ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION AND ARKANSAS INSURANCE DEPARTMENT, PUBLIC EMPLOYEE CLAIMS DIVISION APPELLANTS
CHRISTIE DAWN JENNINGS APPELLEE
FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION [NO.
Charles H. McLemore Jr., Public Employee Claims Division, for
Matthew, Sanders & Sayes, P.A., by: William Ray Sanders,
D. VAUGHT, Judge.
Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) and the Public
Employee Claims Division of the Arkansas Insurance Department
(collectively referred to throughout as appellants), appeal
the decision of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation
Commission (the Commission) reversing the Administrative Law
Judge's (ALJ) decision and awarding appellee, Christie
Dawn Jennings, benefits under Arkansas Code Annotated section
11-9-505(a) (Repl. 2002). We affirm.
April 20, 2015, Jennings began working as a correctional
officer at the East Arkansas Regional Unit of the ADC
(commonly known as the Brickeys Unit). On June 29, 2015,
Jennings was serving food in the barracks when she slipped on
the wet floor and twisted her right knee. She alerted a
coworker to the injury, and her coworker contacted the
lieutenant. The lieutenant and the sergeant came down to the
barracks and instructed Jennings to fill out an injury
report, which she did. They then sent her to see Dr. James
Jacobs in Wynne, and she was seen by Dr. Jacobs that day. Dr.
Jacobs diagnosed her with a "sprain of right knee"
and wrote that she was "unable to work." The ADC
paid temporary total-disability benefits beginning June 30,
2015. On July 1, 2015, an MRI on Jennings's knee revealed
"edema surrounding the superficial MCL, suggesting a
grade I sprain" and "[p]atellofemoral and medial
femorotibial compartment chondromalacia" with
"small knee joint effusion." At a follow-up
appointment on July 6, Dr. Jacobs again found that Jennings
could not work. On July 13, Dr. Jacobs recommended that
Jennings "wear knee brace, return to work 7/14/15."
It is undisputed that the ADC paid temporary total-disability
benefits through July 13, 2015.
then returned to restricted work at the Brickeys Unit. She
performed restricted duties for one month, working in the
isolation area. She sat at a desk in a guard station and kept
a log of who entered and exited the building. Although the
general policy was to rotate employees to new work
assignments every two weeks, Jennings worked the desk in
isolation for a month while her knee continued to heal. On or
about August 4, 2015, Jennings was rotated to a patrol
position in the barracks. Jennings testified that the patrol
job required a significant amount of walking and climbing
stairs, which she had not done since her injury. She
testified that when she woke up on the morning after her
first day on patrol duty, her knee was severely swollen and
she could not walk. She immediately called both her
lieutenant and the ADC's designated contact person for
workers'-compensation claims, Rudy Bischof (whom she
could not reach). Jennings then went to see a doctor, who
took her off work for a week due to the swelling in her knee.
Bischof returned Jennings's phone call and instructed her
to see Dr. Jacobs, which she did. Dr. Jacobs put Jennings on
light duty from August 12 until she could be seen by an
orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Guinn, on August 26. It is undisputed
that the ADC reinstated temporary total-disability benefits
on August 6.
August 26, Dr. Guinn performed an MRI, diagnosed Jennings
with a "Grade I MCL, " and prescribed physical
therapy, a new knee brace, and "sitting duty" at
work. Because the ADC had a policy of periodically rotating
employees to different positions, it did not put her on a
desk job such as the one she had just completed. Jennings was
told that there were no light-duty positions available, and
then on August 31, 2015, the ADC terminated Jennings's
employment, stating that she was not a "qualified
employee" under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Jennings's termination letter stated that once she had
recovered and could perform all necessary job functions, she
could reapply for her job and would be "considered for
rehire." It is undisputed that the ADC continued to pay
Jennings's temporary total-disability benefits until she
reached maximum medical improvement and was released by Dr.
Guinn to return to full duty.
November 12, Jennings's attorney corresponded with the
ADC counsel and demanded that Jennings be reinstated to her
previous position, with all benefits, rank, pay, seniority,
etc., as it was before she was terminated. The ADC refused to
filed a claim for additional compensation for a period
beginning November 9, 2015, pursuant to Arkansas Code
Annotated section 11-9-505 due to the ADC's refusal to
return her to work. The ADC controverted the claim. After a
hearing, the ALJ ruled in favor of the ADC, finding that
Jennings had not proved that she was entitled to benefits. In
an opinion dated October 25, 2016, the Commission reversed
the ALJ and awarded Jennings benefits under section 11-9-505.
The Commission awarded Jennings her average weekly wages for
a period beginning November 10, 2015, and not exceeding one
year, benefits not to be subtracted.
appeals from the Arkansas Workers' Compensation
Commission, we review the evidence and all reasonable
inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to
the Commission's findings, and we must affirm if those
findings are supported by substantial evidence. Mullin v.
Duckwall Alco, 2016 Ark.App. 122, 484 S.W.3d 283. The
issue on appeal is not whether the appellate court would have
reached a different result or whether the evidence could
support a contrary finding; if reasonable minds could reach
the Commission's conclusion, we must affirm. Id.
Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9-505(a)(1) states:
Any employer who without reasonable cause refuses to return
an employee who is injured in the course of employment to
work, where suitable employment is available within the
employee's physical and mental limitations, upon order of
the Workers' Compensation Commission, and in addition to
other benefits, shall be liable to pay to the employee the
difference between benefits received and the ...