An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure.
NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS
Filed: 6 September 2005
THOMAS WAYNE HUNT, Employee,
N.C. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, I.C. No. 959439
(KEY RISK MANAGEMENT SERVICES,
Appeal by plaintiff from an opinion and award filed 29 July
2004 by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. Heard in the
Court of Appeals 8 June 2005.
Marshall, Williams & Gorham, by Ronald H. Woodruff; and
Charles M. Tighe for plaintiff appellant.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Special Deputy Attorney
General Sharon Patrick-Wilson, for the N.C. Department of
Correction, defendant appellant.
Plaintiff Thomas W. Hunt appeals from an opinion and award of
the North Carolina Industrial Commission denying his worker's
compensation claim. We affirm.
From approximately 1987 until 1999, Hunt was continuously
employed as a correctional officer with custodial duties by the
North Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC). On 24 August 1999,
Hunt filed a Workers' Compensation claim seeking compensation forpost-traumatic stress syndrome with obsessive-compulsive disorder,
which was alleged to be an occupational disease causally related to
At a hearing on Hunt's claim, the evidence tended to show the
following: In 1989, another DOC employee repeatedly pointed a
revolver at Hunt's head and threatened to kill him. When Hunt
reported the incident, the employee was transferred. Hunt did not
seek immediate medical attention in relation to these assaults and
continued to perform his job without any ostensible difficulties.
In 1994, Hunt accepted a transfer to Lumberton Correctional
Center. At that time, Patricia Chavis was the Superintendent at
the Lumberton Facility; Michael Hardin was the Assistant
Superintendent; and Captain William Britt was next in the line of
supervision. Hunt and Assistant Superintendent Hardin never got
along very well. Captain Britt was in charge of making duty
assignments to correctional officers at Lumberton. Hunt contended
that he was assigned to work in the segregation unit and in the
dormitories more frequently than other officers, which is more
stressful than other work assignments in the prison. Assistant
Superintendent Hardin apparently instructed Captain Britt to assign
Hunt to the segregation unit on several occasions, and Hunt
apparently worked there more frequently than other officers.
However, plaintiff also received assignments to work in other parts
of the prison, including the front yard, the perimeter, and the
gatehouse. In 1995 or 1996, rumors circulated that Hunt was
supplying drugs to inmates at Lumberton. Hunt complained aboutthese allegations to Superintendent Chavis, who told him that the
Lumberton supervisors needed to investigate if they heard such
rumors, but that he had not been formally accused or investigated.
Assistant Superintendent Hardin suspected that Hunt might have been
selling drugs to inmates, and he pursued the matter. However, Hunt
was never formally investigated, and nothing was placed on his
record regarding such allegations.
Evidence at the hearing also tended to show that, during the
period of his employment with DOC, Hunt experienced a number of
problems in his personal life. Hunt's wife had a miscarriage,
followed by a difficult pregnancy resulting in the birth of a
child, and by the summer of 1990, Hunt and his wife were having
marital problems. They separated in August 1990, and on 22 August
1990, Hunt was sent home from work because he was distraught about
the problems with his wife. During the same time period, Hunt's
wife had tried to run him over with a vehicle, and he awakened one
evening to find her standing over him with a knife in her hands.
Hunt's wife also procured a warrant for his arrest for assault on
a female. Later in 1990, Hunt and his wife reconciled; however,
their marital problems continued, and he sometimes had to leave
work after receiving a call from his wife. Hunt also experienced
financial problems between 1994 and 1996. He took an extended
family medical leave due to an illness suffered by his wife in
1997, and he missed work in 1998 due to the death of his niece.
On 23 June 1999, Hunt sought treatment from board-certified
psychiatrist Dr. Robert Weinstein. Hunt discussed his work-relatedproblems, but failed to apprise Dr. Weinstein of his marital or
financial problems, his wife's illness, or the death of his niece.
Dr. Weinstein diagnosed Hunt as having post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), and testified that Hunt had regressed to an
infantile and non-functional state. Dr. Weinstein opined that
Hunt was at an increased risk of developing PTSD because of his
stressful employment with DOC and that there was a direct
relationship between the PTSD and Hunt's employment.
A Deputy Commissioner with the Industrial Commission denied
Hunt's claim. On an appeal by Hunt, the Full Commission (the
Commission) entered an opinion and award in which it found that
Hunt was not a credible witness and that Dr. Weinstein's evaluation
should not be given great weight because, inter alia, it was based
on incomplete information by Hunt. The Commission made the
following conclusions of law:
1. [Hunt] has failed to prove that he developed
PTSD as a consequence of a particular accident or
incident in the course and scope of his employment with
[DOC] . . . .
2. [Hunt] has failed to prove that he suffers from
PTSD as an occupational disease, which was characteristic
of and peculiar to his job as a correctional officer.
The great weight of credible evidence fails to establish
a causal connection, [given that] there were also
numerous personal stressors in [his] life.
3. Even if [Hunt] developed stress related to his
poor relationship and dealings with his supervisor
Michael Hardin, that was not unique or peculiar to
[Hunt]'s employment as a correctional officer.
Personality clashes or difficulties with supervisors can
arise in any employment, and are not the basis for a
claim for occupational disease.
Accordingly, the Commission denied Hunt's claim. Hunt now appeals.
Hunt's arguments on appeal may be characterized as a challenge
to the factual determinations, and resulting conclusions, made by
the Commission. Specifically, Hunt asserts that the Commission
erred by (1) ignoring and/or understating the stress that Hunt
experienced at work and under-evaluating the resulting risk for
development of PTSD; (2) determining that Dr. Weinstein's causation
testimony was not credible because it was based upon incomplete
information provided by Hunt; and (3) finding and concluding that
Hunt had not met his burden of establishing a causal nexus between
his job as a corrections officer and his development of PTSD. Put
differently, Hunt contests the weight that the Commission gave to
certain aspects of the evidence and the credibility determinations
made by the Commission.
Standard of Review
The standard of review for an opinion and award of the North
Carolina Industrial Commission is (1) whether any competent
evidence in the record supports the Commission's findings of fact,
and (2) whether such findings of fact support the Commission's
conclusions of law. Creel v. Town of Dover, 126 N.C. App. 547,
552, 486 S.E.2d 478, 480 (1997). The Commission's findings of
fact are conclusive on appeal if supported by competent evidence,
notwithstanding evidence that might support a contrary finding.
Hobbs v. Clean Control Corp., 154 N.C. App. 433, 435, 571 S.E.2d
860, 862 (2002). In determining the facts of a particular case,
[t]he Commission is the sole judge of the credibility of thewitnesses and the weight accorded to their testimony. Effingham
v. Kroger Co., 149 N.C. App. 105, 109-10, 561 S.E.2d 287, 291
(2002) (citations omitted). This Court reviews the Commission's
conclusions of law de novo. Deseth v. LensCrafters, Inc., 160
N.C. App. 180, 184, 585 S.E.2d 264, 267 (2003).
Substantive Legal Principles
An illness, such as PTSD, which is not specifically listed as
an occupational disease in the general statutes, may nevertheless
be compensable as an occupational disease pursuant to N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 97-53(13) (2003) if the plaintiff demonstrates
(1) [the disease is] characteristic of persons
engaged in the particular trade or occupation
in which the claimant is engaged; (2) [the
disease is] not an ordinary disease of life to
which the public generally is equally exposed
with those engaged in that particular trade or
occupation; and (3) there [is] a causal
connection between the disease and the
Rutledge v. Tultex Corp., 308 N.C. 85, 93, 301 S.E.2d 359, 365
(1983) (citation omitted). The plaintiff has the burden of proof
on all three of the foregoing elements. Keel v. H & V Inc., 107
N.C. App. 536, 539, 421 S.E.2d 362, 365 (1992). The first two
elements . . . are satisfied where the claimant can show that 'the
employment exposed the worker to a greater risk of contracting the
disease than the public generally.' Robbins v. Wake Cty. Bd. of
Educ., 151 N.C. App. 518, 521, 566 S.E.2d 139, 142 (2002) (citation
omitted). The third element of the test is satisfied if the
employment 'significantly contributed to, or was a significant
causal factor in, the disease's development.' Hardin v. MotorPanels, Inc., 136 N.C. App. 351, 354, 524 S.E.2d 368, 371 (citation
omitted), disc. review denied, 351 N.C. 473, 543 S.E.2d 488 (2000).
In the case of occupational diseases proof of
a causal connection between the disease and
the employee's occupation must of necessity be
based on circumstantial evidence. Among the
circumstances which may be considered are the
following: (1) the extent of exposure to the
disease . . . during employment, (2) the
extent of exposure outside employment, and (3)
absence of the disease prior to the
work-related exposure as shown by the
employee's medical history.
Booker v. Medical Center, 297 N.C. 458, 476, 256 S.E.2d 189, 200
(1979). When determining whether a plaintiff's job significantly
contributed to, or was a significant causative factor in, his
development of an occupational disease, 'the Commission may, of
course, consider medical testimony, but its consideration is not
limited to such testimony.' Harvey v. Raleigh Police Dept., 96
N.C. App. 28, 35, 384 S.E.2d 549, 553 (citation omitted) (emphasis
removed), disc. review denied, 325 N.C. 706, 388 S.E.2d 454 (1989).
In his brief, Hunt contends that the Commission ignored and/or
understated the evidence concerning his stress at work. As Hunt
notes, the Commission did not catalogue every stressful incident
that occurred during his employment with DOC. However, we conclude
that the Commission's findings are sufficient. A fact-finder is
not required to make findings that recite all evidentiary facts
presented at hearing; rather, [t]he facts required to be
found . . . are those material and ultimate facts from which it can
be determined whether the findings are supported by the evidenceand whether they support the conclusions of law reached. Quick v.
, 305 N.C. 446, 451, 290 S.E.2d 653, 657 (1982). In the
instant case the Commission's opinion and award contains findings
that Hunt's employment involved performing stressful duties and was
attended by stressful incidents. The Commission was not required
to make more specific findings.
Hunt also contends that the Commission erred by discounting
Dr. Weinstein's causation testimony. Specifically, Hunt asserts
that [a] competent opinion given by a trained observer should not
be rejected or discounted except on the basis of contrary expert
medical testimony or for inherent lack of credibility evidenced in
the record. However, it is well established that [t]he
Commission is the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses and
may believe all or a part or none of any witness's testimony
. . . . Harrell v. Stevens & Co.
, 45 N.C. App. 197, 205, 262
S.E.2d 830, 835 (emphasis added), disc. review denied
, 300 N.C.
196, 269 S.E.2d 623-24 (1980). In the instant case, the Commission
found that Dr. Weinstein was a truthful witness, but discounted his
causation testimony because he had not been apprised of Hunt's
personal and financial problems. Thus, although the Commission
could have found Dr. Weinstein's testimony to be dispositive, it
was not required to do so, and this Court will not second-guess the
Commission's credibility determination.
Hunt further argues that the Commission erred by finding and
concluding that he had not established the requisite causal nexus
between his PTSD and his employment. Our review reveals that, theCommission could have determined that Hunt's PTSD was an
occupational disease that was causally related to his employment as
a correctional officer based upon, inter alia
, the testimony of
Hunt and Dr. Weinstein. However, the record also reveals that Hunt
experienced numerous stressors in his personal life that were
unrelated to his employment and many stressors at work that were
not in any way unique to his particular job as a corrections
officer with custodial responsibilities. Therefore the Commission
could permissibly find and conclude, as it did, that Hunt's PTSD
was not an occupational disease that was causally related to his
employment as a correctional officer.
Thus, the Commission's conclusions of law are supported by
appropriate findings of fact, which are in turn supported by
competent record evidence. Therefore, Hunt's assignments of error
are overruled, and the Commission's opinion and award is
Judges TYSON and BRYANT concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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