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County of Riverside v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Second Division

March 24, 2017

COUNTY OF RIVERSIDE, Petitioner,
v.
WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEALS BOARD and PETER G. SYLVES, Respondents.

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS; writ of review. WCAB Case No. ADJ9538021 Order affirmed.

          Law Office of Louis D. Seaman and Louis D. Seaman for Petitioner.

          No appearance for Respondent Workers' Compensation Appeals Board.

          Law Offices of Lawrence R. Whiting and William G. Cotter for Respondent Peter G. Sylves.

          OPINION

          McKINSTER, P. J.

         Petitioner, County of Riverside (the County), challenges findings by the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) finding that the application for adjudication of claim by respondent, Peter G. Sylves, was timely filed, and that Labor Code[1] section 5500.5, subdivision (a) (section 5500.5(a)), did not bar liability on the County's part. The order of the WCAB is affirmed for the reasons we state post.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         From December 12, 1998, to October 28, 2010, Sylves was employed by the County as a deputy sheriff. He took a service retirement and then worked for the Pauma Police Department on a reservation belonging to the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians (Pauma Band), which is a federally recognized Indian tribe. Sylves's employment with the Pauma Police Department lasted from December 28, 2010, through July 4, 2014.

         Sylves filed an application for adjudication of claim on July 16, 2014. He claimed a continuous trauma for “hypertension, GERDS [gastroesophageal reflux disease], left shoulder, low back and both knees.”

         On June 8, 2015, the parties appeared before a workers' compensation judge (WCJ) for adjudication of Sylves's claim. On July 6, 2015, the WCJ issued his findings of fact. Under the heading titled “Statute of Limitations, ” he found: “Pursuant to Labor Code section 5500.5, applicant's continuous trauma is limited to the last year of injurious exposure, even if it is with the Pauma Tribal Police.” The WCJ found that Sylves's knee and left shoulder injuries, his GERDS, and his sleep disorder were not compensable injuries arising in and out of employment. However, he also found that Sylves's hypertension and back injury were compensable and arose from employment with the County.

         Sylves and the County both moved for reconsideration of the WCJ's ruling. The County attacked the evidence allegedly showing that Sylves suffered from labor-disabling hypertension or back problems during his employment with the county, and it argued section 5500.5 meant that liability could only be imposed against the Pauma Police Department. In his motion, Sylves argued that section 5500.5 has nothing to do with the statute of limitations, that the County failed to meet its burden of proving he failed to comply with the limitations period in section 5405, and that section 5500.5 did not limit liability to the Pauma Police Department because the Pauma Band is a federally recognized tribe over which the WCAB has no jurisdiction.

         The WCAB granted both petitions for reconsideration “to further study the factual and legal issues.” It then filed an opinion and decision after reconsideration in which it found “substantial medical evidence support[ing] industrial injury to [Sylves's] left shoulder, bilateral knees, GERD and sleep disorder.” With respect to the statute of limitations, the WCAB explained that the time in which to file a claim did not begin to run until a doctor told him the symptoms for which he had been receiving treatment were industrially related; since medical confirmation did not occur until 2013, Sylves's 2014 application was timely. The WCAB further found that section 5500.5 “is not a Statute of Limitations but provides for a supplemental proceeding in which multiple defendants have an opportunity to apportion liability.” Finally, it agreed with Sylves that section 5500.5 cannot limit liability to the Pauma Police Department in this case because the WCAB lacks jurisdiction over the tribe. In conclusion, the decision after reconsideration made factual findings that Sylves, “while employed during the period 12/27/1998 through 10/28/2010, as a Deputy Sheriff, by the County of Riverside, sustained injury arising out of and in the course of employment in the form of” hypertension, injuries to the lower back, left shoulder, both knees, GERD, and a sleep disorder, as well as that the County “failed to meet its burden of proof on the Statute of Limitations defenses raised herein.”

         This petition followed. We granted review on April 27, 2016, in order to provide better clarity regarding ...


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