In Sacred Heart Medical Center v. Knapp (pdf), the Court of Appeals concluded that a remand for further consideration of whether a claimant is in need of vocational services does not constitute a grant of “additional relief” under RCW 51.52.130(1)’s fee-shifting provision.
After injuring her wrist during the course of her employment with Sacred Heart Medical Center, Jean Knapp applied for benefits with the Department of Labor and Industries, which allowed Knapp’s claim and initially determined that Knapp was able to work following treatment and did not need vocational services. Knapp then filed a dispute with L&I’s Director, who concluded that vocational services were needed. Later, an independent physician released Knapp to resume work. L&I then closed Knapp’s Claim.
Subsequently, Knapp appealed from L&I’s closure to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. The Board concluded that vocational services were required, as ordered by L&I’s Director. As a result of this decision, Sacred Heart appealed to the Spokane County Superior Court.
The superior court found that L&I’s director is authorized to reconsider the need for vocational services. Accordingly, the superior court remanded the matter to L&I for consideration of additional information before rendering any decision about vocational services. In its order, the superior court also concluded that each party was responsible for its own fees and costs because neither party prevailed.
Knapp appealed to the Court of Appeals only from the superior court’s denial of fees.
The Court of Appeals, Division III, affirmed the superior court’s fee decision. Below, Knapp sought her fees and costs under Brand v. Department of Labor & Industries, 139 Wn.2d 659, 989 P.2d 1111 (1999), and RCW 51.52.130(1), which provides, in relevant part:
If, on appeal to the superior court or appellate court from the decision and order of the board, said decision and order is reversed or modified and additional relief is granted to a worker or beneficiary, . . . a reasonable fee for the services of the worker’s or beneficiary’s attorney shall be fixed by the court.
The Court of Appeals rejected Knapp’s arguments. First, the Court addressed Knapp’s statutory claim, and concluded that an order remanding the matter for further consideration by the Director did not constitute “additional relief” because the superior court’s ruling required only that the Director review evidence of changed circumstances on remand; it did not mandate particular relief and recognized that final decisional authority rested with the Director. As such, Knapp was not entitled to recover her fees.
Second, the Court rejected Knapp’s argument that Brand required an award of fees. The Court clarified that Brand stands only for the proposition that fees for successful claims need not be segregated from fees for unsuccessful claims. Brand, therefore, does not require an automatic award of fees on remand and is therefore inapposite.