Barkan Meizlish , May 13, 2015
Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court held that a commissioner of the Industrial Commission of Ohio is not required to attend a hearing in order to vote on a matter being heard. In State ex rel. Every v. Indus. Comm., Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-120 (2015), an injured workers surviving spouse filed for death benefits under R.C. 4123.59. The claim for death benefits was allowed, but because the motion for death benefits was not filed within one year of the date of death, a staff hearing officer denied the motion.
The surviving spouse appealed through the administrative process until the commission was asked to reconsider the decision to deny benefits. At this hearing only two of the three commissioners were present, and by a vote of two-to-one, denied the surviving spouses’ request to exercised continuing jurisdiction over the case. The missing Commissioner stated that she discussed the case at length with a Staff Hearing Officer who was present at the hearing, and also reviewed the evidence within the claim file.
The surviving spouse filed a complaint in mandamus in the Court of Appeals, also stating that she was denied due process of law when the Commissioner voted on the motion for reconsideration despite not attending the hearing. The Court of Appeals issued a limited writ of mandamus compelling the commission to conduct a new hearing before all commission members. However, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed this decision, as it stated in State ex rel. Sigler v. Lubrizol Corp., 136 Ohio St.3d 298, 2013-Ohio-3686, 995 N.E.2d 2014, “the due process requirement of a full and fair hearing means that the decision maker must, in some meaningful manner, consider and appraise all the evidence to justify the decision.”
Thus, because the missing commissioner reviewed the evidence on file and discussed the proceedings and testimony of the hearing with a Staff Hearing Officer who was present, the commissioner was said to have considered all evidence in a meaningful manner. As such, it is appropriate for a commission hearing to only have two of the three commissioners present, so long as the missing commissioner completes a meaningful review of the evidence.
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