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Powers v. Warwick Public Schools

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

April 9, 2019

Mark D. Powers
v.
Warwick Public Schools.

          Source of Appeal Appellate Division of the Workers' Compensation Court (13-558) Associate Judge Debra L. Olsson, Associate Judge George T. Salem, Jr. Associate Judge Robert E. Hardman

          For Petitioner: Christine M. Curley, Esq., Stephen J. Dennis, Esq., Carolyn A. Mannis, Esq.

          For Respondent: Nicholas R. Mancini, Esq., Francis T. Connor, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          William P. Robinson III, Associate Justice

         On January 12, 2016, Mark Powers petitioned this Court for issuance of a writ of certiorari to review a Final Decree of the Appellate Division of the Workers' Compensation Court (WCC), which had been issued on December 23, 2015. That decree denied and dismissed Mr. Powers's appeal, in accordance with a written decision of the Appellate Division dated December 16, 2015. This Court granted Mr. Powers's petition for a writ of certiorari on September 13, 2016.

         Before this Court, Mr. Powers contends: (1) that he "should not be estopped from arguing that he was a full-time employee working part-time hours simply because a stipulation was entered in the Workers' Compensation Court stating that he was a part-time employee;" and (2) that "the average weekly wage, as calculated pursuant to [G.L. 1956] § 28-33-20 for the purpose of determining workers' compensation benefits, must include monies received by an employee from the state for hours not worked, pursuant to an approved work-sharing program under [G.L. 1956] § 28-44-69."

         This case first came before the Court on September 27, 2017, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this matter should not be summarily decided. After hearing the arguments of counsel and examining the memoranda filed by the parties, we concluded that cause had been shown, and we assigned this case to the regular calendar for further briefing and argument. We heard oral arguments on September 27, 2018.

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the decree of the Appellate Division of the Workers' Compensation Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         The facts of this matter are not in dispute. On December 31, 2012, Mr. Powers injured his left knee while shoveling snow during the course of his employment with the Warwick Public Schools. Due to his injury, he was unable to work from January 1, 2013 until April 3, 2013. At the time of the injury, in addition to receiving remuneration from the Warwick Public Schools, Mr. Powers was also receiving work-sharing benefits from the state under an approved work-sharing program pursuant to § 28-44-69.[1] As a result of his inability to work due to injury, he applied for workers' compensation benefits. His "average weekly wage" for workers' compensation benefits pursuant to § 28-33-20 was calculated thereafter, but that calculation did not take into account the work-sharing benefits which Mr. Powers had been receiving. On March 8, 2013, Mr. Powers filed a "claim for a trial," pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 28-35-20(d), [2] in order to challenge the calculation of his average weekly wage before the WCC.

         The parties then filed trial memoranda and agreed to a stipulation of facts before the WCC, which stated as follows:

"1. As of 12/31/12 the Petitioner was a part-time employee of the Respondent.
"2. The Employee [(Mark Powers)] was injured at work on 12/31/12.
"3. During the 26 weeks prior to the week of the injury, the employee earned wages from the employer for work performed. Also during the 26 weeks prior to the week of the injury, the Employee received unemployment compensation benefits from the State of Rhode Island, pursuant to a Work Sharing Plan in accordance with RIGL 28-44-69.
"4. The issue in this case is whether or not said unemployment compensation benefits received in the 26 weeks prior to the week of the injury should be added to said part-time wages earned in the 26 weeks prior to the week of the injury in order to calculate the average weekly wage for that injury.
"5. The amount of wages earned by the employee during the weeks 10/20/12 through 12/29/12 equals $ 2, 880.62. * * *
"6. The amount of unemployment compensation benefits received in the 26 weeks prior to the week of the injury equals $ 8, 405 which equals a supplemental wage of $323.27." (Emphasis in original.)

         Nothing more of pertinence was submitted, and the parties rested on the day of trial. On September 25, 2013, the trial judge of the WCC issued a bench decision, in which he found that work-sharing benefits were "tantamount to unemployment compensation benefits" and were properly not included in Mr. Powers's average weekly wage. Upon Mr. Powers's appeal, the Appellate Division of the WCC issued a written decision on December 16, 2015, affirming the trial judge's bench decision; a final decree then entered. Mr. Powers subsequently petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, which this Court granted.

         II

         Standard of Review

         We begin by noting that "[o]ur review of a case on certiorari is limited to an examination of the record to determine if an error of law has been committed." DeCurtis v. Visconti, Boren & Campbell, Ltd., 152 A.3d 413, 420-21 (R.I. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). "In addition to examining the record for judicial error, we inspect the record to discern if there is any legally competent ...


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