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Dorn v. Housing Authority City of Pine Bluff

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

May 17, 2017



          Daniel A. Webb, for appellant.

          Worley, Wood & Parrish, P.A., by: Jarrod S. Parrish, for appellee.

          RITA W. GRUBER, Chief Judge

         This workers' compensation claim stems from an altercation on May 5, 2016, between Leroy Dorn Jr., a maintenance worker for Housing Authority of Pine Bluff, and his coworker Bruce Spicer. The altercation occurred in their employer's parking lot in front of the maintenance building on the morning of a supervisor-called meeting with Dorn and Spicer regarding an incident between them the previous day. Dorn's injuries from the May 5 altercation included tooth avulsion, contusion of the left elbow, and fractures to the left orbital bones, left maxillary sinus, and right maxillary sinus. He appeals the determination of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission that his injuries were not statutorily compensable. We hold that the injuries were compensable, and we reverse.

         The May 5 altercation occurred in the presence of a Pine Bluff police officer, Chrisanthia Kendrick, who was in the parking lot for unrelated reasons. She tried to intervene when she saw Spicer striking Dorn in the head, face, body, and shoulder with a baseball bat. She repeatedly yelled for Spicer to stop, but he did not obey until she sparked her taser at him. She arrested Spicer for battery. Several days later, the Housing Authority terminated both Dorn and Spicer from employment for workplace violence.

         The Housing Authority controverted Dorn's claim for medical expenses and temporary total-disability benefits. It contended that the altercation resulted from personal animosity and was not work related. It relied in part on Spicer's claim of the previous day that Dorn, whose job included cleaning apartments, pulled a knife on him after accusing him of stealing Dorn's cleaning supplies and personal things at the workplace.

         The case was heard by an administrative law judge, who found in her written opinion that Dorn's injuries were "due to a work-related argument over missing cleaning supplies and personal items from the work site, while [Dorn] was attending an employer-mandated meeting." She concluded that Dorn had proved entitlement to payment of medical expenses and to temporary total-disability benefits from May 6, 2015, to July 29, 2015. Both parties appealed to the Commission, with the Housing Authority claiming that Dorn's injuries were not compensable and Dorn contending that he was entitled to temporary total-disability benefits beyond July 29. The Commission reversed the law judge's decision, finding that Dorn had not proved the compensability of his injuries.

         For purposes of this case, "compensable injury" is defined as an "accidental injury causing internal or external physical harm to the body . . ., arising out of and in the course of employment and which requires medical services or results in disability or death." Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(4)(A) (Repl. 2012). Specifically excluded from the definition of "compensable injury" is "[i]njury of any active participant in assaults or combats which, although they may occur in the workplace, are the result of nonemployment-related hostility or animus of one, both, or all of the combatants and which assault or combat amounts to a deviation from customary duties, " or injury that was "inflicted upon the employee at a time when employment services were not being performed . . . ." Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(4)(B)(i), (iii).

         Here, the Commission found that Dorn was an "active participant" in an assault resulting from his "personal animus for Spicer, " which "had been building for some time prior to culminating into the altercation of May 5, 2015." It also found that Dorn was not conducting employment services at the time of the altercation. Thus, it concluded that Dorn had not overcome the elements of the statute.

         Dorn raises two points on appeal. First, he challenges the Commission's finding that his injuries were not compensable pursuant to section 11-9-102(4)(B). Second, he asserts that he is still unable to work and is entitled to temporary total-disability benefits beyond July 29, 2015-the date that his neurologist released him back to work.

         In order to reverse a decision of the Commission, we must be convinced that fair-minded persons with the same facts before them could not have arrived at the conclusion reached by the Commission. Santillan v. Tyson Sales & Distrib., 2011 Ark.App. 634, at 6, 386 S.W.3d 566, 570. We will affirm if reasonable minds could reach the Commission's conclusion. Thompson v. Mtn. Home Good Samaritan Vill., 2014 Ark.App. 493, 442 S.W.3d 873. We defer to the Commission's findings of credibility and the resolution of conflicting evidence. Get Rid of It Ark. v. Graham, 2016 Ark.App. 88, at 10. We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the findings of the Commission and will affirm if the findings are supported by substantial evidence. Bennett v. Tyson Poultry, Inc., 2016 Ark.App. 479, at 2-3, 504 S.W.3d 653, 656.

         I. Whether Substantial Evidence Supports the Commission's Determinations That Dorn's Injuries Were Barred Under Statutory Provisions Governing Workplace Assaults

         In his first point on appeal, Dorn challenges the Commission's findings that he was an active participant in the workplace assault, that the assault resulted from non-employment-related hostility, that the assault amounted to a deviation from his customary duties, and that he was not conducting employment services at the time ...

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