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Frank Amandeo v. Workers‟ Compensation Appeal Board (Conagra Foods

February 17, 2012

FRANK AMANDEO, PETITIONER
v.
WORKERS‟ COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (CONAGRA FOODS), RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. Kevin Brobson, Judge

Submitted: September 30, 2011

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, Judge*fn1 HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE BROBSON

Petitioner, Frank Amandeo (Claimant), petitions for review of an order of the Workers‟ Compensation Appeal Board (Board). The Board affirmed the decision of a workers‟ compensation judge (WCJ), denying Claimant‟s workers‟ compensation claim petition. We affirm.

Claimant began working for Conagra Foods (Employer) as a "utility worker" in 1983. Claimant remained in that position until Employer closed the plant in April 2007. Claimant filed his claim petition in March 2009, averring a work-related injury on or about December 1, 2006, that he alleges occurred when, during the course of lifting a heavy skid with a co-worker, the co-worker dropped his end of the skid. Claimant averred that he felt an immediate sharp pain in his lower back. More specifically, Claimant asserted that he "began missing work due to heavy lifting on the job which caused changes throughout [his] spine and which caused injury to both [his] shoulders such that [he] was in constant pain." (Claim Petition ¶ 1.) Claimant also asserted that the injury occurred because of "repetitive carrying and lifting "skids‟ weighing at minimum 50 pounds. Claimant would carry the skids in tandem with other co[-]workers at times. He suffered repetitive stress type injury and also was injured when a co[-]worker dropped a skid suddenly causing immediate stress upon [C]laimant‟s joints (who was carrying the skid with the co[-]worker[.])" (Claim Petition ¶ 4.) Employer denied the averments in the Claim Petition, and the Board assigned the matter to the WCJ.

The WCJ conducted hearings on the claim petition, during which he accepted the deposition testimony of Claimant‟s and Employer‟s medical experts. Claimant submitted his own deposition testimony and also testified in person before the WCJ. The WCJ determined that Claimant‟s testimony was not credible regarding the alleged December 2006 incident. The WCJ found the testimony of Employer‟s expert, Dennis P. McHugh, D.O., to be credible and found the testimony of Claimant‟s expert, Ronald E. Dworkin, D.O., not credible. The WCJ concluded that Claimant had failed to satisfy his burden to prove that he sustained a work-related injury on or as a result of the alleged incident in December 2006.

Claimant appealed that decision to the Board, challenging the WCJ‟s credibility determinations as being "unsubstantiated." The Board affirmed the WCJ‟s decision, concluding that Claimant‟s arguments related more to the weight of the evidence rather than to the question of whether substantial evidence supported the WCJ‟s factual findings. The Board did not specifically address Claimant‟s suggestion that his appeal sought to challenge the WCJ‟s factual findings on grounds other than substantial evidence.

Claimant filed a petition for review with this Court. Claimant raises the following issues in his appeal:*fn2 (1) whether the WCJ‟s manner of rendering factual findings based on summation of testimony and without identification of objective factors in support of his credibility determinations fails to satisfy the reasoned-decision requirement of Section 422(a) of the Workers‟ Compensation Act (Act);*fn3 (2) whether the WCJ‟s factual findings concerning the occurrence of a work-related injury are not supported by substantial evidence and are inconsistent with the record as a whole; and (3) whether the WCJ erred as a matter of law in concluding that Claimant failed to provide competent and credible evidence to satisfy his burden of proof.*fn4

Claimant first contends that the WCJ erred by failing to render a reasoned decision as required by Section 422(a) of the Act. Specifically, Claimant asserts here that the WCJ failed to offer adequate objective reasons for his credibility determinations regarding Claimant‟s testimony and the conflicting testimony of Claimant‟s and Employer‟s medical witnesses.

Section 422(a) of the Act requires a WCJ to issue a decision that permits an appellate court to exercise adequate appellate review. Dorsey v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd. (Crossing Constr. Co.), 893 A.2d 191 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006), appeal denied, 591 Pa. 667, 916 A.2d 635 (2007). In order to satisfy this standard, a WCJ does not need to discuss every detail of the evidence in the record. Id. at 194 n.4. Rather, Section 422(a) of the Act requires WCJs to issue reasoned decisions so that this Court does not have to "imagine" the reasons why a WCJ finds that the conflicting testimony of one witness was more credible than the testimony of another witness. Id. at 196.

Although our Supreme Court has held that a WCJ need not explain credibility determinations relating to a witness who testifies before the WCJ, Section 422(a) of the Act requires some explanation of credibility determinations by a WCJ with regard to conflicting deposition testimony in order to enable this Court to review a WCJ‟s decision. Id. Under Section 422(a) of the Act, a WCJ must articulate the objective rationale underlying his credibility determinations where the testimony of such witnesses is conflicting. Id. A WCJ may satisfy the reasoned decision requirement if he summarizes the witnesses‟ testimony "and adequately explains his credibility determinations." Clear Channel Broad. v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd. (Perry), 938 A.2d 1150, 1157 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007). Thus, while summaries of testimony alone would be insufficient to satisfy the reasoned decision requirement, where a WCJ summarizes testimony and also objectively explains his credibility determinations, the decision will satisfy the requirement. Further, other evidence in the record may provide the objective support necessary under Section 422(a) of the Act for adequate credibility determinations. For example, in Gumm v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd. (J. Allen Steel), 942 A.2d 222 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008), the WCJ articulated an objective basis for his credibility determination where he "contrasted the severity of the injury described by [c]laimant‟s Physician with that described by [e]mployer‟s medical experts. He found the more severe description by [c]laimant‟s Physician more believable." Id. at 228-29. The WCJ in Gumm rejected the employer‟s expert‟s testimony regarding the claimant‟s ability to return to full-time work based on the expert‟s own recent examination of claimant during which claimant remained symptomatic.

We begin with Claimant‟s argument regarding his own testimony. As indicated above, Claimant testified both before the WCJ and by deposition. The WCJ provided the following credibility determination regarding Claimant‟s testimony:

This [WCJ] has considered the testimony of the Claimant together with all other evidence of record in this matter and finds the Claimant‟s testimony concerning the alleged work incident/injury of December 1, 2006 and the relationship between his repetitive heavy lifting at ...


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