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Minor v. RGT Management Inc.

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 20, 2018

ARTHUR MINOR APPELLANT
v.
RGT MANAGEMENT INC. AND WAUSAU UNDERWRITERS INSURANCE COMPANY APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/07/2018

          MISSISSIPPI WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: ROGEN K. CHHABRA CAROLINE SCOTT HOMMELL

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: GINGER MOORE ROBEY

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND FAIR, JJ.

          CARLTON, J.

         ¶1. Arthur Minor, a claimant in a workers' compensation action, appeals from an order of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission imposing $500 in sanctions upon his attorneys for delaying pursuit of his claim without reasonable grounds under Mississippi Code Annotated section 71-3-59(2) (Rev. 2011).[1] We reverse and render the Commission's $500 sanction against Minor's attorneys.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Arthur Minor suffered compensable injuries during the course of his employment with RGT Management Inc. as a shift manager/cook for Taco Bell. A workers' compensation claim on Minor's behalf was filed against RGT (Employer) and Wausau Underwriters Insurance Company (Carrier) by his first lawyer in March 2013. That lawyer's motion to withdraw from representation of Minor was granted by the Administrative Judge (AJ) on September 3, 2015. The order provided, in relevant part, as follows:

Claimant is allowed thirty (30) days from the date of this Order in which to obtain representation by another attorney or continue prosecution of this claim without legal representation. Failure to do so may result in the dismissal of this claim.

         ¶3. The same AJ dismissed Minor's workers' compensation claim by order dated November 2, 2015, based upon the AJ's determination that Minor had failed to prosecute his claim. The AJ found that her September 3, 2015 order had "granted Mr. Minor thirty (30) days to obtain counsel or announce his intent to pursue this claim without legal representation" and that Minor had failed to comply with that provision. The order further provided that "[t]o request reinstatement of this claim, Claimant must timely file a motion to reinstate with the Commission."

         ¶4. The AJ's November 2, 2015 order was not appealed, and thus it became a final order in twenty days, pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 71-3-47 (Rev. 2011).[2] Minor engaged new counsel (his current counsel), and a motion to reinstate Minor's claim was filed on his behalf on December 4, 2015.

         ¶5. Over a year later, on February 15, 2017, the Commission issued a notice of hearing on Minor's motion, setting a hearing for March 20, 2017. The Employer/Carrier filed a response to Minor's motion to reinstate his claim on March 10, 2017, seeking dismissal of Minor's claim. The Employer/Carrier argued that the Commission no longer had jurisdiction over Minor's claim because no action had been taken on Minor's motion to reinstate since it was filed in December 2015.

         ¶6. The AJ denied Minor's motion to reinstate by an order dated April 27, 2017, finding that under Mississippi Code Annotated section 71-3-53 (Rev. 2011)[3] and the applicable case law, the Commission no longer had jurisdiction to consider the motion because Minor had done nothing after his motion to reinstate was filed on December 4, 2015.

         ¶7. Minor appealed the AJ's order, requesting review before the full Commission. He argued that the filing of his motion to reinstate was sufficient to satisfy the one-year time frame set forth in section 71-3-53 because the Commission's procedural rules did not require that the motion be set for oral argument. Minor asserted that because his motion could be ...


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