Friday, February 17, 2012

NJ Case Unique in Judge Admonishment

It's not often that one sees a workers' compensation judge taken to task by higher authorities, so this New Jersey case reported in this morning's edition of WorkCompCentral really stands out.

The injured worker (IW) had sought penalties and attorney fees after successfully proving that her employer failed to make timely temporary disability benefits in accordance with a workers' compensation award. In 2010, the appellate court ruled that an attorney fee award was mandatory, and that the judge of compensation was not limited to the statutory formula governing fee awards, implying that the injured worker's attorney would likely be entitled to a larger-than-usual fee.

The judge of compensation then issued an order that adhered to the statutory formula for workers' compensation awards, resulting in an attorney fee award of $247.05. The judge of compensation wrote that the appellate court had not addressed how he might award a different attorney fee, and that an enhanced fee was not justified.

On a second appeal the appellate court commented that perhaps the judge of compensation misinterpreted the opinion, and did not follow directions. The appeals court remanded the case back to the judge a second time, with instructions to consider the hours expended, the average hourly rate, the success achieved, and the risk of nonpayment.

On remand the judge awarded $217.05 in additional attorney fees. This resulted in a total attorney fee award of $464.10. This was again appealed.

This time the appellate court was not so kind.

"The latest order entered by the judge of compensation ignores the clear mandate of our initial published opinion and our Nov. 5, 2010 summary disposition order," the court wrote. "In the latter order, we observed that the judge of compensation misinterpreted our original opinion. We will assume the judge of compensation also misinterpreted our Nov. 5, 2010, summary disposition order because the alternative interpretation of the judge's actions -- willful defiance of our mandate -- is completely unacceptable behavior."

The appellate court invoked its original jurisdiction, and ordered the attorney fee award.

The appellate court examined the hours expended, the customary hourly rate, the result achieved, and the risk of nonpayment. After examining the record, the appellate court made an award for 14.17 attorney hours at the rate of $250 an hour, and 2.5 paralegal hours at the rate of $100 an hour. This resulted in a total award of $3,792.

This interesting little examination in judicial administration can be found in the case of Qureshi v. Cintas Corp., No. A-2703-10T2, 2/15/12.workers compensation, work comp, injured worker

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