ("Plaintiff")*fn2 was operating a forklift to load a tractor-trailer owned by Defendant Grand Rapids Transport, Inc. and operated by Defendant James Ollson. See Pl.'s Mem. 1; Def.'s Mem. 10. Plaintiff's employer noticed that an incorrect product had been placed in the tractor-trailer and requested that he remove the incorrect product and reload the tractor-trailer. Pl.'s Mem. 1. Defendant Ollson was notified that the tractor-trailer needed to be reloaded. Id. At some point, Defendant Ollson began to pull away from the loading dock at the same time that Plaintiff was exiting the tractor-trailer in his forklift. Id. at 1-2; Def.'s Mem. 10. Plaintiff's forklift then fell between the loading dock and the rear of Defendant Ollson's tractor-trailer, which resulted in injuries to Plaintiff. Pl.'s Mem. 2; Def.'s Mem. 10.

Plaintiff attempted to return to work, "with restrictions," but could not continue working after January 15, 2004. Pl.'s Mem. 2. On January 20, 2004 a Notice of Compensation Payable was issued by the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, describing Plaintiff's injury as a "Lumbar Disc Injury." Pl.'s Mem. 2; Def.'s Mem. Ex. A. At some point on or around October 21, 2004, Plaintiff's employer filed a Petition to Suspend Workers' Compensation benefits ("Suspension Petition") through its third-party administrator. Pl.'s Mem. 2; Def.'s Mem. 11. The Workers' Compensation Court held hearings in front of a Workers' Compensation Judge ("WCJ"), but before the litigation reached its completion, Plaintiff and his employer entered into a Compromise and Release Agreement ("C&R") on November 3, 2005, which was presented to the WCJ for approval. Pl.'s Mem. 2; Def. Mem. 11; see also Def.'s Mem. Ex. B.

In Paragraph 4 of the C&R, Plaintiff's injuries were summarized as "Strain/sprain of low back and right hip. This is a full and final settlement, without limitation or reservation, of any and all injuries sustained by Claimant as a result of his employment with Advanced Food Products, regardless of how the injury is described." Def.'s Mem. Ex. B ¶ 4. In Paragraph 9, the C&R further required Plaintiff's employer to "be responsible for payment for implantation of a permanent spinal cord stimulator." Id. ¶ 9. Finally, Paragraph 10 mandated that:

Defendant will continue to pay all related, reasonable, and necessary medical expenses incurred for the six (6) month period subsequent to the date of the Compromise and Release hearing, including payment for Claimant's psychological treatment with Catholic Charities. Thereafter, Defendant will have no further liability for any medical bills whatsoever.

Id. ¶ 10. In Paragraph 15, the parties agreed that "the sole issue is whether Claimant understands the full legal significance of the [C&R]." Id. ¶ 15. The parties agreed that the C&R did not cover the issue of wage loss benefits from October 25, 2004 until the date of the hearing, and also agreed that the issue of suspension of benefits was reserved for the WCJ. Id. ¶¶ 15, 18.

In connection with the C&R, the parties allegedly had the understanding that Plaintiff would not oppose the Suspension Petition and would refrain from submitting further evidence in opposition thereto. Pl.'s Mem. 3. According to Plaintiff, "the purpose for the agreement was to allow the third party administrator and employer an opportunity to recover monies from the supersedeas fund which is permissible when petitions for suspension are granted." Id. On November 3, 2005, the WCJ issued a decision which approved the C&R and reserved the right to make a determination on the merits of the Suspension Petition. Def.'s Mem. Ex. C.

With regard to the Suspension Petition, the WCJ heard testimony from Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Muñoz, and Drs. Ross Noble and Gladys Fenichel on behalf of Plaintiff's employer. Pl.'s Mem. 3; Def.'s Mem. Ex. D ¶ 2. Finally, Ms. Scott,*fn3 a human resources manager for Plaintiff's employer, provided testimony regarding a job that was offered to Plaintiff that fit within the restrictions provided by Dr. Noble, "at the same pay and hours as the claimant's pre-injury wages and hours." Def.'s Mem. Ex. D ¶ 5. Plaintiff refrained from presenting the testimony of his orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Mark Oliveri, when the parties entered into the C&R, because the parties agreed that Plaintiff would not present further medical evidence in opposition to the Suspension Petition. Pl.'s Mem. 3-4; Tr. Oral Arg. 12/23/08, at 38-39.

In her decision, dated November 15, 2005, the WCJ determined that Plaintiff's employer "established its right to a suspension of the claimant's workers' compensation benefits on and after October 25, 2004...." Def.'s Mem. Ex. D, Concl. of Law ¶ 3. In her findings of fact, the WCJ determined that on October 12, 2004, Plaintiff's employer offered him his pre-injury position, within the restrictions testified to by Dr. Noble, "at the same pay and hours as [his] pre-injury wages and hours." Def.'s Mem. Ex. D ¶ 5. The WCJ further found that Plaintiff suffered from a neuropathy, which is "typically a disease process," and that the neuropathy, and not Plaintiff's injury, explained his "symptoms further down in his lower extremities." Id. ¶ 10. With regards to Plaintiff's back injuries, the WCJ determined that "without regard to [Plaintiff's] psychiatric and psychological conditions," he could have returned to work on September 9, 2004 but could not lift more than 50 pounds. Id. ¶ 11. After considering the testimony from Drs. Muñoz and Fenichel, the WCJ concluded that Plaintiff's medical treatment for his mental impairments were related to the injury, necessary, and reasonably incurred. Id. ¶¶ 12-24.

Plaintiff initiated the present action against Defendants on December 1, 2005. See Compl. (Doc. No. 1). In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he suffered: injuries, including but not limited to injury to his back; herniated and bulging discs at levels L2-3, and L5-S1 with right-sided radiculopathy; contusion and strain to his right hip and pelvis; a severe shock to the nerves and nervous system, pain and suffering; severe mental distress and depression; and other injuries, some or all of which may be permanent in nature.

Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff also alleges that he has suffered medical expenses, lost employment opportunities, and lost wages. Id. ¶¶ 13-15. Defendants argue that "Plaintiff's claims for radiating leg pain, lost wages after October 25, 2004, any loss of earning capacity, medical expenses incurred before May 3, 2006 and workers' compensation lien must be stricken, with prejudice." Def.'s Mem. 13.

2. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment will be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue is one in which the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id.

When deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 255; Hugh, 418 F.3d at 267 (citations omitted); see also Crawford v. Beard, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 887, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 19, 2005) (citing Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992)). Thus, summary judgment is appropriate if this Court determines that, after reviewing the evidence and making all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact to warrant a trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "Credibility ...


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