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Louisiana Appellate Court Lacks Subject Matter Jurisdiction in Workers’ Compensation Case Because Judgment in Favor of Employee Does Not Have Required Decretal Language to be Appealable

In a recent case, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal held they lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of an appeal. The court stated the rule that all judgments must be valid and appealable in order to be reviewed by an appeals court. In this particular workers’ compensation lawsuit, the injured employee had been granted benefits, and one remaining issue was the amount of the benefits to be calculated.  After the employee appealed the decision, the Fifth Circuit reviewed the lower court’s judgment and found it lacking proper language – language that must be “precise, definite, and certain,” according to the court.

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In 2008, Carl Gabriel was working for Delta Air Lines, Inc. when he suffered an injury in the course and scope of his employment. On October 31, 2011, the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) found that an accident had taken place and ordered that his weekly wage should be calculated to include his bonus and shared rewards from Delta. Then, Delta appealed the judgment on the ground that the OWC erred. The Fifth Circuit then affirmed the 2011 OWC judgment.

But, the court noted in this case, the October 31, 2011 OWC judgment and the opinion of the Fifth Circuit did not address the amount of “shared rewards” or “bonus” that would be included in Mr. Gabriel’s wage calculation. After the decision, Delta made indemnity payments to Mr. Gabriel, basing their payment on the calculation of his weekly wage, including his shared rewards and bonus. Mr. Gabriel did not agree with Delta’s determination of his weekly wage and filed a disputed claim. A hearing took place on Mr. Gabriel’s claim, and the judge issued “Written Reasons for Judgment.”

These written reasons set forth the history of the case and stated that Mr. Gabriel did not meet his burden to prove that he received any bonus payment that would be used in his weekly wage calculation. The written reasons included language that Mr. Gabriel’s average weekly wage was $429.73 and would include no consideration of shared rewards or bonus.

But the appellate court here stated that there was no judgment drafted, as ordered by the workers’ compensation judge. A minute entry reflected there was a hearing on that date to render an oral hearing, but that did not occur. For these reasons, the court stated that the OWC’s “Written Reasons for Judgment” was not a valid, appealable judgment. The Court therefore did not have jurisdiction to consider the merits of Mr. Gabriel’s appeal.

In their discussion, the appellate court made clear that the duty of an appellate court is to determine whether they have subject matter jurisdiction, even if the parties did not raise the issue. Since appeals are taken from the judgment rather than the written reasons for judgment, there must be a final, appealable judgment with decretal language, naming the party in favor of whom the ruling was ordered. The language must also state the specific relief granted or denied.

In this workers’ compensation case, the October 28, 2015 pleading, titled “Written Reasons for Judgment,” did not have the proper decretal language that would make it a valid, final judgment. There was no statement of the specific relief granted to Mr. Gabriel. Therefore, it was not a valid appealable judgment, and the court did not have jurisdiction to consider the merits of the appeal.

The court dismissed the appeal and remanded to the OWC for further proceedings.

At Lavis Law, our office has years of experience helping individuals who have suffered injuries in the course and scope of their employment.  We can help you and your family pursue compensation for your injuries under Louisiana workers’ compensation law. Contact our office for a free consultation at 866-855-9151.

More Blog Posts:

Louisiana Appellate Court Upholds Agreement Between Injured Employee and Her Attorney Regarding Payment of Attorney Fees in Workers’ Compensation Case, Louisiana Insurance & Injury Lawyer Blog

Louisiana Court Holds Clarification of Judgment is Not Modification When Injured Employee’s Payment of Medical Expenses Extinguished Claim Against Her Employer, Louisiana Insurance & Injury Lawyer Blog

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