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REICHHOLD CHEMICAL, INC., ET AL. v. RAYMOND L. SPRANKLE

FEBRUARY 25, 1987

REICHHOLD CHEMICAL, INC., ET AL.
v.
RAYMOND L. SPRANKLE, SR.



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, P.J., AND PRATHER AND ANDERSON, JJ.

ANDERSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

This is an appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of Harrison County affirming a finding of the full Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission that Raymond L. Sprankle had sustained a compensable injury. The full commission had earlier reversed the finding of the administrative judge that no such injury existed. We agree with the commission as to compensation, but reverse and

remand as to Sprankle's disability.

 Raymond L. Sprankle, Sr. worked at Reichhold Chemical's Gulfport plant. He filed a motion to controvert with the Workers' Compensation Commission alleging that on May 29, 1981, he had been suddenly engulfed by a cloud of ammonia gas at work. As a result of this incident he claimed he suffered a 100% loss of his wage earning capacity and 100% permanent disability. Reichhold and its insurance carrier answered denying any job-related injury and arguing, in the alternative, that any injury to Sprankle resulted from a pre-existing disease or condition.

 A hearing was held before Administrative Judge Ronald T. Russell and on September 1, 1983, he issued an order finding that on the date in question, Sprankle had suffered a" minor exposure "to ammonia gas but that he had sustained no disability as a result of the incident and that any permanent disability was the result of a pre-existing disease. He therefore ordered Sprankle's claim dismissed. Sprankle petitioned for review by the full commission, which accordingly reviewed the record and held that the administrative judge's finding that the claimant's condition resulted from pre-existing emphysema was" against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. "The commission explained that the administrative judge had given insufficient weight to the testimony of Dr. John W. Douglas, a specialist in pulmonary medicine, and that he had placed" undue emphasis "on the fact that Sprankle's physician, Dr. Hillman, did not observe chemical burns when he examined Sprankle two days after the incident. The commission awarded permanent total disability benefits in the amount of $98 per week and ordered Reichhold to pay all reasonable medical expenses. Reichhold appealed to the Circuit Court of Harrison County which reviewed the record and affirmed, explaining that it could not say the commission's finding of compensability was not based on substantial evidence.

 NO. I: THE CIRCUIT COURT ERRED IN AFFIRMING THE ORDER OF THE FULL WORKER'S' COMPENSATION COMMISSION WHICH WAS NOT SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.

 Our established rule is that decisions of the commission will not be overturned, if they are supported by substantial evidence. E.g., Myles v. Rockwell International, 445 So. 2d 528 (Miss. 1983); Johnson v. Ferguson, 435 So. 2d 1191 Miss. 1983); Shippers Express v. Chapman, 364 So. 2d 1097 (Miss. 1978).

 On occasions when the full commission and the administrative

 judge had differing views, this Court has sided with the commission, even though there was substantial evidence to support the administrative judge's finding. Sam Jones Casing Crews v. Dependents of Skipper, 199 So. 2d 436, 438 (Miss. 1967); United Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Culiver, 240 Miss. 878, 882, 128 So. 2d 579, 580 (1961). We went so far as to say that the administrative judge" is no more than a facility for conducting the business of the commission and for all practical purposes the commission is the actual trier of facts. "Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. Hollingsworth, 221 Miss. 688, 695, 74 So. 2d 754, 756 (1954). Moreover, where medical expert testimony is concerned, this Court has held that wherever the expert evidence is conflicting, the court will affirm the commission whether the award is for or against the claimant. Kirsch v. Greenville Sheet Metal Works, 192 So. 2d 266, 268 (Miss. 1966).

 This does not mean, however, that this Court rubber stamps the commission's verdict. The Court may take a closer look at the expert medical evidence undergirding the findings of the commission and the administrative judge. This principle was expressed in one recent case:

 Expert medical opinion, however, does not always constitute substantial evidence on which the board may rest its decision. Courts have held that the board may not rely on medical reports, which it knows to be erroneous . . ., upon reports which are no longer germane . . ., or upon reports based upon inadequate medical history or examinations. . . . Johnson v. H. K. Ferguson, 435 So. 2d 1191, 1196 (Miss. 1983).

 On occasion, we have overruled the action of the full commission and reinstated the findings of the administrative judge (or upheld the circuit court in doing so) when we felt that the full commission was not relying on substantial evidence and the administrative judge was. E.g., Webster Constr. Co. v. Bates, 227 Miss. 207, 216 85 So. 2d 795, 798 (1956); Ebasco Services, Inc. v. Harris, 227 Miss. 85, 94, 85 So. 2d 787 (1956). See also, V. S. Dunn, Mississippi Workmen's Compensation 288 (3rd Ed. 1982).

 The appellants contend that this is such a case, because the full commission relied principally on the testimony of Dr. Douglas. They argue, in substance, that because Dr. Douglas and the doctors whose reports he consulted had no access to the medical history of Sprankle as related

 to Dr. Hillman, their evidence was radically flawed and did not rise to the level of" substantial evidence "necessary to sustain the commission's findings. These are the same factors the administrative judge ...


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