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Hilton v. Flakeboard America Ltd.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

October 12, 2016

Thomas Chad Hilton, Claimant, Petitioner,
v.
Flakeboard America Limited, Employer, and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Carrier, Defendants, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2015-000493

          Heard January 13, 2016

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

         Appeal from the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission

          Andrew Nathan Safran, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

          Lawson Brenn Watson and Ian Charles Gohean, both of Willson Jones Carter & Baxley, P.A., of Greenville, for Respondents.

          Gary Christmas, of Howell and Christmas, of Mt. Pleasant; Stephen Samuels, of Samuels Law Firm, of Columbia; Michelle Powers, of Powers Law, of Greenwood; Ronald J. Jebaily and Suzanne H. Jebaily, both of Jebaily Law Firm, of Florence; Andrea Roche, of Mickle and Bass, of Columbia; John S. Nichols and Blake A. Hewitt, both of Bluestein Nichols Thompson and Delgado, of Columbia; Mary E. Jordan, of Hilton Head Island; David Pearlman, of The Steinberg Law Firm, of Charleston; and Linda McKenzie, of Bowen McKenzie Bowen, of Greenville, all for Amicus Curiae, Injured Workers' Advocates.

          PLEICONES CHIEF JUSTICE

         We granted certiorari to review an order of the Court of Appeals dismissing Petitioner Thomas Hilton's appeal of an admittedly interlocutory order of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission's Appellate Panel (the Commission). Hilton v. Flakeboard America Ltd., S.C. Ct. App. Order dated Sept. 19, 2014. Hilton contends the Commission's interlocutory order vacating and remanding the Workers' Compensation Commission's single commissioner's (single commissioner) order is immediately appealable pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A) (Supp. 2015). Section 1-23-380(A) states, in relevant part, that "a preliminary, procedural, or intermediate agency action or ruling is immediately reviewable if review of the final agency decision would not provide an adequate remedy." We agree, under these unusual facts, that review of the final agency decision would not provide Hilton with an adequate remedy, and he is therefore entitled to an immediate appeal. Determining whether review of the final agency decision would give Hilton an adequate remedy requires us to reach the underlying merits of the Commission's order, and since we conclude that the order cannot stand, we vacate the Court of Appeals' order and remand the matter to the Commission. On remand, the Commission will limit consideration to Respondent Flakeboard's 102 specific exceptions to the single commissioner's order.

         FACTS

         Hilton suffered an admittedly compensable injury as the result of an insect or spider bite. The present dispute concerns whether he required further medical treatment to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). The single commissioner agreed with Hilton on the merits, finding he had not reached MMI, and further that any misrepresentations he had made during the life of his claim were a result of a serious cognitive deficit from a previous brain injury. Flakeboard appealed to the Commission raising four "General Exceptions" and 102 specific exceptions to the single commissioner's order. The four "General Exceptions" raised the issues of MMI, temporary disability, Hilton's entitlement to further medical treatment, and Hilton's credibility. Neither the four general exceptions nor the 102 specific exceptions raised issues of competency, the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, or any claim that Flakeboard had been denied its right to have Hilton evaluated by a physician of its choice.

         Following a hearing, the Commission-without observing Hilton- issued an order that first reproduced the single commissioner's order, then recited a paragraph entitled "Issues on Appeal, " and finally concluded with these findings by the Commission:

FINDINGS OF THE FULL COMMISSION
This matter was heard before the above-mentioned [Commission] during the last term of Review. The [Commission] considered the matter and Vacate[s] and Remand[s] the Decision and Order to [the single commissioner] to determine whether or not [Hilton] is competent to testify and whether or not [Hilton] needs a Guardian ad Litem pursuant to ยง42-15-55. They [sic] also order [Flakeboard] to send [Hilton] to a ...

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