Workers' Compensation

California EAMS: What Are SPDs?

When the WCAB issued “significant panel decision (SPD),” Hernandez v. AMS Staff Leasing, (2011) 76 CCC – on April 11, 2011, many practitioners wondered, “What in the world is a ‘significant panel decision (SPD)’?”

History of the “significant panel decision”: The practice of issuing WCAB significant panel decisions (SPD) began in July 1997, when the WCAB commissioners created a hybrid decision that was part en banc and part regular panel decision. In an open letter to the legal community, WCAB Chair Diana Marshall explained the selection criteria. The WCAB would designate certain cases as SPDs because they dealt with significant legal issues about which there is little or no published case law. (See full letter in 25 CWCR 197.)

The concept was further explained by the 1st DCA in Larch v. WCAB, (1999) 64 CCC 1098 (Writ Denied) as follows:

“Although each significant panel decision is signed only by its three panel members, each significant panel decision must be reviewed by all Board members, and all Board members must concur that the decision is significant and that it merits general dissemination to the workers' compensation community. Finally, the Board and its staff make a particular effort to ensure that its significant panel decisions are thoroughly deliberated and carefully researched.”

WCAB significant panel decisions are citable, but are not binding precedent. (See Smith v. WCAB, (2000) 65 CCC 277, page 280 at fn 2.)

Directive of Hernandez case: The Hernandez case illustrates the importance of establishing an adequate and organized record at the trial level. For those unclear on what is required in this regard, WCJs and parties should consider re-reading the WCAB en banc decision of Hamilton v. Lockheed, (2001) 66 CCC 473. Hamilton provides step-by-step instructions as to what should be included in a proper record of trial proceedings. (See also LC Section 5313, WCAB Rule 10566 and Section 1.45 of the DWC’s Policy and Procedure Manual.) Hamilton issued long before EAMS came along, but the commissioners emphasized the tenets of this case apply regardless of whether the record is on paper or in electronic format.

Sleeper issue for litigants: Although the focus of Hernandez was to provide guidance to WCJs on how to compile a complete and accurate trial record, the sleeper issue in this case may catch some litigators off guard.

Hernandez dealt with a discovery issue; a Notice of Taking Deposition and a Demand for Production of Documents. The issue proceeded to trial on July 26, 2010. On July 27, 2010, the WCJ issued his Order to Produce the Deponent and the “documents identified in Appendix A.”

The defendant filed a Petition for Removal from the Order to Produce. Problem was, when the WCAB received the Petition, they could not properly evaluate it, because the trial record was not complete. Many of the essential documents such as “Appendix A” had not been scanned into EAMS. (Nor had a paper copy of the document been placed in the legacy file.) 

In the meantime, the parties talked among themselves and eventually settled the case by Compromise and Release (C&R). The C&R was approved on January 18, 2011. Unfortunately, no one informed the Commissioners of this happy development. So they kept working on the case, trying to figure out a way to evaluate the Petition for Removal, long after the issue became moot. If a Petition to Withdraw the Petition for Removal was filed, the Commissioners were never made aware of this. On page 10 of the decision, the WCAB writes, “In addition, there is nothing in EAMS nor has anything been received by us requesting that the petition for removal be withdrawn. Failure to withdraw a pending petition in these circumstances, thereby wasting our time and resources, is sanctionable conduct.” (Emphasis added.)

PRACTICE TIP: If you have filed a Petition for Removal or ANY type of Petition with the WCAB commissioners or with any WCJ at any district office and the issue subsequently becomes moot, you should clue in the reviewing entity as to this development. It will help to conserve the limited resources of the WCAB and will ensure that sanctions are not imposed under LC Section 5813 or 8 CCR 10561.

This blog has been approved by the California Division of Workers' Compensation.

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