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182 Ill.2d 387

May 21, 1998

182 Ill.2d 387


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court:

-Agenda 12-November 1997.

SUN CHOI, Appellant, v. THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION et al. (Ravenswood Hospital et al., Appellees

Section 19(b-1) of the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 305/19(b-1) (West 1994)) provides that employees who are not receiving temporary total disability benefits pursuant to section 8(b) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/8(b) (West 1994)) or other benefits pursuant to section 8(a) (820 ILCS 305/8(a) (West 1994)) may file a petition before the Industrial Commission (the Commission) requesting an expedited hearing to determine whether they are entitled to such benefits. At issue in this appeal is paragraph (x) of section 19(b-1), which directs that certain documents be attached to the section 19(b-1) petition. The appellate court held that under paragraph (x), an employee must attach documents to the petition which establish that the employee is "unable to work at all" before the petition may be considered by the Commission. 286 Ill. App. 3d 536, 539. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and hold that paragraph (x) does not require an employee to attach documents to the section 19(b-1) petition which establish a complete incapacity to perform all work.

Background

On August 5, 1992, the claimant, Sun Choi, filed a petition for immediate hearing before the Commission pursuant to section 19(b-1) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/19(b-1) (West 1994)). According to the petition, claimant injured her back during the course of her employment with the respondent, Ravenswood Hospital, when she lifted a patient in respondent's intensive care unit. Claimant was granted permission to withdraw her section 19(b-1) petition in September 1992. The petition was subsequently refiled on March 1, 1993.

It is undisputed that three documents relating to the requirements set forth in paragraph (x) of section 19(b-1) were attached to the petition filed in 1993. The first document was a protest letter dated July 31, 1992, from respondent to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, in which respondent questions claimant's eligibility for unemployment benefits. The letter notes that claimant "was involved in a[n] injury on the job and restricted to light duty only." The letter also states that "based on the claimant's current medical condition," she is not allowed to "work full time for our organization" and has "not been released to return to full time duty without restrictions." The second document attached to claimant's petition was a letter from one of claimant's treating physicians, Dr. Dennis Mess, to respondent, dated March 19, 1992. In this letter, Dr. Mess states that he saw claimant on March 18, 1992, and that she was diagnosed as having "L4-5, L5-S1 disc degeneration with a small central herniation at L5-S1." Dr. Mess also opined:

"I don't feel [claimant] will ever be able to resume her nursing duties. She is capable of sedentary work with the ability to periodically work while standing as in the past."

The final document attached to claimant's petition was a note from another of claimant's physicians, Dr. Edward Abraham. In this note, dated August 24, 1992, Dr. Abraham states:

"[Claimant] has lumbar disc disease. She is capable only of sedentary clerical work. I don't expect any change in her condition."

On August 24, 1992, respondent filed a response to claimant's first filing of her section 19(b-1) petition. In this response, respondent admitted that claimant had been injured in its intensive care unit, and admitted that it had refused to provide claimant with benefits under either section 8(a) or 8(b) of the Act. However, respondent disputed claimant's description of the nature of her injury, and her description of the accident which caused the injury. In addition, respondent contended that claimant's petition was defective because she had failed "to attach [a] medical report showing [her] total inability to work." Attached to the response to claimant's section 19(b-1) petition were two documents. The first document was a note written by Dr. Abraham and dated January 22, 1992. The note states that "Ms. Choi may resume her previous work duties on 1/29/92." The second document was a letter, written by a Dr. Leonard Smith and dated October 24, 1991. In the letter, Dr. Smith describes the nature and extent of claimant's injury and then concludes:

"[L]ifting should be confined to 30 pounds and carrying to 30 pounds. Other than this, [claimant] can perform the usual and customary duties of a nurse."

Claimant's section 19(b-1) petition was brought before an arbitrator for a hearing on March 30, 1993. At the start of the hearing, respondent repeated its argument that claimant's petition should be dismissed because it did not contain "a report from the physician which, in fact, states that [claimant] cannot work." The arbitrator disagreed with respondent and, at the Conclusion of the hearing, awarded claimant temporary total disability benefits pursuant to section 8(b) of the Act and vocational rehabilitation pursuant to section 8(a). Upon review, the Commission dismissed claimant's petition and vacated the arbitrator's award of benefits without considering the merits of claimant's request for benefits. The Commission concluded that claimant's petition was subject to dismissal because there was "no recent medical report attached to the §19(b-1) Petition which stated that the [claimant] was incapable of work." The circuit court confirmed the decision of the Commission.

The appellate court, with two Justices Dissenting, affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. Relying on E.L. Kaplan Trucking Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 195 Ill. App. 3d 640 (1990), the appellate court held that claimant's petition was defective and therefore could not be considered by the Commission, because the documents which claimant had attached to the petition "only established she was unable to return to work in her previous position, not that she was currently unable to work at all." 286 Ill. App. 3d at 539. The two ...


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