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Guardado v. Roos Foods, Inc.

Supreme Court of Delaware

July 24, 2019

MAGDALENA GUARDADO, Claimant Below, Appellant,
v.
ROOS FOODS, INC., Employer Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: May 15, 2019

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware C.A. No. S15A-05-002

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and TRAYNOR, Justices.

          ORDER

          James T. Vaughn, Jr. Justice.

         On this 24th day of July 2019, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears that:

         (1) The appellant, Magdalena Guardado, appeals from the Superior Court's denial of her request for attorneys' fees incurred in a previous appeal to this Court.[1]She contends that the Superior Court erred as a matter of law in denying her request for attorneys' fees because the court's short ruling is premised on its finding that "Guardado's position at the hearing before the Industrial Accident Board was not affirmed by the Supreme Court."[2] Under 19 Del. C. § 2350(f), the Superior Court is authorized, but not required, to award appellate fees "where the claimant's position in the hearing before the [Industrial Accident] Board is affirmed on appeal."[3]

         (2) In 2010, Guardado injured her left wrist in a work-related accident while working as a machine manager for Roos Foods. Thereafter, she received workers' compensation total disability benefits. Two years after the accident, she had a left wrist fusion performed by Dr. Richard DuShuttle, and shortly thereafter, Dr. DuShuttle released her to light-duty one-handed work.

         (3) Following Dr. DuShuttle's release, Roos Foods filed a petition for review with the Industrial Accident Board (the Board) alleging that Guardado was able to return to work. At the hearing before the Board in March 2015, the parties generally agreed that Guardado could return to light-duty one-handed work, but disagreed as to whether she was a displaced worker and the extent to which her undocumented status should be considered, if at all, in making that determination. Roos Foods argued that Guardado was not a prima facie displaced worker and that, even if she were, its labor market survey, which did not take into account her undocumented status, was sufficient to demonstrate that there were jobs available for her. Guardado argued that she was prima facie displaced based on her undocumented status, as well as the traditional factors, [4] and that because Roos Foods's labor market survey failed to consider her undocumented status, it could not (and did not) show that there were jobs actually available to her. In its rebuttal, Roos Foods argued that undocumented status does not equate to being prima facie displaced and that the Board could infer that the jobs in its labor market survey were available to undocumented workers because "[u]ndocumented workers are hired all the time."[5]

         (4) Following the hearing, the Board denied Roos Foods's petition for review. First, the Board found that Guardado was no longer totally disabled. It next determined that she had not demonstrated actual displacement: "Claimant testified that she had only applied to a few jobs; however, she had not heard back from any of those. Based on this little evidence, there is no basis to find 'actual' displacement. The sole issue is whether she should be considered displaced on a prima facie basis."[6] The Board concluded that "Claimant qualifies as a [prima facie] displaced worker based upon her undocumented status and Employer has failed to present a Labor Market Survey that shows regular employment opportunities within Claimant's capabilities as an undocumented injured worker."[7]"While Employer did prepare a Labor Market Survey of prospective jobs that could be available to Claimant with her physical restrictions," the Board continued, "it did not address all of Claimant's restrictions; and therefore, [it] cannot be considered reliable evidence of jobs actually available to Claimant."[8]

         (5) The Board's decision was affirmed by the Superior Court. Roos Foods then appealed to this Court. We described the appeal as presenting two questions: (1) "whether an injured worker's immigration status alone renders her a prima facie displaced worker" and (2) "whether the Board properly found that the employer failed to meet its burden of showing regular employment opportunities within the worker's capabilities because its evidence failed to take into account the worker's undocumented status."[9] As to the first issue, we held that "an undocumented worker's immigration status is not relevant to determining whether she is a prima facie displaced worker, but it is a relevant factor to be considered in determining whether she is an actually displaced worker."[10] As to the second issue, we held that "the Board correctly rejected the employer's evidence of regular employment opportunities for the worker because that evidence failed to consider her undocumented status."[11]

         (6) Because the Board committed legal error in finding Guardado to be prima facie displaced based on her undocumented status alone, we reversed the judgment of the Superior Court and remanded the matter for a new hearing before the Board.[12] The remand placed back before the Board the issues of whether Guardado was, or was not, a prima facie displaced worker, and, if so, whether Roos Foods could meet its burden of showing that regular employment opportunities were available to her, taking into account her undocumented status.

         (7) Following the rehearing, the Board granted Roos Foods's petition for review and terminated Guardado's total disability benefits. Although the Board again found Guardado to be prima facie displaced (without considering her undocumented status), Roos Foods successfully convinced the Board that there were jobs actually available to Guardado by presenting a revised labor market survey and expert testimony that showed a high prevalence of undocumented workers in the types of jobs identified in the survey. Guardado appealed this decision to the Superior Court, which affirmed the Board's decision.[13] Guardado then appealed to this Court, and "we affirm[ed] the judgment of the Superior Court on the basis of its opinion."[14]

         (8) Following our ruling in Guardado II, Guardado filed an application for attorneys' fees with the Superior Court pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 2350(f) in which she sought fees for her counsel's work on the first appeal to this Court, Guardado I. In her application for fees, she contended that she was eligible for fees under the statute because, in Guardado I, this Court affirmed her position before the Board that Roos Foods failed to meet its burden of showing the availability of regular employment for her because its evidence did not take into account her undocumented status.[15]

(9) The Superior Court denied Guardado's request in a two-sentence letter:

I have denied Magdalena Guardado's application for attorneys' fees pursuant to [19] Del. C. §2350(f) for appellate work done by her attorneys before the Supreme Court because Ms. Guardado's position at the hearing before the Industrial Accident Board was not affirmed by the Supreme Court. While the fact that Ms. Guardado's undocumented status properly became a relevant consideration on the question ...

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