The applicant, Mr. St. Cyr, sought judicial review of a 2010 decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission (“Appeals Commission”) which modified an earlier decision it had reached in 2008 regarding the applicant’s disability benefits. The 2008 decision had curtailed the disability benefits which the Workers’ Compensation Board had awarded the applicant, both by limiting the salary used to calculate his earning capacity and the timeframe within which he was eligible for total and partial disability benefits. In March 2009, the applicant successfully sought reconsideration of the 2008 decision, which the Appeals Commission vacated because the panel failed to apply s.63 of the Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”) in rendering a decision on non-compensable conditions.
Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Workers compensation Appeals Commission – Workers compensation – Benefits – Average earnings – method of calculation – Judicial review – Estoppel and res judicata – Natural justice – Procedural requirements and fairness – Standard of review – Reasonableness simpliciter
St. Cyr v. Alberta (Worker’s Compensation Board),  A.J. No. 768, 2011 ABQB 407, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, July 7, 2011, J.E. Topolniski J.
The Court considered first whether the doctrines of res judicata and issue estoppel applied to the decision, holding that neither applied as causation was not in issue in the 2010 decision and therefore the panel was not bound by any earlier decisions dealing with causation.
The Court next considered whether the Appeals Commission had breached its duty of fairness or the rules of natural justice. The Court held that the Appeals Commissions process was fair, declining to determine whether the applicant was entitled to the notice he asserted he had been denied.
The Court considered the applicant’s claim that the Court owes no deference to the Appeals Commission, and that a decision rendered following statutory appeal requires a more searching standard of review than does a decision of the Workers’ Compensation Board (“WCB”). The Court dismissed the applicant’s argument on a number of grounds, noting that deference to a statutory panel is of paramount importance for effective appellate review. As a result, the court adopted the standard of reasonableness in its review. The applicant argued that he was entitled to total disability benefits until suitable employment was found, an argument which the Court noted had been expressly rejected in Watson v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board), 2011 ABCA 127. As a result, the Appeals Commission’s decision to award only partial disability benefits at minimum wage was held to be reasonable, as was its conclusion that the applicant was capable of returning to some form of employment, which was supported by the medical evidence.
The applicant’s argument that the Appeals Commission was unreasonable in interpreting the Act and policies in a manner which allowed it to retroactively estimate his functional capacity was also dismissed by the Court. Further, the applicant’s argument that there can be no finding of functional capacity until suitable employment is found was rejected by the Court, as was his argument that he be entitled to full wage replacement benefits because it took four years for his claim to be accepted. The Court noted that as it was being asked to assess the Appeals Commission’s decision on reasonableness alone, the delay or reasonableness of any decision rendered by the WCB was of no moment.
The Court also concluded that the Appeals Commission’s choice of Fort McMurray as an appropriate location to determine suitable employment was reasonable, noting that the definition of “suitable employment” did not require that the employment be in the same locale as the worker, but was simply a basis chosen for calculating the worker’s earning loss. Finally, the Court found that the Appeal’s Commission’s decision to refuse to award total disability benefits past March 18, 2007, and that its reasoning was clear, intelligible and wholly supported by the evidence.
The Court held that the Appeal’s Commission’s decision was supported by the evidence and reasonable interpretation of the Act and policies and was upheld in its entirety. The application for judicial review was therefore dismissed.
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