IN THE PUYALLUP TRIBAL COURT OF APPEALS
PUYALLUP INDIAN RESERVATION
Douglas Johns, Petitioner/Appellant,
NO. PUY-CV-AP-2016-0144 (September 21, 2017)
Appellant claimed trial court erred with its interpretation of the tribe’s workers’ compensation ordinance (WCO) as excluding stress induced mental conditions or mental disabilities from the definition of “occupational disease.” In its review of the language of the WCO, Court of Appeals affirmed trial court’s interpretation and remanded case to trial court for further proceedings.
Before: Randy A. Doucet, Chief Judge; Sarah Roubidoux Lawson, Judge; Lisa M. Vanderford-Anderson, Judge.
Appearances: Mark C. Wagner, for Appellant; Robert W. Novasky, for Appellee.
Douglas Johns appeals from a trial court order denying his motion to confirm statutory interpretation of the Puyallup Tribe’s workers’ compensation ordinance. On appeal, Mr. Johns contends that it was error for the trial court to interpret the Tribe’s workers’ compensation ordinance (WCO) to exclude from the definition of “occupational disease” mental conditions or mental disabilities caused by stress. We agree with the trial court’s interpretation of the WCO. AFFIRMED and REMANDED.
Douglas Johns was employed as a Puyallup Tribal Police officer for many years.1 Mr. Johns claims that he was unable to work because he developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, panic attacks, depression, and anxiety from his job.2 Travelers Insurance is the worker’s compensation insurer for the Puyallup Tribe.3 Travelers investigated Mr. Johns’ claims and denied coverage based on the language in the insurance policy.4 Mr. Johns filed an action in the Puyallup Tribal Court against Travelers for denying his workers compensation claim.
Mr. Johns asked the trial court to determine whether his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, panic attacks, depression, and anxiety qualified as an “occupational disease” defined by RCW 51.08.140. An occupational disease is defined as “such disease or infection as arises naturally and proximately out of employment…” The trial court found that “occupational disease” excludes mental conditions or mental disabilities caused by stress.5 The trial court decision confirmed Travelers’ denial of Mr. Johns’ worker’s compensation claim as an occupational disease. Mr. Johns appeals the trial court decision filed on September 27, 2016 titled “Order on Motion”.
In its response brief, Travelers raised the issue as to whether the trial court had authority to direct Travelers to review Mr. Johns’ claim as an “injury” under the WCO, and to order Travelers to establish an administrative appeal process.
SCOPE OF APPELLATE REVIEW
The scope of appellate review is set forth in Puyallup Tribal Code 4.16.400. A decision of the trial court will be reversed, modified or remanded only where there has been error as to interpretation and/or application of the law by the judge.6 Here, the issue appealed concerns whether the trial court erred when interpreting the Tribe’s Workers’ Compensation Ordinance. When an appellant alleges an error as to interpretation of the law by the trial judge and the issue involved is one solely of law, this court will review issues of statutory interpretation de novo.7 “The goal of statutory interpretation is to discern and carry out legislative intent.”8
Issue 1. Interpretation of Puyallup Tribe’s Workers’ Compensation Code.
The trial court was asked to determine whether the Puyallup Tribe’s Workers’ Compensation Ordinance (“WCO”) includes “mental conditions or mental disabilities caused by stress” as an “occupational disease”. The trial court interpreted the WCO to exclude mental conditions or mental disabilities caused by stress as an occupational disease. The result of the trial court decision is that Mr. Johns’ post-traumatic stress disorder and related mental condition claims cannot be covered as an occupational disease under the Tribe’s WCO.
This Court now reviews the language of the WCO to discern the legislative intent of the Tribal Council when adopting the WCO. The Court first looks at the plain language of the ordinance. On December 30, 1997, the Puyallup Tribe adopted a workers’ compensation ordinance. The WCO adopts specified sections of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) for the substantive law of the Tribe’s workers’ compensation law. Specific to this case, the WCO adopted RCW 51.08.140, which defines occupational disease. According to RCW 51.08.140, “occupational disease” means such disease or infection as arises naturally and proximately out of employment.
The Tribe did not include RCW 51.08.142 as one of the RCW sections it adopted in the Tribe’s WCO. RCW 51.08.142 directs “the department” to adopt a rule that excludes mental conditions or mental disabilities caused by stress from the definition of occupational disease in RCW 51.08.140.9 Mr. Johns argues that since the Tribe’s WCO did not adopt RCW 51.08.142, the exclusions do not apply to the definition of occupational disease in the Tribe’s WCO. As a result, his claims for PTSD, panic attacks, depression, and anxiety might qualify as an “occupational disease” under the Tribe’s WCO. Travelers argues that RCW 51.08.142 modifies RCW 51.08.140 and therefore the Tribe tacitly approved RCW 51.08.142, which would then exclude Mr. Johns’ claims from worker’s compensation coverage.
The Tribe’s WCO was adopted in 1997, well after RCW 51.08.142 was enacted by the Washington state legislature in 1988. The plain language of the Tribe’s WCO does not adopt RCW 51.08.142. The record on appeal does not include the Tribal Council’s legislative history regarding why the Tribe did not adopt RCW 51.08.142. The Court presumes that the laws adopted by the Tribal Council are valid. The Court also presume that the Tribal Council was aware of the implications of its decision as to which RCW provisions to adopt and those not to adopt. We conclude that the Tribe did not adopt RCW 51.08.142 explicitly or tacitly.
However, whether RCW 51.08.142 was adopted by the Tribe does not change the effect of RCW 51.08.142 on the ultimate question of whether mental conditions or mental disabilities caused by stress are excluded from the definition of occupational diseases. RCW 51.08.142 directed the department to promulgate a rule excluding stress related mental conditions from the definition of occupational disease. RCW 51.08.142led to the adoption in 1988 of WAC 296-14-300, mental condition/mental disabilities. WAC 296-14-300interprets both RCW 51.08.140 and RCW 51.08.100. WAC 296-14-300(1) provides that “Claims based on mental conditions or mental disabilities caused by stress do not fall within the definition of an occupational disease in RCW 51.08.140.” WAC 296-14-300(2)(a) provides that “Stress resulting from exposure to a single traumatic event will be adjudicated as an industrial injury. See RCW 51.08.100.”
PTC 14.04.080 requires the Tribal Court to follow the Washington Department of Labor and Industries’ interpretations of the RCW sections adopted in the WCO. PTC 14.04.080 provides that “Interpretations of those sections issued…by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries shall be followed by the insurer and by the Tribal Court…” PTC 14.04.080 also provides for an exception to Department of Labor and Industries interpretations of the adopted RCW sections when “in cases where significant Tribal policy considerations call for a different conclusion.”10 The record on appeal does not show any significant Tribal policy considerations calling for a different conclusion. Therefore, we conclude that the Department of Labor and Industries’ substantive interpretation issued in WAC 296-14-300(1) applies to RCW 51.08.140.
Issue 2. Whether issues raised in Appellee’s response brief may be reviewed on appeal.
In its response brief, Travelers raised the issue as to whether the trial court had authority to direct Travelers to review Mr. Johns’ claim as an “injury” in accordance with the WCO, and to order Travelers to establish an administrative appeal process. By raising these issues in its response brief, instead of a timely filed notice of appeal, Travelers is precluded from having these issues reviewed by this Court.
Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals is limited to appeals filed from decisions of the trial court.11 Any party aggrieved by any final order, commitment, or judgment of the Puyallup Tribal Court may appeal such order, commitment or judgment to the Appellate Court by filing a notice of appeal within 30 days after such order, commitment or judgment has been entered; provided, that no Tribal law prohibits an appeal in a particular case.12 The notice of appeal shall specify the parties to the appeal, the order, commitment or judgment appealed from, and a short statement of the reasons or grounds for the appeal. Copies of the notice of appeal shall be served by the appellant upon all other parties in the case.13
Having failed to follow the appeal procedures, the Court hereby DENIES review of the issues raised by Travelers. This Court leaves the trial court orders undisturbed as to the issues raised by Travelers in their response brief.
We AFFIRM the trial court’s interpretation of the WCO that WAC 296-14-300(1) excludes mental conditions or mental disabilities caused by stress from within the definition of an occupational disease in RCW 51.08.140. This case is REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The syllabus is not a part of the Court’s Opinion. The syllabus is a summary of the Opinion prepared by the publishers of this reporter only for the convenience of the reader. Therefore, the syllabus should not be cited in whole or part as legal authority. Only the Opinion, which follows the syllabus, may be cited as legal authority.
1 Appellee’s Response Brief, filed 6/16/2017, pg. 1.
5 RCW 51.08.142 "Occupational disease"—Exclusion of mental conditions caused by stress. The department shall adopt a rule pursuant to chapter 34.05 RCW that claims based on mental conditions or mental disabilities caused by stress do not fall within the definition of occupational disease in RCW 51.08.140. [ 1988 c 161 § 16.
6 PTC 4.16.400(c)
7 Taraya v. Taraya, 14 NICS App. 37 (Puyallup - July 2016).
8 Bennett v. Seattle Mental Health, 166 Wn.App. 477, 483, 269 P.3d 1079 (Div. 1 2012).
9 The “department” means Washington Department of Labor and Industries.
10 PTC 14.04.080.
11 PTC 4.16.260 Jurisdiction.
12 PTC 4.16.320 Who may appeal.