• Ripeness for Adjudication Measured by Legal Standards, Not by State of the Evidence
  • April 17, 2015 | Authors: Gillian Dale; Malcolm S. Mead; Lisa F. Mickley; Rachel E. Yeates
  • Law Firm: Hall & Evans, LLC - Denver Office
  • An appellate panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office recently issued an opinion explaining that the jurisdictional requirement of "ripe for adjudication" is determined by reference to the legal status of the issue raised, not by the state of the evidence concerning that issue.

    On March 3, 1997, the claimant suffered an admitted workers' compensation injury. The respondents filed a Final Admission of Liability on March 5, 2003, admitting to continuing medical treatment for the claimant's injury. On April 27, 2011, the respondents filed an Application for Hearing to terminate the ongoing medical treatment. The respondents also endorsed two additional issues: apportionment and authorized treating physician ("ATP"). At hearing, an administrative law judge awarded the claimant attorneys' fees on the grounds that neither the apportionment issue nor the ATP issue was ripe. The decision was reversed on appeal to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office and remanded, then appealed again by both parties.

    In the second appeal, the claimant argued that the issues were not ripe for adjudication, because, at the time the respondents filed the Application for Hearing, they possessed no evidentiary support for the issues. The claimant argued that because of this, the issues were not "real, immediate, and fit for adjudication" and were therefore unripe. On the other hand, the respondents argued that, while they may have lacked evidentiary support for their position when they filed their Application for Hearing, there was no legal impediment to submitting the issues when they filed the motion.

    The appellate panel characterized the parties' arguments as a debate between whether an issue must be factually viable or legally viable to be ripe for adjudication. The panel determined that an issue must only be legally viable at the time of filing to be ripe, and that whether a party could present a viable evidentiary case was irrelevant to a ripeness determination. The panel reasoned that the claimant's argument confused the standard of "merit" with that of "ripe for adjudication." Additionally, the panel noted that, unlike other civil and regulatory systems, the "statutory and regulatory scheme governing workers' compensation claims often requires a very speedy request for a hearing in order to prevent an issue from being resolved by default." If the parties were forced to obtain sufficient evidentiary support before endorsing an issue, the parties "would be forced to choose between their right to a hearing or waiving that right to avoid an expensive assessment of fees should they guess wrong about the possible strength of their claim."

    The issues the respondents endorsed were legally viable, even though the respondents lacked evidentiary support for the issues when they filed their Application for Hearing. Therefore, the panel remanded the claim to the administrative law judge with instructions to vacate the award of attorneys' fees against the respondents. Jane McMeekin v. Memorial Gardens and Reliance National Indemnity, W.C. No. 4-384-910 (September 30, 2014)