Robin Hamilton v. Maine Dept. of Health & Human Services
Maine Workers' Compensation Division
April 11, 2023
CategoriesProcedure Res Judicata Post-Injury Earnings Post-Injury Earnings Procedure Res Judicata
law of the case
Summary from the Troubh Heisler Attorneys
Robin Hamilton v. Maine Dept. of Health & Human Services- (attached)- Where prior Appellate Division decision in same case concluded a $37,000 stipend could not represent the employee’s earning capacity, law of the case doctrine controlled and on remand ALJ did not err is declining to use same stipend as basis for earning capacity. In Hamilton v. Maine Dept. of Health & Human Services, Dec. No. 23-07, the Dept. appealed the ALJ decision granting its Petition for Review on remand. The ALJ found an post injury earning capacity limited to full time minimum wage based on medical evidence that the employee’s mental condition limited her to working full time within the home. She was being paid a stipend of $37,000 per year serving as her sister’s shared living provider. In a previous appeal the Appellate Division found basing earning capacity on this stipend was inconsistent with the findings the employee received help from other family member to complete this job, and could not likely provide similar services to a stranger. The ALJ on remand was instructed to revisit the finding of earning capacity considering all factors, including the general labor market.
On remand the ALJ rejected the Dept. labor market evidence because its expert relied on shared living employment similar to what Hamilton provided to her sister. The ALJ found a full time minimum wage earning capacity. On appeal the Dept. argued it was error to make this finding in light of the large stipend, and further, that the prior Appellate Division erred in its holding. This Appellate Panel rejected these arguments, relying on law of the case doctrine. This doctrine provides that absent exceptional circumstances, the decision of an appellate court on an issue is to be followed by the trial court on remand. No exceptional circumstances were present here. Further this Appellate panel had no authority to review the findings of the prior Appellate panel.
ALJ Chabot dissented in part, believing the panel had the authority to reach the issue of whether the ALJ erred in finding full time minimum wage was the limit of her earning capacity. ALJ Chabot maintained that under Fecteau the stipend could represent prima facie earning capacity and the panel had an obligation to determine if the employee rebutted that prima facie finding. The Judge discusses the unusual circumstance of Fecteau applying to an employee, rather than an employer.