FROM: Montana Workers' Compensation Court, WCC No.
2016-3787 Honorable David M. Sandler, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Rex L. Palmer, Attorneys Inc., P.C.; Missoula,
Appellee: Larry W. Jones, Wills Law Firm, P.C.; Missoula,
Carl Murphy appeals the order entered by Workers'
Compensation Court that granted summary judgment to WestRock
Company on Murphy's claims. We reverse and remand for
further proceedings, addressing the following:
the Workers' Compensation Court err by holding that a
chiropractor may not make a medical determination regarding
the claimant's 1991 work-related injury?
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In December of 1991, Murphy suffered back, neck, and shoulder
injuries while working at the Smurfit-Stone Container mill in
Frenchtown, Montana. Smurfit-Stone accepted liability and
Murphy treated his injury. The record indicates that Murphy
reached maximum medical improvement in 1993 and treated
intermittently into 1996. He began treating again in 1998
with Jim Helmer, Doctor of Chiropractic, when his symptoms
increased after pushing a car. In May of 2016, Dr. Helmer,
still treating Murphy regularly, opined that Murphy's
symptoms, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, were
"consistent these past 18 years" and were "a
direct result of his 1991 injury and [its] sequelae."
Dr. Helmer recommended continued chiropractic care, a
frequent-lifting restriction of 10 to 15 pounds, and an
occasional-lifting restriction of 30 to 40 pounds. Based on
Dr. Helmer's opinion, Murphy presented claims to
WestRock, Smurfit-Stone's successor, for permanent
partial disability and vocational rehabilitation benefits.
WestRock denied Murphy's claim on the ground it was
premised upon the medical determination of a chiropractor,
rather than a physician, as required by the 1991 workers'
Murphy filed a Petition in the Worker's Compensation
Court. WestRock obtained an independent medical examination
(IME) from Emily Heid, an orthopedic surgeon, who opined
that, to a reasonable medical probability, Murphy's
physical restrictions were unrelated to his 1991 occupational
injury. WestRock moved for summary judgment, arguing the 1991
statutes required a "physician" to determine
medical restrictions, that the 1991 definition of
"physician" did not include chiropractors, and
therefore, Dr. Heid's opinion was the only permissible
determination in the record and legally unrebutted. Murphy
responded that the definition of "physician" was
revised in 1993 to include chiropractors, and argued that the
new definition should be retroactively applied, citing this
Court's decision in EBI/Orion Grp. v. Blythe,
281 Mont. 50, 931 P.2d 38 (1997), to permit consideration of
Dr. Helmer's opinion, which would create a dispute of
material fact regarding the causation of his injuries and
render summary judgment improper.
The Workers' Compensation Court reasoned that
Blythe could not be reconciled with our later
holding in Fleming v. Int'l Paper Co., 2008 MT
327, 346 Mont. 141, 194 P.3d 77, in which we stated there was
"no exception" to the rule that procedural statutes
"in effect on the date of the accident or injury control
in workers' compensation cases." Fleming,
¶¶ 28, 26. The Workers' Compensation Court
concluded it was bound to follow Fleming as this
Court's most recent holding on the issue, and, thus,
Murphy's claims were governed by the 1991 statutes,
rendering Dr. Helmer's opinion inadmissible and Dr.
Heid's opinion uncontested. It therefore granted summary
judgment to WestRock. Murphy appeals.
We review the Montana Workers' Compensation Court's
conclusions of law for correctness. Blythe, 281
Mont. at 53, 931 P.2d at 39 (citations omitted).
Did the Workers' Compensation Court err by holding
that a chiropractor may notmake a medical
determination regarding the ...