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Court of Appeals Finds Ward Decision Does Not Govern Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Over a decade ago, the Ohio Supreme Court decided Ward v. Kroger, in which the court held a claimant in an R.C. 4123.512 appeal may seek to participate in the Workers’ Compensation law only for those conditions that were addressed in the administrative order from which the appeal is taken.  Workers’ compensation practitioners have regarded the pronouncement in Ward as setting forth the jurisdiction of the trial court in an R.C. 4123.512 appeal over the specific medical conditions adjudicated in the Industrial Commission.

In Crosgrove v. Omni Manor, 2017-Ohio-646, the 7th district court of appeals examined the import of Ward.  The claimant alleged an injury to her low back and a district hearing officer allowed the claim for lumbar sprain/strain.  Thereafter, the claimant field a motion to additionally allow herniated disk at L3-4 and spinal stenosis at L3-4 and L4-5.  Before the additional conditions went to hearing, a staff hearing officer disallowed the claim in tis entirety.  The claimant appealed the disallowance of the claim to court and sought to participate for herniated disk at L3-4, spinal stenosis at L3-4 and L4-5.  In the employer’s answer to the complaint, the employer asserted the court lacked “subject matter jurisdiction” over herniated disk at L3-4 and spinal stenosis at L3-4 and L4-5 because such conditions were not adjudicated administratively.

Eventually, the case went to trial.  At no point prior to trial did the employer move the court for summary judgment on the herniated disk at L3-4 and spinal stenosis at L3-4 and L4-5, which would have prevented such conditions from consideration at trial.  The court prepared a jury verdict form, which included herniated disk at L3-4 and spinal stenosis at L3-4 and L4-5, but the employer did not object.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of the claimant, finding her entitled to participate for herniated disk at L3-4, but not for lumbar sprain/strain or spinal stenosis at L3-4 and L4-5.  Thereafter, the employer filed objections to the verdict and then appealed to the court of appeals on the ground that the trial court lacked “subject matter jurisdiction” over the herniated disk at L3-4.

On December 16, 2016, the court of appeals rejected the employer’s appeal.  (See Crosgrove v. Omni Manor, 2016-Ohio-8481. The court held that Ward did not address “subject matter jurisdiction,” which is jurisdiction over a particular class of cases. The court of appeals explained that Ward framed a trial court’s jurisdiction over a particular case, which is conceptually different.

The employer requested reconsideration of the court of appeals’ decision, and also, requested the court certify a conflict to the Supreme Court.  The court of appeals denied both requests in a February 16, 2017 decision.

Because this case was decided very recently, it is unclear whether the employer will appeal to the Supreme Court, although this seems likely.  Of note, the Ward decision arose out of the 7th District.  If an appeal is filed the Supreme Court would have to accept the case on a discretionary basis.

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