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Martin v. Delaware Home and Hosp.

Supreme Court of Delaware

September 24, 2013

Edith MARTIN, Claimant Below, Appellant,
v.
DELAWARE HOME AND HOSPITAL, Employer Below, Appellee.

Submitted: Aug. 28, 2013.

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Table of Decisions Without Published Opinions." in the Atlantic Reporter.

Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for Kent County, C.A. No. K11A-07-001, C.A. No. K12A-05-007.

Before HOLLAND, BERGER and JACOBS, Justices.

ORDER

JACK B. JACOBS, Justice.

This 24th day of September 2013, upon consideration of the briefs of the parties, it appears to the Court that:

1. Edith Martin, the appellant-below (" Martin" ), appeals from two Superior Court orders. The first Superior Court order, in 2012, reversed an Industrial Accident Board (the " Board" ) decision that found Martin entitled to total disability benefits from her employer, Delaware Home & Hospital, which is operated by the State of Delaware (the " State" ). On remand from the Superior Court, the Board found that Martin had failed to sustain her burden of proof, and denied her petition for benefits. In 2013, the Superior Court affirmed. Martin appeals from both Superior Court orders, claiming that she is entitled to total disability benefits. We affirm both trial court orders.

2. In 2007, Martin was employed as a dietary aide by the State when she suffered a work-related knee injury. Because of that injury, she underwent her first surgery in 2008 and has not worked since May 2008.[1] Martin underwent a second surgery on January 21, 2011, at which time her surgeon placed her on total disability status from January 21, 2011 through March 30, 2011. On March 30, 2011, Martin's surgeon certified her as capable of returning to sedentary work.

3. Martin filed a Petition before the Board for total disability benefits during her two-month post-surgical period, i.e., from January 21, 2011 through March 30, 2011. The State argued that Martin was ineligible for those benefits. The State contended that total disability benefits are considered " wage replacement benefits," and that because Martin had voluntarily left the workforce before her 2011 surgery, she had no wages to be replaced. Therefore, the State argued, Martin was not entitled to receive total disability benefits.

4. In its first (June 2011) decision, the Board determined that Martin had not voluntarily withdrawn from the workforce, because she had taken active steps to find a job.[2] The Board found that, before her 2011 surgery, Martin had earned a degree in medical billing and coding from the Harris School of Business " with the intent to find employment in that field," although she had been unsuccessful in that quest.[3] The Board further found that Martin had completed " vocational rehabilitation," learned to be a cashier at Goodwill, applied for a job at Capitol Cleaners, and also searched the local newspapers for other jobs.[4]

5. In February 2012, however, the Superior Court reversed.[5] The court held that the Board had abused its discretion by admitting evidence of Martin's job search that had been unavailable during discovery.[6] The court found that although the State had twice requested Martin to produce information and documentation supporting her job search, Martin had not done so.[7] As a result, the court held, the Board erred by admitting into evidence Martin's testimony of her job search over the State's objection.[8] Martin contended that the State's request for documentation supporting her job search was an impermissible discovery, and that therefore she had no obligation to provide any written documents to the State. Rejecting that argument, the Superior Court held that:

[Martin's] characterization of the [State's] request as an interrogatory may be fair. [Martin's] suggestion that [the State] is not entitled to an answer thereof, however, is not. [Martin] argues that nothing in the Board rules indicates that interrogatories are permitted. The fact that the rules do not suggest interrogatories does not mean, necessarily, that they are not allowed. [Martin] does not ...

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