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Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. v. Quintanilla

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

April 5, 2017



          Frye Law Firm, P.A., by: William C. Frye, for appellants.

          Stephen M. Sharum, for appellee.

          MIKE MURPHY, Judge

         Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. (Packers) appeals the Workers' Compensation Commission's (Commission) determination that Cecilia Quintanilla suffered a compensable injury and is entitled to temporary total-disability benefits. We affirm.

         Cecilia Quintanilla, appellee, is a 42-year-old undocumented immigrant from El Salvador. She has lived in the United States for over ten years, and she began working for Packers in February 2015 under the alias Marisa Ramos. She assumed the fake identity because she did not have appropriate documentation to work in the United States. Cecilia worked for Packers cleaning and sanitizing the production line at OK Foods. On May 7, 2015, she was using a pressure hose and chemicals to clean a production line when she stepped back into a two foot by two-and-a-half-foot uncovered drain and fell, injuring her shoulder, hip, and neck. She reported the injury to her supervisor and sought medical attention at an emergency room five days later. Throughout her medical treatment she consistently testified that she fell at work, hurting her shoulder and arm. X-rays at the emergency room did not show any significant abnormalities, and she was referred to an orthopedist, prescribed pain medication, and given a sling to wear for her left arm.

         Two days later Cecilia saw an orthopedist. She told him that after the accident she initially "could not hardly lift her arm." She said it was a little better, but she was still in a "severe amount of pain." The orthopedist's notes provide that Cecilia said she had never had shoulder pain before, or hurt anything else in the injury. He released her to work, restricting her to using only one hand, but Packers terminated Cecilia's employment because, through the workers'-compensation claim, they had discovered she was using an alias and not legally authorized to work in the United States.

         Cecilia continued to receive treatment for her shoulder pain and underwent an MRI of her injured shoulder on July 15, 2015. The MRI showed that she had an "inferior acromial spur with mild impingement with a trace of fluid subacromial bursa, some signal distal supraspinatus tendon without retraction, and probable focal tendonopathy." Her doctor recommended continued conservative care and follow-up if further problems arose. A little over three months after her injury she saw a new doctor who concluded that Cecilia had reached maximum medical improvement and had no permanent impairment.

         The administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that Cecilia had not suffered a compensable injury to her neck, hip, or shoulder and was not entitled to additional medical benefits. The Commission reversed the ALJ as to the shoulder injury. Packers now appeals, arguing that Cecilia did not suffer a compensable injury, or that, if she did, she was not entitled to temporary total-disability benefits because of her status as an unauthorized alien with respect to employment as contemplated by federal law.

         I. Standard of Review

         We review Commission decisions to determine whether there is any substantial evidence to support them. Towler v. Tyson Poultry, Inc., 2012 Ark.App. 546, at 2, 423 S.W.3d 664, 666. Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. We review the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commission's findings. Id. Where, as here, the Commission denies claims because of the failure to show entitlement to benefits by a preponderance of the evidence, the substantial-evidence standard of review requires that we affirm if the Commission's opinion displays a substantial basis for the denial of relief. Id. The Commission is the ultimate arbiter of weight and credibility. Id.

         II. Compensable Injury

         Packers first argues that there were no objective findings to support Cecilia's shoulder injury, because (1) the findings were based on complaints of pain, (2) the ER reports indicating "shoulder pain-swelling" is just a description for a billing code and not an objective finding; and (3) that the MRI shows only a preexisting condition (the spur).

         In Arkansas workers' compensation law, a compensable injury includes accidental injuries that cause physical harm requiring medical services when they occur in the course of employment. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(4)(A)(i)(Repl. 2014). Compensable injuries must be established by objective findings, Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(4)(D), and "objective findings" are those findings that cannot come under the voluntary control of the patient. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(16)(A)(i). Furthermore, complaints of pain and muscle tenderness are not ...

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