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Miller v. Shope Concrete Products Co.

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

March 20, 2017

JAMES L. MILLER, Respondent,
v.
SHOPE CONCRETE PRODUCTS CO., Defendant, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRIES OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, Appellant.

          Dwyer, J.

          The Department of Labor and Industries appeals from a decision of the superior court reversing an order of the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. The Department asserts that the superior court erred by determining that James Miller was entitled to have the value of health care benefits included in his wage computation. This is so, the Department contends, because, at the time of Miller's injury, his employer had made no payments or contributions toward health care benefits on Miller's behalf. The Department is correct.

         Pursuant to the plain language of RCW 51.08.178(1), and consistent with existing case authority, a worker's wage computation includes health care benefits when the worker's employer made payments or contributions toward those benefits at the time of the injury. Miller concedes that, at the time of his injury, his employer had made no payments or contributions toward health care benefits on his behalf. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the superior court and reinstate the Board's decision.

         I.

         Miller began working for Shope Concrete Products Company on September 10, 2012. On that day, he also began a 90-day orientation period. Upon completion of the orientation, Shope was to provide him with health care benefits.

         A month and a half later, Miller suffered a lower back injury at work. He did not complete his orientation period and did hot return to work at Shope. Because Miller never completed the orientation; Shope never paid or contributed funds toward health care benefits on Miller's behalf.

         Miller applied to the Department of Labor and Industries for wage benefits resulting from his injury. The Department allowed Miller's claim to go forward and, a year later, issued a wage order calculating his wages at $3, 335.20 per month. The order did not include any amount attributable to the health care benefits that Miller's employer would have provided him had he completed the orientation. Miller protested the Department's computation but the Department affirmed its wage order. Miller then appealed the Department's order to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. The Board issued a decision and order affirming the Department's exclusion of health care benefits from Miller's wage calculation.

         Miller then appealed the Board's order to the Pierce County Superior Court. The superior court reversed, determining that Miller's workers' compensation wages should have included an amount attributable to health care benefits because Shope would have provided such benefits to Miller had he completed the orientation.

         The Department now appeals.

         II

         A

         The Department asserts that the trial court erred by ordering that Miller's wage order be modified so as to include an amount attributable to his employer's health care payments or contributions on his behalf. This is so, the Department contends, because, at the time of Miller's injury, ' his employer had, in fact, never made payments or contributions toward health care benefits on Miller's behalf. We agree.

         In workers' compensation cases, we review de novo the superior court's conclusions of law. Rogers v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 151 Wn.App. 174, 180, 210 P.3d 355 (2009) (quoting Watson v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 133 Wn.App. 903, 909, 138 P.3d 177 (2006)). "We may substitute our own judgment for that of the agency regarding issues of law, but we give great weight to the agency's interpretation of the law it administers." Dep't of Labor & Indus, v. Allen, 100 Wn.App. 526, 530, 997 P.2d 977 (2000) (citing Dep't of Labor & Indus, v. Kantor, 94 Wn.App. 764, 772, 973 P.2d 30 (1999)).

         "If a statute's meaning is plain on its face, then we give effect to that plain meaning as an expression of legislative intent." Hill v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 161 Wn.App. 286, 293, 253 P.3d 430 (2011) (citing State ex rel. Citizens Against ...


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