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Ex parte Trusswalk, Inc.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

March 29, 2019

Ex parte Trusswalk, Inc.
v.
Trusswalk, Inc. In re: Chesley Shawn Price

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS MARSHALL CIRCUIT COURT, CV-17-900072

          MOORE, Judge.

         Trusswalk, Inc. ("the employer"), petitions this court for a writ of mandamus directing the Marshall Circuit Court to vacate its order requiring the employer to refer Chesley Shawn Price ("the employee") to a pain-management specialist for medical treatment. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

         Background

         On February 16, 2018, the employee commenced in the circuit court a civil action against the employer; the employee alleged that he had suffered a lower-back injury in a work-related accident on November 7, 2016, and he sought benefits for that injury under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act"), Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-1 et seq. On September 18, 2018, the employee filed a "motion to compel medical treatment" in which he asserted, among other things, that he was suffering from "chronic debilitating pain" in his lower back as a result of the work-related injury, that his authorized treating physician was not treating that pain, and that he had requested and been denied a referral to "pain management." The employee moved the circuit court to order the employer to provide "appropriate medical treatment" for his condition. The employer responded that the motion should be denied because, it asserted, the employee's authorized treating physician who was responsible for directing the course of the employee's medical treatment had not referred the employee for pain management.[1]

         The circuit court held a hearing on the motion at which it received medical records and heard oral arguments of counsel.[2] On December 6, 2018, the circuit court entered an order in which it found that the employee was in "chronic moderate severe to severe pain" "due to and on account of his medical condition from the work-related accident and injury" of November 7, 2016, and that the employee "is not receiving necessary treatment for his chronic pain." The circuit court ordered the employer to "immediately refer [the employee] to a [p]ain [m]anagement [s]pecialist for treatment of his chronic pain condition ...." The employer filed its petition for a writ of mandamus in this court on December 27, 2018. This court heard oral argument on the petition on February 20, 2019.

         Issue

         In its petition, the employer framed the issue for review as follows: "Whether the [circuit court] abused its discretion by directing [the employer] to provide medical treatment which has never been recommended by an authorized physician." In its brief to this court and at oral argument, the employer argued that the real issue concerned the authority of the circuit court to direct a referral for pain-management treatment despite the absence of any medical opinion that such treatment is reasonably necessary. In his brief to this court and at oral argument, the employee engaged on this issue, so we consider the petition in this context.

         Standard of Review

         Although the Act provides that a judgment entered by a circuit court as to any controversy over medical benefits shall be subject to appeal, see Ala. Code 1975, §§ 25-5-81(a)(1) and 25-5-88, a majority of this court has held that an order resolving a claim for medical benefits, but not awarding any compensation or otherwise resolving the entire workers' compensation claim, is an interlocutory order reviewable only by a petition for a writ of mandamus. See Ex parte Cowanbunga, Inc., 67 So.3d 136 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011).

"Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy. An appellate court will grant a petition for a writ of mandamus only when '(1) the petitioner has a clear legal right to the relief sought; (2) the respondent has an imperative duty to perform and has refused to do so; (3) the petitioner has no other adequate remedy; and (4) this Court's jurisdiction is properly invoked.' Ex parte Flint Constr. Co., 775 So.2d 805, 808 (Ala. 2000) (citing Ex parte Mercury Fin. Corp., 715 So.2d 196, 198 (Ala. 1997))."

Ex parte Amerigas, 855 So.2d 544, 546 (Ala. Civ. App. 2003).

         Discussion

         Section 25-5-77(a), Ala. Code 1975, a part of the Act, provides, in pertinent part, that an employer "shall pay [for] ... reasonably necessary medical ... treatment and attention, ... as may be obtained by the ...


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