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Murphy v. Westrock Company

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

March 21, 2017

CARL MURPHY Petitioner
v.
WESTROCK COMPANY Respondent/Insurer.

          Submitted: October 11, 2016

          ORDER GRANTING RESPONDENT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING RESPONDENT'S MOTION FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER, RESPONDENT'S MOTION IN LIMINE, AND PETITIONER'S MOTION TO COMPEL AS MOOT

          DAVID M. SANDLER JUDGE

         Summary: Respondent moves for summary judgment on Petitioner's PPD and rehabilitation claims on the following grounds: its independent medical examiner, a medical doctor, opined that Petitioner has no medically determined physical restrictions as a result of his injury; and Petitioner's chiropractor, although offering a contrary opinion, may not create an issue of material fact because, under the 1991 statute, a chiropractor can provide neither the required "medically determined" physical restriction nor "physician's" certification. Therefore, Respondent contends it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Petitioner's claims.

         Held: Although Petitioner's chiropractor offered an opinion contrary to Respondent's medical doctor, he may not create an issue of material fact because, under the 1991 statute, a chiropractor can provide neither the required "medically determined" physical restriction nor "physician's" certification. Therefore, Respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Petitioner's claims for PPD and rehabilitation benefits.

          ¶ 1 Respondent WestRock Company (WestRock) moves for summary judgment[1] on Petitioner Carl Murphy's permanent partial disability (PPD) and rehabilitation claims on the following grounds: its independent medical examiner, a medical doctor, opined that Murphy has no medically determined physical restrictions as a result of his injury; and Murphy's chiropractor, although offering a contrary opinion, may not create an issue of material fact because, under the 1991 statute, a chiropractor can provide neither the required "medically determined" physical restriction nor "physician's" certification. Therefore, WestRock contends it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Murphy's claims.[2]

         ¶ 2 This Court held a hearing on October 11, 2016. Rex Palmer represented Murphy. Larry W. Jones represented WestRock.

         FACTS

         ¶ 3 On December 18, 1991, Murphy suffered a back injury while working at the Stone Container mill in Frenchtown. Stone Container accepted liability for Murphy's claim, and WestRock is now liable, as it is Stone Container's successor-in-interest.

         ¶ 4 Murphy missed no work as a result of his injury, but has received continuous treatment.

         ¶ 5 On March 8, 1993, Douglas L. Woolley, MD, placed Murphy at maximum medical improvement (MMI) and assigned a whole person impairment rating of 7%.

         ¶ 6 Murphy began treating with Jim W. Helmer, DC, in 1998.

         ¶ 7 Murphy would have continued working at the mill, but it closed in 2010.

         ¶ 8 In April 2016, counsel for Murphy wrote to Dr. Helmer, asking a series of questions about his ongoing treatment of Murphy.

         ¶ 9 On May 2, 2016, Dr. Helmer responded by letter. He explained that the symptoms for which he was treating Murphy were "consistent these past 18 years" and "a direct result of his 1991 injury and its[] sequelae." As for a functional level of lifting at work, Dr. Helmer made recommendations as follows:

a. occasional lifting of 30 to 40 pounds maximum if done without help;
b. frequent lifting of 10 to 15 pounds maximum.

         ¶ 10 On May 31, 2016, Murphy filed a Petition for Hearing seeking an order stating that he is entitled to PPD benefits.

         ¶ 11 Murphy also seeks an order stating that "Petitioner's physical limitations[] established by his doctor satisfy the statutory criteria for vocational rehabilitation benefits."

         ¶ 12 On June 29, 2016, Emily E. Heid, MD, conducted an independent medical examination (IME) of Murphy. In her report, she opined that Murphy did not have a medically determined restriction as of March 8, 1993, that there were no jobs in which his ability to work in some capacity was impaired, and that as of the date of the IME, Murphy did not have any physical restrictions as a result of his injury.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         ¶ 13 This Court renders summary judgment when the moving party demonstrates an absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.[3] After the moving party meets its initial burden to show the absence of a genuine issue of fact and entitlement to judgment, the burden shifts to the party opposing summary judgment either to show a triable issue of fact or to show why the undisputed facts do not entitle the moving party to judgment.[4]

         ¶ 14 The 1991 Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) defines "physician" to include " 'surgeon' and in either case means one authorized by law to practice his profession in this state."[5] A chiropractor is not ...


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