Fuller v. Hannaford Brothers Co.

Decided: February 17, 2017

Topic: Appellate Review Standards

This recent decision by the Appellate Division reviews the role the panel plays when evaluating legal causation determinations of an underlying Administrative Law Judge. The Law Court has stated that this “task is not to determine whether the [ALJ] reached the only correct conclusion but rather, whether [the ALJ’s] conclusion is permissible on the record before us.” Comeau v. Maine Coastal Services, 449 A.2d 362, 369 (Me. 1982). Thus, while the panel members may not have made the same determination themselves, this alone does not allow them to overturn the decision.

Here, the panel determined the ALJ’s conclusion of Ms. Fuller’s claim as non-work related was supported by the record. The comparison of the employment to personal risk is an objective standard where the ALJ must compare the risk present in an average person’s non-employment life and that risk which arises out of the conditions of the employment. The ALJ found that because “Ms. Fuller’s work activity at the time of the injury required only slight twisting and bending, was not an awkward or strenuous motion, involved only a small piece of paper, required no hastened speed or extra weight, and was nothing out of the ordinary from movements performed repeatedly in daily living, that Ms. Fuller had not demonstrated an injury arising out of her employment.” Although this alone would have been sufficient for the panel to highlight as support for affirming the decision, their analysis did not stop there.

The Appellate Division then brought in a comparative case they previously decided, Bowker v. NFI North, but failed to address why that case allowed for a determination correction and this one does not. The panel attempted to distinguished Bowker from the present matter by discussing the work activity as having been more demanding than the employee’s here and that this is what accounts for the difference in the panels’ decisions. However, this goes awry of the Appellate Division’s task as outlined in Comeau as it seems the panel merely disagreed with the ultimate decision in Bowker, but did not here. Not sure how these two decision can sit squarely with each other, so hopefully we’ll see further explanation from the panel on future cases.

For full text of the decision, visit: http://www.maine.gov/wcb/Departments/appellate/2017decisions/17-7_Fuller_v._Hannaford_Brothers_Company_2-17-17.pdf