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Fuller v. Pope County Judge

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

January 10, 2018



          Goldberg & Dohan, by: Andy L. Caldwell, for appellant.

          Zachary Ryburn, for appellee.


         Charles Fuller appeals the order of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (the Commission) denying his claim for benefits. On appeal, Fuller argues that the Commission erred in finding that he failed to establish entitlement to (1) temporary total-disability and temporary partial-disability benefits and (2) additional medical treatment. We affirm.

         Fuller worked as an emergency medical technician for Pope County. On June 22, 2015, Fuller injured his back while moving a patient from a gurney to a cot. He immediately reported the injury to his supervisor, and Pope County sent him to Monfee Medical Clinic, where an APN gave him a Toradol injection and a muscle relaxer. He returned to Monfee Medical Clinic on June 26, 2015, and received another injection, and the APN placed him on light-duty restrictions. On June 29, 2015, the APN found that Fuller had reached maximum medical improvement and released him to work on July 3 with no restrictions. Fuller returned to work for Pope County on that day, and he continued to work through the end of August. However, in September, he retired early. After he retired, Fuller continued to experience pain. He sought additional medical treatment through his personal physician. Pope County refused to pay for the medical treatment not received at Monfee Medical Clinic.

         Fuller then filed a workers'-compensation claim seeking additional medical treatment, temporary total-disability benefits from August 30 through November 1, 2015, and temporary partial-disability benefits from November 1, 2015, through a date to be determined. An administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on April 27, 2016.

         At the hearing, Fuller testified that after he injured his back on June 22, 2015, he returned to work on July 3, 2015, but that he was not pain free and returned for financial reasons. He explained that the pain progressively worsened and that it prevented him from performing his duties at Pope County. He testified that he had previously been suspended from work for calling in sick, and he believed that if he requested more sick leave, he could either receive a greater suspension or be terminated. Thus, Fuller decided to enter retirement early. He stated that he informed his supervisor, Doug Duerr, that he needed to retire due to his back pain. He testified that after his retirement, he continued to experience pain and therefore sought additional medical treatment from his personal physician.

         On cross-examination, Fuller admitted that he suffered from chronic back problems before his June 22, 2015 injury and that he had had an MRI, which showed two bulging disks. He stated that he had been on hydrocodone and that he had to constantly deal with his back pain. Fuller also testified that after his retirement from Pope County, he began working at the Dardanelle Post Office and that he works there about one to two hours a day.

         At the hearing, Pope County introduced into evidence a "Work Ability and Plan of Care" document from the Monfee Medical Clinic dated June 29, 2015. On the form, the APN indicated that Fuller "had reached maximum medical improvement" and "may return to work without restrictions on July 3."

         Pope County also introduced into evidence a form AR-N bearing Fuller's signature. The form provides, "My signature below indicates that I have been provided my rights regarding change-of-physician." Fuller admitted at the hearing that he completed the form, because the signature on the form matches his signature; however, he did not remember completing it, and he did not remember who gave him the form.

         Duerr, Fuller's supervisor and the director of emergency services for Pope County, testified that when an employee suffers an injury at work, it is the common practice of his office to provide the injured employee with a form AR-N. He testified that he did not specifically remember providing Fuller with a form AR-N but that he was certain Fuller received the form.

         Following the hearing, the ALJ entered a written order finding that Fuller had failed to prove entitlement to temporary total-disability benefits or temporary partial-disability benefits after July 3, 2015. The ALJ further found that Fuller had failed to prove entitlement to additional medical treatment. Fuller appealed the ALJ's decision to the Commission.

         The Commission affirmed the ALJ's decision. Specifically, the Commission found that Fuller was not entitled to additional medical treatment because Pope County provided Fuller with notice of the change-of-physician procedure in the form AR-N, and Fuller sought additional medical treatment outside the change-of-physician rules. In making this determination, the Commission specifically credited Duerr's testimony that Fuller received the form. As to temporary total-disability benefits and temporary partial-disability benefits, the Commission found that Fuller had reached the end of his healing period on July 3, 2015, and thus was not entitled to benefits after that date. In determining that Fuller had reached the end of his healing period, ...

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