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City of Picayune v. Bennett

December 18, 1998

CITY OF PICAYUNE AND MISSISSIPPI APPELLANT MUNICIPAL WORKERS COMPENSATION SELF INSURED GROUP
v.
CHARLES A. BENNETT APPELLEE



Before McMILLIN, P.j., Coleman, And Southwick, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Southwick, J.

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/01/97

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. MICHAEL RAY EUBANKS

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: PEARL RIVER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WORKERS' COMPENSATION

TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED - 12/18/98

¶1. This is an appeal from a decision of the Pearl River County Circuit Court reversing and remanding to the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission a decision regarding the attorney's fees for the claimant. We find that the court was correct and affirm.

FACTS

¶2. Charles Bennett was injured on September 14, 1989, while employed with the City of Picayune Public Works Department. He began receiving temporary total disability benefits and continued to get those benefits through to the time of his administrative hearing in 1996. Bennett retained attorney James Wetzel who filed a motion to controvert on December 6, 1991. This was the beginning of a lengthy legal battle between the claimant and the City. Bennett ultimately prevailed when the City did not appeal the decision of an administrative law Judge rendered November 27, 1996, finding the claimant eligible for permanent total disability benefits. This appeal does not involve any of the issues regarding Bennett's disability or the amount of his overall benefits. Instead, the issue is whether his attorney is entitled to receive all of the unpaid benefits as his fee.

¶3. On December 16, 1996, Wetzel filed a request for partial lump sum payment of his fees. The majority of the benefits awarded Bennett had already been paid by the time Wetzel filed his request. The parties agree that Wetzel is entitled to an overall fee of $23,258.83 as 25% of the total benefits of $92,970. However, only a little over $13,000 remained unpaid to the claimant at the time of the request for attorney's fees. The commission found it could only authorize a payment of 25% of the unpaid benefits. Any additional amount to which Wetzel was entitled would have to be sought directly from the claimant, Bennett. Only $3,288.36 was authorized to be paid Wetzel out of the $13,488.03 that remained to be paid the claimant. Wetzel appealed to the Pearl River County Circuit Court. The court reversed and ordered that Wetzel be paid all of the remaining benefits. The City has appealed and seeks the reinstatement of the Commission's decision.

DISCUSSION

¶4. The question presented in this appeal is one of statutory interpretation. We therefore review the issue de novo. Trustmark National Bank v. Pike County National Bank, 716 So. 2d 618, 620 (Miss. 1998). The relevant statute concludes this way:

"When an award of compensation becomes final and an attorney fee is outstanding, a partial lump sum settlement sufficient to cover the attorney fee approved therein by the commission shall be made immediately, from payments last to become due, and the deductions allowed by the law shall be borne equally ...


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