The Court of Appeal dismissed the Workers’ Compensation Board’s appeal of a reviewing judge’s decision to uphold a decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission regarding a Claimant’s entitlement to benefits. The WCB had appealed on the basis that the reviewing judge had failed to apply the correct standard of review.

Administrative law – Workers compensation – Benefits – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Workers Compensation Boards – Judicial review – Privative clauses – Standard of review – Patent unreasonableness – Reasonableness simpliciter

Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board) v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission), [2005] A.J. No. 825, Alberta Court of Appeal, July 8, 2005, Hunt, Berger, Costigan JJ.A.

The WCB had accepted responsibility for a Claimant’s injuries from a work-related accident which had left him a complete paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair. The WCB had placed a lien on the Claimant’s van after paying for modifications to make it wheelchair-accessible. The Claimant applied, under a new policy, to have the WCB purchase his van so as to free up his own investment. This request was rejected, as was the Claimant’s appeal to the Claims Services Review Committee. He further appealed to the Appeals Commission which concluded that he was entitled to reimbursement for the van.

The WCB applied for judicial review. The reviewing judge dismissed the application, holding that the Appeals Commission’s decision was subject to the patently unreasonable standard of review and that its decision withstood scrutiny whether under the patently unreasonable or reasonableness simpliciter test.

The Court of Appeal considered whether the reviewing judge had applied the correct standard of review. The Court applied the pragmatic and functional analysis. The Court noted that a privative clause protects the Appeals Commission’s decision, in section 7(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, S.A. 1981, c. W-16, which it describes as a “full privative clause” and suggests that its decisions are owed considerable deference. Second, the Appeals Commission possesses great expertise. The jurisdiction and authority bestowed on it by the Act suggests that the Appeals Commission’s expertise merits deference.

Third, the Court held that the issue at hand, the provision of the benefits to injured workers, is fundamental to the Appeals Commission’s expertise. Fourth, the purpose of the Act was the compensation and rehabilitation of injured workers. The broad question considered by the Appeals Commission was whether an injured worker ought to be reimbursed for the cost of his van, or, in other words, whether he was entitled to receive a particular benefit. The provision of benefits to injured workers is fundamental to the Appeals Commission’s expertise.

Finally, in considering the nature of the questions before the Appeals Commission, the first question was whether the Claimant’s application for reimbursement ought to be treated as a request for reconsideration of the WCB’s earlier decision. This question was very factual and well within the Appeals Commission’s expertise. The second question was whether the Claimant’s request was governed by the old or revised policy. The Court held that this question raises issues of retroactivity which are legal in nature and in which the Appeals Commission has little expertise. However, the second question followed directly from the answer to the first, and therefore was also very fact-laden. The Court concluded that this question was, at most, a question of mixed fact and law. Moreover, to the extent that interpretation of the policy was required, that interpretation was deep within the expertise of the Appeals Commission.

Considering all four factors, the Court held that the reviewing judge had correctly concluded that the Appeals Commission’s decision ought to be reviewed on a standard of patent unreasonableness. A decision will be patently unreasonable where a defect is “apparent on the face of the Tribunal’s reasons”. The reviewing judge had correctly concluded that the Appeals Commission’s decision was not patently unreasonable. Moreover, even if the Appeals Commission’s decision was reviewable on a standard of reasonableness simpliciter, that standard was not breached either.

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