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Hudak v. Pirate Airworks, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alaska

June 16, 2015

Shawn Hudak, Petitioner,
v.
Pirate Airworks, Inc. and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Respondents.

         AWCAC Appeal No. 15-009

         AWCB Decision No. 15-0022

         AWCB No. 200615619

          Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

          ORDER

         Petitioner Shawn Hudak seeks review of a decision by the Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission to deny interlocutory review of a decision of the Workers' Compensation Board. At issue is the Board's exclusion of medical evidence from Hudak's treating physician. The Board determined that when Hudak sought a second opinion from another doctor in his surgeon's practice before undergoing a second shoulder surgery, this constituted a change of physician under AS 23.30.095. Hudak petitioned for review from that decision, and the Commission denied that petition without comment.

         The Worker's Compensation Appeals Commission is a quasi-judicial agency and not a court.[1] "We have long held that 'agency decisions, in exercise of their adjudicative powers, must be accompanied by written findings and a decisional document.' "[2] W e have also consistently suggested that even non-adjudicative decisions of an agency, like the ruling on the interlocutory motion at issue in this case, must be supported by adequate reasoning to permit judicial review, although such non-adjudicative decisions "need not occur in a formal, unified decisional document, as long as the record clearly reflects the reasoning underlying the agency's decisions."[3]

         Here, the petitioner argues that the Juneau Board panel's decision on this issue conflicts with that of the Anchorage and Fairbanks Board panels, and he argues that he will suffer hardship if there is delay in review of the Board's decision. Respondent responds that there is no reason to interrupt the normal adjudication process prior to the Board's issuance of a final, appealable decision and that this issue is not one that might otherwise evade review. Because the Commission did not provide the reasons for its denial of the interlocutory petition, we are unable to review it.

         Although the dissent points out that we would not require an explanation of the decision of an intermediate appellate court, such as the court of appeals or the superior court when it reviews an administrative decision, as noted above, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission is a quasi-judicial agency and not a court. We clarified this point in Alaska Public Interest Research Group v. State.[4] There, AKPIRG challenged the legislature's creation of the Commission as unconstitutional because the Alaska Constitution vests judicial power in the courts. We concluded that "the fact that the Appeals Commission reviews Board decisions and uses standards of review and procedures that closely parallel those of the court does not make the Appeals Commission a court."[5] And we agreed with the State's argument that "the Appeals Commission is simply another quasi-judicial agency, creation of which is within the constitutional power of the legislature."[6] Although, as the dissent notes, findings are not required when an appellate court declines to exercise discretionary review of an interlocutory decision, we have strongly suggested that all agency decisions - even non-adjudicative decisions - must "be supported by an adequate decisional document."[7]Because the Commission is an agency and not a court, it must explain both its final decisions and its non-adjudicative decisions so that we can properly exercise our responsibility of judicial review.

         It Is Therefore Ordered that the petition is granted to the following extent: On or before July 30, 2015, the Commission shall explain in writing its reasons for denying the petition for review to assist this court in its responsibility of reviewing that decision. This court retains jurisdiction of this matter.

         Entered by direction of the court.

          BOLGER, Justice, dissenting.

         Every year we decide dozens of petitions for review of non-appealable orders of the superior court. We deny most of these petitions. But we generally do not provide any explanation for our decision to deny a petition for review. In Contento v. Alaska State Housing Authority, we explained the reasons for this policy:

A denial of a petition for review of an interlocutory order does not mean that we either approve or disapprove of the order sought to be reviewed, but merely that we decline to pass judgment at all on the action of the trial court. Furthermore, denial of review signifies that the petitioner has not convinced us that there is need for early consideration of a non-appealable order, in accordance with the considerations governing ...

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