Stipulation Binding When Signed

JUNE 2013

By Shuaib Ahmed, Founder of ASA Law Group, written while of Nyhan, Bambrick, Kinzie & Lowry, PC // From Volume 50, No 3 of the newsletter of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Section on Workers’ Compensation Law

In Ingrassia Interior Elements v. IWCC, the Appellate Court held that when a transcript is not filed within the time period specified by section 19(b) of the Act, the Commission is not deprived of its jurisdiction to review the Arbitrator’s Decision.

 

We’ve all been there…finishing up with a long trial with grueling testimonies and presentation of exhibits when the Arbitrator asks whether the parties agree to the standard stenographic stipulation. You quickly agree, without thinking twice, similar to being asked whether you would like to king size your fast food order…always a “YES!” Now, you may want to think twice.

 

In Ingrassia Interior Elements v. IWCC, 2012 WL 6100019 (Ill.App. 2 Dist.), the claimant and Respondent both signed a “Request for Hearing” form on April 11, 2008. The form contained the following stipulation: “Both parties agree that if either party files a Petition for Review of the Arbitration Decision and orders a transcript of the hearings, and if the Commission’s court reporter does not furnish the transcript within the time limit set by law, the other party will not claim the Commission lacks jurisdiction to review the arbitration decision because the transcript was not filed.” A hearing then commenced on June 13, 2008. At the beginning of the hearing, the respondent placed a line through the standard stenographic stipulation as stated above and asked that the Commission follow the mandates under section 19(b) of the Act. The form was then filed with the Arbitrator.

 

The Arbitrator denied all benefits sought by the petitioner and the petitioner responded by filing a timely Petition for Review of the Arbitrator’s Decision. While the petitioner properly ordered the trial transcript, the court reporter failed to provide the trial transcript within the time limit; therefore, the trial transcript was not filed with the Commission in compliance with section 19(b) of the Act. The respondent moved to strike petitioner’s Petition for Review based upon the failure to comply with Section 19(b) of the Act and, as a consequence, stripping the Commission subject matter jurisdiction. The Commission disagreed and found that respondent was bound to the stenographic stipulation to which it agreed on April 11, 2008. The Commission further found that petitioner was diligent in attempting to file the trial transcript. Upon judicial review, the trial court disagreed with the Commission and interpreted 7030.40 of the Rules Governing Practice before the Commission to mean that a “Request for Hearing” is binding on the parties when it is filed with the Arbitrator and not when it is signed by the parties.

 

The Appellate Court found that the fact that a transcript was not filed within the time parameters stated in Section 19(b) of the Act does not deprive the Commission of jurisdiction to review the Arbitrator’s Decision. The Appellate Court referenced the Illinois Supreme Court case of Pocahontas Mining Co. v IWCC wherein the Court stated that the Commission has the statutory right to hear and determine the class of case involving review of Arbitration Decisions. The Appellate Court then reviewed 7030.40 of the Rules Governing Practice before the Commission and noted that the rule does not specify when a “Request for Hearing” form, including the stenographic stipulation, becomes binding. The Court in citing Walker v. IWCC, 345 Ill.App.3d 1084 (2004), found that the stenographic stipulation becomes binding when the parties sign the “Request for Hearing” form. The Court also noted that this position is also consistent with contract law. Specifically, the signature of both parties is a manifestation of mutual assent, or the “meeting of the minds” to the terms contained on the “Request for Hearing” form. Further, the signatures represent acceptance of the terms contained in the stipulation. To that end, the order of the Circuit Court was reversed and the Commission decision was reinstated.

 

What does that mean to the practitioner? The Ingrassia decision creates several challenges. For instance, what if a “Request for Hearing” form is signed but a hearing does not proceed and, based upon further investigation of the claim, an issue that was previously stipulated as not in dispute now becomes a disputed issue? This is very common in workers’ compensation cases as facts are constantly changing and developing; therefore, our litigation strategy is also constantly being modified based upon the same. This differentiates a workers’ compensation case from other areas of law, such as personal injury law, wherein the facts are mostly developed on or around the date of the accident.

 

 Another challenge is when setting a matter for hearing by filing a Request for Hearing. Section 7030.20(C)(3) of the Rules governing practice before the Commission states that a matter may be set for trial, “If the Arbitrator determines that proper and timely fifteen (15) days notice was given of the motion for trial date to the opposing party, opposing party was provided with a completed Request for Hearing {emphasis added}…” The question then becomes, what constitutes a “completed’ Request for Hearing form? The Commission, in Nevernest Extermination, 19 IWCLB 118 (Ill W.C. Comm. 2011), stated that when a Request for Hearing form contains the correct captions but fails to set forth the moving party’s claim on each issue, this does not constitute a completed form. Therefore, when reading the plain language of the rule coupled with Commission decisions, it is clear that the moving party must set forth each claim on the Request for Hearing form to be considered a “completed’ form. However, does that also mean that the moving party must sign the Request for Hearing form when filing the same to request a trial date? In other words, is an unsigned Request for Hearing form considered a completed form if it sets forth each claim on the said form? Section 7030.40 of the Rules Governing Practice before the Commission states: “Before a case proceeds to trial on arbitration, the parties (or their counsel) shall complete and sign {emphasis added} a form provided by the Industrial Commission called Request for Hearing. However, in the event a party (or his counsel) shall fail or refuse to complete and sign the document, the Arbitrator, in his discretion, may allow the case to be heard and may impose upon such party whatever sanctions permitted by law the circumstances may warrant. The completed Request for Hearing form, signed by the parties (or their counsel), shall be filed with the Arbitrator as the stipulation of the parties and a settlement of the questions in dispute in the case.

 

Simply put, be careful when signing a Request for Hearing form. Specifically, when the parties sign the Request for Hearing form, the parties have mutually assented to the terms, including the stenograph stipulation. That said, it is good practice to complete a different Request for Hearing form if the trial does not proceed. It is unclear why, in the case of Ingrassia Interior Elements, the parties did not complete a separate Request for Hearing form when the original form was complete on April 11, 2008; however, the matter did not proceed to hearing until June 13, 2008. Regardless, the next time the Arbitrator asks whether the parties agree to the standard stipulation, you have good reason to think twice.

 

 

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