Superior Court’s Decision Reversed on Any Evidence Standard of Review
The Georgia Court of Appeals was recently asked to review a superior court’s decision to reverse a determination of entitlement to benefits rendered by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation (“the Board”). In Express Employment Professionals et al v. Barker, 862 S.E.2d 594 (2021), Barker (“Claimant”) was employed Express Employment Professionals (“the Employer”) when he fell at work and suffered multiple injuries on the left side of his body. He was diagnosed with a lumbar injury and began receiving temporary total disability benefits. Claimant continued to treat with his physician to whom he reported a resolution of his lumbar pain but began complaining of upper extremity tingling and numbness. Following an MRI, which revealed arthritis of the lumbar spine, Claimant’s physician released him to return to work without restrictions. Based on the release, his temporary total disability benefits were suspended.
Upon the suspension of benefits, Claimant filed a motion seeking recommencement of his benefits which was denied by an administrative law judge. Following this denial, Claimant fell in his own home and injured the same region of his left side as he had in the work-related injury. In an evidentiary hearing, the administrative law judge determined that Claimant had undergone a change for the better following his work-place injury and that his fall at home was an injury which was “ the cause of any need for medical treatment or any possible disability as it either aggravated, cause[d] or continued any back problems thus breaking any chain of causation which may have existed as is contemplated by [O.C.G.A.] § 34-9-204 (a).” Barker at 596. Claimant appealed the decision to the Appellate Division of the Board which affirmed the ruling of the administrative law judge.
Claimant appealed the Appellate Division’s decision to the Superior Court of Carroll County. The superior court reversed based on its own evaluation of the facts. Employer then appealed and the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the superior court. In support of its decision, the Georgia Court of Appeals noted that “[a]s a reviewing court, the superior court was required to construe the evidence favorably to the Employer, the party prevailing before the Board, and apply ‘an any-evidence standard of review to the Board’s findings of fact.’” Id. (citing McKenney’s, Inc. v. Sinyard, 828 S.E.2d 639 (2019)). The superior court was “not permitted to reject the Board’s factual conclusions in favor of its own.” Barker at 596. The Georgia Court of Appeals then emphasized that the “reviewing superior court is not authorized to disregard competent evidence that it believes is not credible, reweigh the evidence, or resolve conflicting evidence, as these powers are reserved solely for the [administrative law judge] and the Board.” Id. (citing Hartford Cas. Ins. Co. v. Hawkins, 353 Ga. App. 681, 685-686 (2020) (Citation and punctuation omitted)).
The Georgia Court of Appeals has reiterated that the State Board of Workers’ Compensation is soley authorized to assess witness credibility and conflicting evidence such that a superior court reviewing any decision of the Board does not have authority to substitute itself as a fact-finding body and must affirm if any-evidence supports the decision below.