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Woods v. Tyson Poultry, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

March 7, 2018

ROBERT A. WOODS APPELLANT
v.
TYSON POULTRY, INC.; TYNET CORP.; AND DEATH & PERMANENT TOTAL DISABILITY TRUST FUND APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION [NO. G307604]

          Frederick S. "Rick" Spencer, for appellant.

          Ledbetter, Cogbill, Arnold & Harrison, LLP, by: E. Diane Graham and Joseph Karl Luebke, for appellee Tyson Poultry, Inc.

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, JUDGE.

         Appellant Robert A. Woods appeals from an August 14, 2017 opinion by the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) affirming and adopting the findings of fact and conclusions of law made by the administrative law judge (ALJ) in favor of appellees, Tyson Poultry, Inc. (Tyson); Tynet Corporation; and Death & Permanent Total Disability Trust Fund. On appeal, appellant contends that (1) substantial evidence does not support the Commission's decision that he was not permanently and totally disabled, and (2) the Workers' Compensation Act violates the separation-of-powers doctrine and his right to due process. We disagree and affirm.

         It is undisputed that appellant sustained a compensable work-related injury on September 15, 2013, during his employment at Tyson. Appellant's left hand was injured, which subsequently necessitated amputation below his elbow. He now uses a prosthesis. Appellant reached maximum medical improvement on June 24, 2015, and was issued an impairment rating. Subsequently, appellant sought permanent and total-disability benefits, which appellees contested. Appellant additionally sought additional medical treatment by Dr. James Kelly, appellant's former treating physician and surgeon, and for additional psychiatric treatment. A hearing was held before the ALJ on these issues.

         Appellant provided a lengthy "Constitutional Brief" in which he raised challenges to the constitutionality of the Workers' Compensation Act, to which appellees filed a response. Appellant alleged that the Workers' Compensation Act violates the separation-of-powers doctrine and his right to due process. He further alleged that the evidence submitted by him established that the executive branch of the State of Arkansas and private interests have exerted pressure on workers'-compensation ALJs and commissioners, which infringes on their decision independence and results in actual bias and the appearance of bias in the decisions of the ALJs and commissioners. Therefore, he requested that all present ALJs and commissioners recuse themselves from participating in his case.

         At the hearing before the ALJ, appellant testified that he still experiences varying degrees of pain and that he desires to go back for further treatment by Dr. Kelly for help with his prosthesis. Appellant testified that he is able to dress himself but that his clothes must have suspenders to do so. His son assists him in bathing. Appellant testified that during the day, he watches television and plays on his phone. He also drives his children to school and is able to use a riding lawn mower. Appellant further admitted on cross- examination that he had previously indicated that he could perform household chores, start the laundry, and prepare easy meals.

         Appellant is right-handed, and the injury was sustained to his left nondominant extremity. He testified at the hearing that although his left hand was injured, he had not worked since the injury. Appellant graduated from high school, and before his employment with Tyson, appellant was in the Navy for nine years, worked as a machine operator for Pace for four and a half years, and unloaded trucks for Walmart for four and a half years. Appellant testified that although the vocational experts identified several jobs for him, he did not think that he could do any job for eight hours a day, five days a week.

         Appellant indicated that after the injury, he received psychiatric treatment from Dr. Richard Back when he previously felt suicidal and "useless." Dr. Back diagnosed appellant with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Appellant testified that he is still experiencing nightmares and desires to go back to see a psychiatrist. Brian Herring, appellant's pastor, testified at the hearing that he also thought appellant is depressed based on the conversations that he had with appellant.

         Dr. Kelly testified via deposition that appellant is suffering from phantom limb pain and PTSD. Dr. Kelly agreed that it would be reasonable for appellant to see a psychiatrist to aid in his PTSD. Dr. Kelly also testified that he would be willing to see appellant for another evaluation of his arm.

         The ALJ reviewed the medical records and vocational reports. The record reflects that appellant met with a vocational-rehabilitation counselor, Heather Taylor, to complete a vocational-rehabilitation assessment. Ms. Taylor reported:

In summary Mr. Woods will likely experience difficulty if he is able to return to the workforce. Mr. Woods has primarily performed unskilled labor jobs his entire career. Per Dr. Kelly, Mr. Woods is not limited to one-armed work. Based on his past work history, educational background, current level of achievement, and lack of transferrable skills, he will be limited to future unskilled/semi-skilled work but less physical demanding because of his limitations. He is not a candidate for formal re-training for purposes of skill acquisition.
Based on the labor market research completed in his area, few current job openings were identified that would fit within his restrictions. Of those few, his likely earnings would be minimum wage ($8.00/hour approximately) which is ...

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