8-27-12; Hold Off on Appeal Until All Issues Resolved—Another Important WC Practice Rule from Our IL Appellate Court, WC Division

This is a straight-forward holding on a relatively simple issue: Orders remanding cases to an Arbitrator for further factual findings relative to vocational rehabilitation efforts and awards are not final orders, and are not appealable. Period. Stop asking; because the Court clearly is growing tired of repeating itself. So why do our lower courts and IL WC Commission so routinely get it wrong?

In Supreme Catering v The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, No. 1-11-1220WC (August 20, 2012) the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, Workers’ Compensation Commission Division addressed the issue of remand for the purpose of vocational rehabilitation efforts, effectively finding every possible remand for the purpose of addressing vocational rehabilitation issues is an interlocutory order – that is, it is not final and therefore not appealable. There appears no exception.

The facts of the underlying Supreme Catering workers compensation injury claim are not germane to the Court’s holding, and were not addressed in detail by the Appellate Court in its holding, as they were irrelevant to the issue decided.

Petitioner sustained injuries he alleged were work related; Respondent defended on the sole theory Petitioner was not Respondent’s employee. The Arbitrator ruled in favor of Respondent on the issue of employment, and upon appeal the Commission reversed the denial, found an employment relationship, and remanded the case for further factual determinations including Petitioner’s need for vocational rehabilitation and maintenance. Supreme appealed to the circuit court and then the Appellate Court, First District, who issued this decision. On its own initiative the First District Appellate Court addressed the issue of jurisdiction, noting circuit and appellate courts possessed jurisdiction over only those Commission decisions that are final and appealable. Because the Commission’s decision contained an order to remand the case for vocational rehabilitation findings, the Court found the decision was not final.

The Court noted it has long been held that remand for a determination of vocational benefits is interlocutory and not appealable. Citing International Paper Co. v Industrial Comm’n the question is “whether the administrative involvement in the case has been terminated the Commission has ordered further administrative proceedings,” the Court determined a remand order for the purpose of vocational rehabilitation determinations cannot be a final order. In every case analyzed on the issue of remand orders for vocational rehabilitation, the Court found the order interlocutory and not appealable.

Starting with International Paper, where the Arbitrator found a state of permanency and awarded PPD benefits, when appealed to the Commission and reversed with a remand order on the issue of vocational rehabilitation the Court found the Commission’s decision was not final because the order for additional findings on the issue of vocational rehabilitation necessitated further administrative involvement. The same was true for expedited proceedings under Section 19(b): When the Commission remanded the case to the Arbitrator for a determination of a vocational plan the decision was interlocutory and not appealable. Hunter Corp v Industrial Comm’n 86 Ill. 2d 489 (1981) Even a Section 19(b) trial where the Arbitrator’s order for a vocational rehabilitation plan appeared final and was appealed through the Commission and circuit court, the Third District Appellate Court determined that decision was not final, because the arbitrator would necessarily have to determine a specific vocational plan, which would necessitate remand for those findings and render the matter interlocutory. American Insulated Structured v Industrial Comm’n 265 Ill. App. 3d 171 (1994) The Court assessed over a half dozen cases concerning Section 19(b) proceedings, Section 19(b)1 proceedings and nature-and-extent trials dealing with the specific narrow issue of the interlocutory nature of remand orders for determinations concerning vocational rehabilitation, making clear under no circumstance is a remand order for findings concerning vocational rehabilitation final and appealable:

An analysis of the foregoing cases reveals that a decision of the Commission which remands the case to the arbitrator for further proceedings on the issue of vocational rehabilitation is not a final order. …it does not matter whether the remand is for the purpose of providing the specifics of a generalized plan ordered by the Commission or for a determination of whether vocational rehabilitation should be ordered. In either case, further proceedings are required before an administrative decision is final.

In any circumstance wherein a remand order necessitates findings concerning vocational rehabilitation, the order is not final and cannot be appealed. The Court therefore vacated the Circuit Court decision and each decision that followed as rendered by a court without jurisdiction, and remanded the matter to the Arbitrator for further proceedings as initially ordered.

So why the indignation in the Editor’s Comments above? Well, your editors have seen this issue from both sides of the argument, having been chastised by this same Court for appealing a non-final order only to turn around and be penalized by the Commission for non-payment of another non-final order remanding a claim for additional factual findings on vocational rehab issues. It stings when Respondents have to choose between being penalized by the Commission for being right and possibly being chastised by the Appellate Court for appealing a non-final order to avoid such penalties. It may be these matters are so often appealed not because of less-experienced defense attorneys who don’t know the law but because protecting against unwarranted penalties outweighs the need for defense counsel to save face before the industry.

This article was produced in large part – and the angry bits exclusively – by Joseph R. Needham, J.D. Please send all angry rants and responses to jneedham@keefe-law.com.