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Noonan v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Workers' Compensation Commission Division

October 21, 2016

TERRY NOONAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION et al. (City of Chicago, Appellee).

          Rehearing denied January 26, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Nos. 13-L-50026, 13-L-50029; the Hon. Robert Lopez Cepero, Judge, presiding.

         Judgment Reversed in part and vacated in part; original Commission decision reinstated.

          Mark Schechter and Larry Coven, both of Coven Law Group, of Chicago, for appellant.

          Christopher L. Jarchow, of Hennessy & Roach, P.C., of Chicago, for appellee.

          Panel JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hoffman and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion. Presiding Justice

          OPINION

          HARRIS, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In April 2008, claimant, Terry Noonan, filed an application for adjustment of claim pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 to 30 (West 2006)), alleging he sustained a work-related injury to his right wrist on March 31, 2008, and seeking benefits from the employer, the City of Chicago. Following a hearing, the arbitrator determined claimant failed to prove that he sustained an injury arising out of his employment and denied him benefits. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) affirmed and adopted the arbitrator's decision; however, on judicial review, the circuit court of Cook County reversed and remanded to the Commission for an award of benefits to claimant.

         ¶ 2 On remand, the Commission, again, affirmed and adopted the arbitrator's denial of benefits. It also provided a more detailed explanation of its decision. On review, the circuit court entered an order finding its previous order "was in error" and the Commission's initial decision should have been confirmed. The court held its previous remand order was "of no consequence." Claimant filed a motion to reconsider the court's decision, which the court denied. He now appeals, arguing the Commission's finding that he failed to prove he sustained an injury arising out of his employment and its denial of benefits was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We reverse in part, vacate in part, and reinstate the Commission's original decision.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 At arbitration, claimant testified he initially worked for the employer as a "motor truck driver." However, he sustained a work-related injury to his back that resulted in permanent restrictions and rendered him unable to perform the job duties for that position. Approximately three months prior to the accidental injury at issue on appeal, claimant began working for the employer as a "clerk." He testified the duties associated with that position included filling out forms called "truck driver sheets" and answering the phone when no one else was available. It took him approximately five minutes to fill out each form, and he typically worked each day from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

         ¶ 5 Claimant asserted that on March 31, 2008, he was injured while working for the employer as a clerk. He described the incident resulting in his injury as follows:

"I was filling out a truck sheet and I made a mistake. I got out of my chair, grabbed another sheet, sat down, and I believe when I sat down, I put my elbow on the desk, knocked the pen off, pen fell to my right. So I put my left hand on top of the desk, and I'm sitting in a chair just like [the court reporter] here, and when I went and reached to my right, I didn't know that the chair got up on its wheel. So[, ] just as I was maybe about two inches or [an] inch from picking the pen up off the floor, the chair went out from underneath me. I stuck my right hand out to brace my fall."

         Claimant testified his right hand came into contact with the floor and "it felt like [he] jammed it." He felt pain and ultimately sought and received medical treatment, including surgery, for an injury to his right wrist.

         ¶ 6 On cross-examination, claimant denied that the rolling chair he had been sitting in had been positioned on a slope or a slant. He stated he "went over sideways to [his] right" when attempting to retrieve the pen he dropped, noting he could not bend forward because he had undergone disk replacement surgery. Further, he stated he thought the incident involved an ordinary fall.

         ¶ 7 On April 20, 2012, the arbitrator issued a decision, finding claimant failed to prove his right wrist injury arose out of his employment and denying him benefits under the Act. Specifically, the arbitrator determined claimant "failed to prove that the simple act of sitting in a rolling chair and reaching for a pen exposed him to an increased risk of injury that was beyond what members of the general public are regularly exposed to." On December 26, 2012, the Commission affirmed and adopted the arbitrator's decision without further comment. Claimant appealed, and on March 14, 2014, the circuit court entered an order reversing the Commission's decision based on its "arising out of" analysis and remanding the matter for an award of benefits to claimant.

         ¶ 8 On December 26, 2014, the Commission issued a decision and opinion on remand. It persisted in affirming and adopting the arbitrator's denial of benefits but provided additional reasoning for its finding that claimant failed to prove that his right wrist injury arose out of his employment. Again, claimant sought judicial review. On March 12, 2015, the circuit court ordered as follows:

"A. The [circuit court's] Order of March 14, 2014[, ] was in error. The Commission's decision should ...

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