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State ex rel. Masterson v. Industrial Commission of Ohio

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

December 10, 2019

State ex rel. James Masterson, [Decedent] c/o Elaine Masterson (Widow), Relator,
v.
Industrial Commission of Ohio et al., Respondents.

         IN MANDAMUS ON OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE'S DECISION

         On brief:

          Heller, Maas, Moro & Magill Co., L.PA., and Robert J. Foley, for relator.

         On brief:

          Michael DeWine, Attorney General, and Eric J. Tarbox, for respondent Industrial Commission of Ohio.

          DECISION

          BROWN, J.

         {¶ 1} Relator, Elaine Masterson, the widow of James Masterson ("decedent"), has filed an original action requesting this court issue a writ of mandamus ordering respondent, Industrial Commission of Ohio ("commission"), to vacate its order which apportioned loss of use benefits between relator and Trevor Masterson, son of decedent, and issue an order finding she is entitled to the entire award.

         {¶ 2} Pursuant to Civ.R. 53 and Loc.R. 13(M) of the Tenth District Court of Appeals, this matter was referred to a magistrate of this court who issued a decision, including findings of fact and conclusions of law, which is appended hereto. The magistrate recommended this court deny relator's request for a writ of mandamus.

         {¶ 3} Relator has filed objections to the magistrate's decision arguing that dependent children are only eligible for scheduled loss benefits when there is no surviving spouse. Relator contends the commission erred in failing to follow the language of the scheduled loss statute, R.C. 4123.57(B), choosing instead to rely on R.C. 4123.60, pertaining to benefits available to dependents of deceased workers.

         {¶ 4} Relator argues, in the alternative, that even if Trevor is entitled to a portion of the scheduled loss benefits, the commission abused its discretion in finding he was entitled to a percentage of the entire amount. Relator maintains that Trevor would only be entitled to the scheduled loss benefits during the period he was a dependent, and that any dependency ended when he reached the age of 25 (February 11, 2016).

         {¶ 5} R.C. 4123.57(B) provides for compensation "payable to an employee when the employee suffers the loss of a body part that is listed on a schedule set forth in the statute." State ex rel. Moorehead v. Indus. Comm., 112 Ohio St.3d 27, 2006-Ohio-6364, ¶ 7. R.C. 4123.57(B) states in part:

When an award under this division has been made prior to the death of an employee all unpaid installments accrued or to accrue under the provisions of the award shall be payable to the surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse, to the dependent children of the employee and if there are no such children, then to such dependents as the administrator determines.
When an employee has sustained the loss of a member by severance, but no award has been made on account thereof prior to the employee's death, the administrator shall make an award in accordance with this division for the loss which shall be payable to the surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse, to the dependent children of the employee and if there are no such children, then to such dependents as the administrator determines.

         {¶ 6} R.C. 4123.60 addresses eligibility of dependents to receive compensation for which a deceased worker was entitled to but did not receive prior to death. See, e.g., State ex rel. Nyitray v. Indus. Comm., 2 Ohio St.3d 173, 174 (1983) (Pursuant to R.C. 4123.60, "[dependents may be awarded the compensation the worker was entitled to receive prior to death."). R.C. 4123.60 states in part:

In all cases where an award had been made on account of temporary, or permanent partial, or total disability, in which there remains an unpaid balance, representing payments accrued and due to the decedent at the time of his death, the administrator may, after satisfactory proof has been made warranting such action, award or pay any unpaid balance of such award to such of the dependents of the decedent, or for services rendered on account of the last illness or death of such decedent, as the administrator determines in accordance with the circumstances in each such case. If the decedent would have been lawfully entitled to have applied for an award at the time of his death the administrator may, after satisfactory proof to warrant an award and payment, award and pay an amount, not exceeding the compensation which the decedent might have received, but for his death, for the period prior to the date of his death, to such of the dependents of the decedent, or for services rendered on account of the last illness or death of such decedent, as the administrator determines in accordance with the circumstances in each such case, but such payments may be made only in cases in which application for compensation was made in the manner required by this chapter, during the lifetime of such injured or disabled person, or within one year after the death of such injured or disabled person.

         {¶ 7} Thus, R.C. 4123.60 "permits the deceased claimant's dependents to receive awards made on account of 'temporary, or permanent partial, or total disability,' when there remains an unpaid balance of accrued payments due to the claimant at the time of the claimant's death," and the statute "also permits the deceased claimant's dependents to receive an award up to the amount the decedent would have received if he had made application for an award of benefits to which he was lawfully entitled during his lifetime." Fulton, Ohio Workers' Compensation Law, Section 11.2, 618-19 (5th Ed.2018). Further, "the dependents are entitled to receive the award only if an application was filed during the deceased claimant's lifetime or within one year after his death." Fulton, Ohio Workers' Compensation Law, Section 11.2, 619 (5th Ed.2018). See also State ex rel. Scott v. Ohio Bur. of Workers' Comp., 73 Ohio St.3d 202, 204 (1995) (applying one-year statute of limitations under R.C. 4123.60 to claim for scheduled-loss award under R.C. 4123.57).

         {¶ 8} In the present case, the commission discussed the interplay, as well as the "conflicts," between R.C. 4123.57(B) and 4123.60. Specifically, the commission noted that "R.C. 4123.60 limits payment of accrued awards to the period prior to the decedent's death" while, by contrast, "R.C. 4123.57(B) provides no such limitation for payment of accrued awards." The commission further observed that "R.C. 4123.57(B) authorizes payment to dependent children if there is no surviving spouse, but R.C. 4123.60 authorizes payment to the dependents as determined by the Administrator." In addressing and seeking to resolve those conflicts, the commission concluded that "R.C. 4123.60 establishes the one-year statute of limitation as well as the beneficiaries for payment, while * * * R.C. 4123.57(B) controls the method, calculation, and amount of the payment of the accrued award." The commission deemed this interpretation "appropriate as Ohio's workers' compensation laws favor coverage for dependent children."

         {¶ 9} The Supreme Court of Ohio has "consistently recognized and generally deferred to the commission's expertise in areas falling under the agency's jurisdiction." State ex rel. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc. v. Indus. Comm., 126 Ohio St.3d 37, 2010-Ohio-2451, ¶ 27, citing State ex rel. Hina v. Indus. Comm., 121 Ohio St.3d 4, 2009-Ohio-250, ¶ 19. Similarly, with respect to interpretation of statutes, courts "must give due deference to an administrative interpretation formulated by an agency which has accumulated substantial expertise, and to which the legislature has delegated the responsibility of implementing the legislative command." State ex rel. McLean v. Indus. Comm., 25 Ohio St.3d 90, 92 (1986), citing Jones Metal Prods. Co. v. Walker, 29 Ohio St.2d 173, 181 (1972).

         {¶ 10} In Moorehead, the Supreme Court, addressing a claim by a widow for scheduled loss benefits, noted in part that the commission's determination as to benefits "should be made in light of all relevant statutes," which included the court's consideration of both R.C. 4123.57(B) and 4123.60. Id. at ¶ 21. In the present case, the commission exercised its discretion in construing R.C. 4123.57(B) and 4123.60 to conclude that "R.C. 4123.60 establishes the one-year statute of limitation as well as the beneficiaries for payment, while * * * R.C. 4123.57(B) controls the method, calculation, and amount of the payment of the accrued award." Finding the commission's interpretation not unreasonable, we afford deference to that interpretation and conclude the commission did not abuse its discretion in its apportionment of the scheduled loss benefits.

         {¶ 11} As noted, relator argues, in the alternative, Trevor is not entitled to a full allocation of compensation for the scheduled loss and facial disfigurement because he was no longer a dependent upon reaching the age of 25 (February 11, 2016). In support, relator contends death benefits are essentially wage replacement benefits.

         {¶ 12} This court has previously noted that the intent of R.C. 4123.59 (benefits in case of death) "is to compensate dependents for the 'loss of support' resulting from the employee's death." State ex rel. PolyOne Corp. v. Indus. Comm., 10th Dist. No. 12AP-313, 2014-Ohio-1376, ¶ 9. However, "[b]y contrast, 'benefits for partial disability [under R.C. 4123.57(B)] are more akin to damages for work-related injuries.'" Id., quoting State ex rel. Gen. Motors Corp. v. Indus. Comm., 42 Ohio St.2d 278, 282 (1975). As noted by the commission, while R.C. 4123.59 provides for termination of death benefits at age 25, there is no such age limitation under either R.C. 4123.57(B) or 4123.60. We therefore find unpersuasive relator's contention that the commission abused its discretion in allocating to Trevor a portion of the entire amount of the scheduled loss benefits.

         {¶ 13} Based on this court's independent review, we find the magistrate has properly determined the pertinent facts and applied the appropriate law. We therefore overrule relator's objections to the magistrate's decision and adopt the magistrate's decision as our own, including the findings of fact and ...


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