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Alaska Airlines, Inc. v. Darrow

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 25, 2017

ALASKA AIRLINES, INC.; EBERLE VIVIAN, INC.; AIGA, as successor in interest to LUMBERMEN'S INSURANCE COMPANIES; and NORTHERN ADJUSTERS, INC., Appellants and Cross-Appellees,
v.
PAMELA DARROW, ffk/a/ PAMELA CREEKMORE, Appellee and Cross-Appellant, and STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR & WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, DIVISION OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION, Intervenor and Cross-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission No. 14-024

          Richard L. Wagg, Russell Wagg Meshke & Budzinski, Anchorage, for Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

          J. John Franich, Franich Law Office, LLC, Fairbanks, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

          Kimberly D. Rodgers, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and James E. Cantor, Acting Attorney General, Juneau, for Intervenor/Cross-Appellee State of Alaska.

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

          OPINION

          CARNEY, Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         An employee continued to work for over ten years after a job-related knee injury but had multiple surgeries on her injured knee. Over time, her employer made several permanent partial impairment payments, and she was eventually determined to be permanently and totally disabled because of the work injury. She began to receive Social Security disability at about the same time she was classified as permanently and totally disabled for workers' compensation.

         Her employer asked the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board to allow two offsets to its payment of permanent total disability (PTD) compensation: one related to Social Security disability benefits and one related to the earlier permanent partial impairment (PPI) payments. The Board established a Social Security offset and permitted the employer to deduct the amount of previously paid PPI (adjusted for inflation).

         The employee appealed to the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission, arguing that the Board had improperly applied one of its regulations in allowing the PPI offset and had incorrectly calculated the amount of the Social Security offset. She also brought a civil suit against the State challenging the validity of the regulation. The State intervened in the Commission appeal; the lawsuit was dismissed. The Commission reversed the Board's calculation of the Social Security offset and affirmed the Board's order permitting the PPI offset. The employer appealed the Commission's Social Security offset decision to this court, and the employee cross-appealed the PPI offset. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Pamela Darrow worked for Alaska Airlines at the Fairbanks airport in 1996. While working, she suffered a knee injury that required multiple surgeries and ultimately led to her becoming permanently and totally disabled. Darrow held other jobs in the years following the 1996 injury, and Alaska Airlines paid her temporary total disability (TTD) during times she was unable to work because of her injury. Alaska Airlines also made four payments for PPI for a total of $40, 500[1] The last payment was made in 2005.

         In 2012 the Social Security Administration decided Darrow met its standards for disability related to her knee, found her disabled as of December 2010, and determined that her first month of eligibility for benefits was June 2011. In January 2013 Darrow filed a written workers' compensation claim for PTD benefits and an adjustment of her disability compensation rate.[2] She was receiving TTD at the time and was in the reemployment process.[3]

         Alaska Airlines initially obj ected to her reclassification, but later agreed she was permanently and totally disabled. It objected to the compensation rate adjustment and noted it might be entitled to an offset for Darrow's Social Security disability (S SDI) under AS 23.30.225(b).[4] Alaska Airlines later petitioned the Board to allow it two offsets: one for SSDI and another one, pursuant to AS 23.30.180, for the PPI it had paid earlier.[5]

         During Darrow's 2014 deposition Alaska Airlines learned that she had also been working for the State of Alaska at the time of her injury, which affected her compensation rate.[6] The parties later entered into a partial settlement in which they agreed that: (1) Darrow's "average weekly wage" when the injury occurred was $668.98, rather than $270 as the adjuster had initially calculated;[7] (2) she became disabled for purposes of the Alaska Workers' Compensation Act (Act) on October 8, 2012; (3) Alaska Airlines would pay Darrow an additional $15, 000 related to penalties and interest "in satisfaction of all claims prior to March 8, 2012"; and (4) Darrow's attorney would receive "minimum statutory fees on all previously disputed benefits." They listed four unresolved issues in the partial settlement: one related to the Board's exercise of discretion under AS 23.30.220(a)(10) to determine awagerate for calculating Darrow's PTD amount, [8] one regarding the percentage of PTD that could be withheld for any overpayment, and the two raised in this appeal.

         The Board held a hearing in August 2014; because the contested issues were primarily legal, no witnesses testified. Darrow argued that, contrary to Alaska Airlines' assertion, AS 23.30.180 did not permit Alaska Airlines to offset the amount of PPI it had previously paid her because the statute authorized an offset for permanent partial disability rather than permanent partial impairment.[9] Although a Board regulation provided that "[f]or purposes of (b) of this section and AS 23.30.180, permanent partial disability benefits include permanent partial impairment benefits paid under AS 23.30.190, "[10] Darrow contended the regulation was against legislative intent. She asked the Board to adopt the reasoning of Miller v. Municipality of Anchorage, in which the Board based an offset on the worker's adjusted weekly wage, [11] when calculating the S SDI offset. Under Darrow's analysis, Alaska Airlines would not be entitled to an S SDI offset because the offset calculation resulted in a negative number.

         Alaska Airlines argued first that it was entitled to an SSDI offset based on Darrow's actual wages in 1996 rather than the amount it had agreed to as an adjusted wage under AS 23.30.220(a)(10). It contended that the statement in Underwater Construction, Inc. v. Shirley that the phrase average weekly wages in AS 23.30.225(b) was "the same as 'gross weekly earnings' in AS 23.30.220(a)(1)"[12] meant that only AS 23.30.220(a)(1) could be used to establish gross weekly earnings. Alaska Airlines maintained that the purpose of AS 23.30.225 was to save the employer money and that the way to effectuate this purpose was to calculate the offset using Darrow's actual 1996 wage, even though Darrow would get less money in combined SSDI and PTD than she would get in PTD alone under this proposal.[13]

         Alaska Airlines acknowledged that AS 23.30.180 provided for an offset for permanent partial disability (PPD) rather than PPL But it argued that in enacting AS 23.30.180, the legislature intended "to avoid double payment for injuries" that cause first a permanent impairment and later a permanent total disability. Alaska Airlines pointed out that AS 23.30.190(a), the statute authorizing PPI, directs payment of PPI only when the partial impairment does not "result[] in permanent and total disability." It argued that if an employee was paid PPI and later became permanently and totally disabled, the employer should get a credit for the previously paid PPI as an advance payment of PTD. Alaska Airlines cited several Board decisions that allowed an offset for PPI when a claimant received PTD, and maintained that the Board's regulation "equat[ing] permanent and partial disability with permanent and partial impairment" required the Board to consider the terms synonymous.

         In its decision the Board adopted the approach used in Miller, but its application of Miller did not give Darrow the outcome she wanted.[14] Instead, the Board's result when it calculated the SSDI offset was the same as Alaska Airlines' proposal. When it turned to the PPI offset, the Board referred to the legislative history of the 1988 amendments to the Act that replaced permanent partial disability with permanent partial impairment. It also quoted from Larson's Workers' Compensation Law to explain the differences between impairment and disability in compensation.[15]The Board concluded that the legislature intended to change the partial impairment benefit under the Act to "a physical impairment benefit" rather than a disability benefit; it therefore concluded that payment of both PPI and PTD would not result in Darrow receiving duplicate compensation for the same loss. The Board did not think Alaska Airlines should be entitled to an offset for PPI according to statute, but it allowed the offset because it considered itself bound by its own regulation stating that "[f]or purposes of... AS 23.30.180, permanent partial disability benefits includes permanent partial impairment benefits paid under AS 23.30.190."[16] The Board adjusted the PPI amounts for inflation, denied Alaska Airlines' request to withhold more than 20% of benefits to recoup the overpayment, and denied both interest and further attorney's fees to Darrow.

         Darrow appealed to the Commission, challenging the Board's decision regarding both offsets. She also filed suit in the superior court challenging the Board's regulation, evidently contending that it was not consistent with the statute.[17] The director of the Division of Workers' Compensation intervened in the Commission appeal for purposes of addressing the regulatory issue. The lawsuit was stayed and, according to the State, later dismissed.

         The Commission reversed the Board's calculation of the SSDI offset and, using a different legal analysis, decided the PPI payments could be recouped under a different part of the Act. The Commission calculated the same amount as Darrow for the SSDI offset, even though its analysis was somewhat different from hers.[18] Under the Commission's analysis, the average weekly wage the parties agreed to under AS 23.30.220(a)(10) was the average weekly wage to be used in calculating the offset. It noted Alaska Airlines' argument that the statutory language of AS 23.30.225(b) said "average weekly wages at the time of injury." But it interpreted the legislature's 1995 amendment of AS 23.30.220(a)[19] to include wages calculated under any subsection of AS 23.30.220(a), including subsection .220(a)(10), within the definition of average weekly wages under AS 23.30.225(a). The Commission thought that to interpret the statute otherwise would lead to an unfair result: Darrow would receive less in combined SSDI and PTD than she would in PTD alone. The Commission observed that the statutory language permitted an offset, but that Alaska Airlines' argument would result in a reduction of total benefits.

         Next the Commission decided that Darrow's PPI did not now meet the terms of AS 23.30.190(a) - "impairment partial in character but permanent in quality, and not resulting in permanent total disability"-and thus the earlier PPI payments were effectively an advance payment of PTD. It allowed Alaska Airlines to offset the PPI amountunder AS 23.30.155(j), [20] and ordered that "Alaska Airlines is entitled to withhold 20% of [Darrow's] permanent total disability payments, without regard to AS 23.30.180 and without regard to 8 AAC [45]. 134." It did not address whether the amount of PPI to be withheld should be adjusted for inflation, [21] and it decided it lacked jurisdiction to determine whether 8 AAC 45.134 (c) was valid.

         Alaska Airlines appeals, and Darrow cross-appeals.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In an appeal from the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission we review the Commission's decision rather than the Board's.[22] We apply our independent judgment to questions of "statutory interpretation requiring the application and analysis of various canons of statutory construction."[23] "We exercise our independent judgment in determining the validity of an administrative regulation[24]"Regulations are presumptively valid and will be upheld as long as they are 'consistent with and reasonably necessary to implement the statutes authorizing [their] adoption.' "[25]

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. The Commission Correctly Calculated The Social Security Disability Offset.

         The main question presented by the lead appeal is the proper method of calculating an offset for Social Security disability (SSDI) payments when the amount of permanent total disability (PTD) paid is based on income calculated under AS 23.30.220(a)(10). This question requires consideration of two statutes, AS 23.30.220 and AS 23.30.225. We construe statutes according to reason, practicality, and common sense, considering the meaning of the statute's language, its legislative history, and its purpose.[26] We do not strictly apply the plain meaning rule but construe statutes using a sliding scale approach, under which "the plainer the language of the statute, the more convincing contrary legislative history must be."[27]

         Alaska Airlines sought an offset under AS 23.30.225(b), which provides that when an employee gets SSDI

for an injury for which a claim has been filed under this chapter, weekly disability benefits payable under this chapter shall be offset by an amount by which the sum of (1) weekly benefits to which the employee is entitled under 42 U.S.C. 401 - 433, and (2) weekly disability benefits to which the employee would otherwise be entitled under this chapter, exceeds 80 percent of the employee's average weekly wages at the time of injury.

         Calculation of an offset thus depends on the following amounts: weekly SSDI, weekly workers' compensation benefits, and "the employee's average weekly wages at the time of injury." The parties' main dispute centered on the meaning of the phrase average weekly wages at the time of injury. Alaska Airlines argued that this phrase required using $668.98 as Darrow's average weekly wage because that represented her wages in 1996, the time of her injury. Darrow, in contrast, contended that $1, 390, the adjusted weekly wage to which the parties had agreed under AS 23.3 0.220(a)(10), was the correct amount. Darrow based her argument in part on our interpretation of AS 23.30.225 and .220 in Underwater Construction, Inc. v. Shirley[28]

         The Commission considered Shirley and the 1995 amendments to AS 23.30.220. It concluded that the average weekly wage at the time of injury could be calculated under any subsection of AS 23.30.220, including subsection .220(a)(10). We agree with the Commission.

         In Shirley the employee asked us to interpret the phrase average weekly wages in AS 23.30.225(b) inpari materia[29] with the phrase average current earnings in the Social Security Act.[30] We declined to do so.[31] After deciding that average weekly wages in AS 23.30.225(b) was ambiguous, we considered the language of the Act in 1977, when AS 23.30.255(b) was added.[32] We observed that at that time average weekly wages was also the term used in AS 23.30.220, making the phrase "the basis for computing compensation."[33] We noted that even though the legislature had changed the language of AS 23.30.220 in 1983, the method used to calculate a weekly wage rate in the 1977 and 1983 versions of the statute remained "very similar."[34] From this we concluded that average weekly wages in AS 23.30.225(b) was "the same as 'gross weekly earnings' in AS 23.30.220(a)(1), " the subsection used to calculate the employee's compensation in that case.[35]

         Alaska Airlines asserts that AS 23.30.225(b)'s use of the phrase at the time of injury only permits the use of Darrow's income from 1996, the year of her injury. This argument ignores the use of the same phrase in AS 23.30.220, which currently provides that compensation is calculated "on the basis of an employee's spendable weekly wage at the time of injury.[36] (Emphasis added.) In spite of this language, AS 23.30.220(a)(10) allows the Board to set a different wage rate for certain workers who are permanently and totally disabled.

         Historically AS 23.30.220 has permitted the Board some discretion in setting the wage used as a base for compensation calculation. When AS 23.30.225(b) was added to the Act in 1977, for example, former AS 23.30.220 permitted the Board to set a worker's average weekly wages at the time of injury by considering wages for similar jobs if the Board did not think wages could be "fairly calculated" under other subsections.[37] And the same legislation that adopted the SSDI offset included a provision that "the average weekly wage is that most favorable to the employee, " considering the wages an employee had earned in the previous three years.[38] These variations in permissible calculations of a worker's "average weekly wage... at the time of the injury"[39] suggest that the legislature understood and intended that at times the wage used to calculate compensation would not be precisely the same wage that a worker was in fact earning at the time of the injury.

         The legislature amended AS 23.30.220 in 1995, adding subsection .220(a)(10), the provision the parties used to calculate Darrow's weekly earnings for purposes of computing her PTD amount.[40] The legislature is presumed to know that Shirley construed the term average weekly wages in .225(b) as meaning the same thing as gross weekly earnings in .220(a).[41] This presumption supports the Commission's conclusion that when the legislature amended the statute in 1995, "it in effect wrote ... the phrase 'as determined under AS 23.30.220(a)(1)-(10)' into [AS 23.30.225(b)]."

         Alaska Airlines argues that our statement in Shirley that "[t]he general purpose of the bill under which AS 23.30.225(b) was enacted was to make benefits more affordable to employers in Alaska"[42] supports its construction of the statute. It further contends that Darrow's case is analogous to Louie v. BP Exploration (Alaska), Inc., where we recognized that the legislature chose in 1988 to lower compensation for some workers, even if it caused those workers hardship.[43] But the legislative history of AS 23.30.225(b) shows that it supports the Commission's construction of the statute, not Alaska Airlines'.

         Alaska Statute 23.30.225(b) was enacted in 1977 as part of Senate Bill (S.B.) 131, but subsection .225(b) was first introduced as a separate bill in the House.[44]Initially S.B. 131 only dealt with offsets for Social Security retirement and survivors benefits;[45] but the House Labor and Management Committee amended it to include the House bill[46] because both bills related to Social Security offsets.[47]

         When S.B. 131 was initially introduced, the governor identified one of its general purposes as "making benefits more affordable" to employers, [48] a purpose we noted in Shirley.[49] While the House Labor and Management Committee anticipated that its bill would decrease workers' compensation insurance premiums and thereby save employers money, those savings were to come from shifting costs to the federal government. The House measure was meant to take advantage of a then-existing "loophole" in federal law that permitted states to offset workers' compensation payments with SSDI when an injured worker recieved both forms of compensation, thereby shifting part of the cost of supporting a disabled worker to the federal government.[50] One witness told the committee that in "no case" would the proposed offset result in any decrease in payments to workers.[51] This witness presented a report that had been prepared for the Municipality of Anchorage showing hypothetical examples in which an employer would generally pay less in workers' compensation under the proposal.[52] This legislative history is a stark contrast to the history we discussed in Louie, which showed the legislature expressly chose to lower benefits for some workers at the same time it increased benefits for others.[53] Nothing in the legislative history of either the Senate or House proposals shows any intent to reduce benefits paid to injured workers; to the contrary, one argument in favor of the legislation was that it would give workers the benefit of the Social Security taxes they had paid.[54]

         We have recognized that workers' compensation must balance two competing concerns. Wages must be calculated "to arrive at a fair approximation of [a] claimant's probable future earning capacity"[55] while at the same time, benefits must not be too generous for fear that an injured worker will not have an incentive to return to work.[56] The 1977 hearing testimony suggests that the offset legislation was meant to balance these goals: replacing enough income with enough money that an injured worker's standard of living would not be dramatically reduced but keeping benefits low enough to provide an incentive to return to work.[57] The federal Social Security offset provision had a similar purpose - ensuring that workers have an incentive to return to work and preventing the "erosion of state workers' compensation programs."[58] But if an injured worker returns to work for a long time before becoming completely disabled, using an earlier wage to set benefits can result in hardship.[59] Permitting an alternative method to calculate gross weekly earnings under AS 23.30.220(a)(10) ameliorates this hardship. Construing the Act as Alaska Airlines requests would effectively block AS 23.30.220(a)(10)'s calculation of an alternative wage.

         Alaska Airlines also argues that we should consider AS 23.30.225(b) a more specific provision than AS 23.30.220 and urges us to apply the principle that the more specific statutory provision should control over the general one when the provisions cannot be harmonized.[60] It does not explain why the provisions cannot be harmonized or why AS 23.30.225(b) is more specific. The Commission thought the two provisions could be harmonized by interpreting average weekly wages at the time of injury in AS 23.30.225(b) as including gross weekly earnings calculated under any subsection of AS 23.30.220(a).

         We agree with the Commission that the statutes can be harmonized; therefore the rule that specific provisions govern more general ones does not apply.[61]When the offset provision was adopted, the average weekly wage under AS 23.30.220 did not have to correspond to the exact wage the worker was earning at the time of injury, yet the legislature used the same phrase in AS 23.30.225(b) that it used in AS 23.30.220.[62] This supports the Commission's conclusion that the two provisions can be harmonized. Additionally, in Shirley, we interpreted the phrase average weekly wages in AS 23.30.225(b) as "referrringl to the measure of historical earning capacity used to calculate compensation" - that is, gross weekly earnings as determined by AS 23.30.220.[63]

         Here Alaska Airlines' construction of the statute results in Darrow getting less per week in combined workers' compensation benefits and S SDI-$535.18-than she would get in workers' compensation alone - $668.98 -based upon the stipulated amount of $ 1, 3 90 as her weekly wage. While the Commission's interpretation does not give Alaska Airlines an offset as long as Darrow gets SSDI, the amount Darrow receives under the Commission's analysis is still substantially less than the adjusted weekly wage the parties stipulated to. The Commission's construction of the Act is consistent with both the purpose of keeping an employee's benefits below wages and providing adequate compensation. We hold that the Commission correctly construed and applied AS 23.30.220(a) and AS 23.30.225(b).

         B. The Commission Erred In Allowing An Offset For PPL

         Darrow's cross-appeal also presents an issue of statutory construction and requires us to examine the legislature's use of the terms disability and impairment in the context of workers' compensation. Alaska Statute 23.30.180(a) provides in part, "If a permanent partial disability award has been made before a permanent total disability determination, permanent total disability benefits must be reduced by the amount of the permanent partial disability award, adjusted for inflation, in a manner determined by the board." The statutory definition of disability is found in AS 23.30.395(16): " 'disability' means incapacity because of injury to earn the wages which the employee was receiving at the time of injury in the same or any other employment."

         Alaska Statute 23.30.190(a) sets out a formula for paying compensation "[i]n case of impairment partial in character but permanent in quality, and not resulting in permanent total disability." To determine "the existence and degree of permanent impairment, " AS 23.30.190(b) requires the use of a specific medical reference, th& AMA Guides. Nothing in AS 23.30.190 links compensation for a permanent impairment to an inability to earn wages.

         Before 1988, AS 23.30.190 authorized payment of permanent partial disability compensation, with payments based on the type of permanent injury and the worker's wage-earning capacity.[64] In 1988 the legislature repealed and reenacted AS 23.30.190, replacing permanent partial disability with permanent partial impairment benefits.[65] At the same time, the legislature amended AS 23.30.180(a) to include the provision mandating reduction of PTD by the amount of previously paid permanent partial disability.[66] The legislature also made both of these provisions applicable only to injuries that happened on or after July 1, 1988.[67]

         Relying principally on AS 23.30.180(a) and the regulation it had promulgated to implement it, 8 AAC 45.134, [68] the Board permitted Alaska Airlines to recover the $40, 500 it had previously paid Darrow in PPI, plus an additional $ 11, 33 8 to adjust the prior awards for inflation. The Commission, in contrast, interpreted AS 23.30.190(a) and AS 23.30.155(j) and decided that Alaska Airlines could recover the PPI as an overpayment of PTD "without regard to AS 23.30.180 and without regard to 8 AAC [45].134." It did not mention the additional $11, 338.

         Darrow argues that the Commission misinterpreted the Act by allowing Alaska Airlines to offset the PPI it had previously paid her against her PTD award. Her argument is based on statutory language: AS 23.30.180(a) requires an offset when "a permanent partial disability award has been made before a permanent total disability determination" (emphasis added) - not a permanent partial impairment award - yet permanent partial disability as a benefit was removed from the Act in 1988.[69] Darrow contends that disability and impairment are distinct concepts. She points out that a person may be disabled from working without having a permanent impairment, [70] and conversely, a person who has a permanent impairment may not be disabled from working, as illustrated by Darrow herself. Darrow maintains that the Board correctly recognized that PPI was intended to compensate for a separate loss related to a physical harm, rather than wage loss from an injury, which would be a disability benefit.

         Darrow points to a different statutory subsection, AS 23.30.041(k), which concerns an employee's eligibility for reemployment benefits, to show that the legislature understood that PPD and PPI are in fact different. In that subsection the legislature explicitly differentiated between PPD and PPL[71] She concludes that AS 23.30.180 does not authorize an offset against her PTD for PPL Darrow argues that the Commission's construction of AS 23.30.190 could permit an employer a double recovery of PPI when AS 23.30.041(k) had been used to suspend benefits. Both Darrow and Alaska Airlines currently take the position thai permanent partial disability in AS 23.30.180(a) refers to the permanent partial benefit that existed before the 1988 statutory amendments.

         Alaska Airlines asks us to affirm the Commission's interpretation of the Act allowing it to recoup PPI under AS 23.30.190(a) and. 155(j). Alaska Airlines argues that the 1988 addition of the offset provision to subsection .180(a) "only . . . related to injuries occurring prior to the statutory changes . . . which changed permanent partial disability benefits to permanent partial impairment benefits." Therefore, it continues, after the 1988 amendments to the Act, "neither the credit provision of § .180 nor the board's regulation in 8 AAC 45.134(c) is required to address recovery of PPI paid when an employee is rendered permanently and totally disabled." It does not mention the Board's adjustment of the PPI amount for inflation or the Commission's failure to address it.

         The State supports the Commission's interpretation of the statute, arguing that Darrow "is not entitled to PPI benefits for her knee injury because her impairment resulted in permanent total disability." The State relies on the plain meaning of AS 23.30.190(a) - which refers to PPI as not resulting in permanent total disability - and the common meaning of overpayment, but also maintains that the Board's regulation is consistent with both AS 23.30.180 and .190 and "harmonizes the two statutes." It contends that the concepts of disability and impairment are distinct but related, as shown by language in AS 23.30.180(a) that classifies a worker who suffers certain impairments as presumptively permanently and totally disabled. It argues that not requiring an offset would overcompensate Darrow. At oral argument before us the State postulated that, because both statutes took effect on the same date, the statutory language in AS 23.30.180(a) was a drafting error and that the legislature meant to use impairment rather than disability in the statutory language.

         As noted, the Commission's decision relied solely on AS 23.30.190(a) and AS 23.30.155(j) to permit Alaska Airlines' recovery of previously paid PPI and failed to explore the meaning of AS 23.30.180(a) and its interaction with AS 23.30.190(a). The Commission effectively wrote out of the statute AS 23.30.180(a)'s provision for recovery of previously paid PPD by saying that 'Alaska Airlines is entitled to withhold 20% of [Darrow's] permanent total disability payments, without regard to AS 23.3 0.180 and without regard to 8 AAC [45]. 134."

         Alaska Airlines asks us to ignore AS 23.30.180(a), the Board's regulation, and the Board's decision applying that statute and regulation, narrowing its focus to the statutory subsections relied on by the Commission. Although we review the Commission's decision, not the Board's, [72] when construing a statute, "we must, whenever possible, interpret each part or section of a statute with every other part or section, so as to create a harmonious whole."[73] "When a statute or regulation is part of a larger framework or regulatory scheme, even a seemingly unambiguous statute must be interpreted in light of the other portions of the regulatory whole."[74] We decline to ignore the relevant statutory context and consider AS 23.30.190(a) and .155(j) in isolation to decide whether Alaska Airlines was entitled to an offset for PPI it had previously paid Darrow, because that analysis ignores other parts of the statute as well as the Board's regulation.

         1. Statutory language and prior ...


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