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The Ohio Industrial Commission was right to terminate permanent disability to a permanently disabled worker who was caught caring for horses at a raceway, but a divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the commission needs to re-address when it should have terminated benefits after agreeing that the man had committed fraud.
Kenneth Seibert sustained workplace injuries in the early 1990s and the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded him permanent total disability compensation for his injuries starting in 2006. In granting the award, the commission found that he “was incapable of performing any sustained remunerative employment” and that his benefits would “continue without interruption unless or until future facts and circumstances justify the stopping of the award,” according to documents in The State Ex Rel. Seibert v. Richardson CYR Inc., et. al.; Industrial Commission of Ohio, filed in Columbus, Ohio.
In 2013, the state’s Special Investigations Department of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation initiated an investigation into Mr. Seibert after determining that he “had an active groomer/owner license with the Ohio State Racing Commission” while receiving disability compensation. The investigation revealed he held a “groom/owner” license in 2008 and an owner license for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, according to documents.
In 2014, investigators surveilled Mr. Seibert at a raceway, witnessing him “jogging horses around the track, wearing riding attire and a helmet, hosing off a horse, maneuvering a sulky (a two-wheeled horse cart) and removing it from a horse, hauling a horse trailer with his truck, pushing a wheelbarrow and dumping its contents, and walking a horse to a shower stall,” documents state.
In interviews, investigators found that Mr. Seibert had exchanged part ownership of a horse for work at the stable, caring for horses, among other arrangement that included payments for duties for other horse owners, according to documents.
Later that year, the bureau filed a motion with the commission requesting that it terminate Seibert’s disability compensation effective March 26, 2009, declare as overpaid all disability compensation paid to Seibert as of March 26, 2009, and declare that Mr. Seibert had committed fraud by concealing his employment while receiving disability compensation, according to documents.
A staff hearing officer granted the bureau’s motion to terminate benefits, finding that Mr. Seibert’s arrangements constituted employment.
Seibert filed with the Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus a request for the commission to vacate its decision, which a magistrate granted in part, concluding “that the commission did not abuse its discretion in finding that Seibert had been engaged in sustained remunerative employment since March 26, 2009. But the magistrate concluded that the record did not support the commission’s finding of fraud.”
Both parties filed objections, with Seibert objecting to the conclusion that he was engaged in sustained remunerative employment beginning March 26, 2009, and the commission raising two objections challenging the conclusion that Seibert had not committed fraud. A state court of appeals rejected Seibert’s objection, finding that there was “some evidence” to support the commission’s determination that Seibert engaged in sustained employment, but the court sustained the commission’s objections, finding that there was “some evidence” to support the commission’s fraud finding, according to documents.
On appeal to the state Supreme Court, Mr. Seibert argued that his work with horses did not constitute, work, among other arguments. With one of seven judges dissenting in part, the court directed the issue back to the commission to determine “based on evidence on the record” and not just interviews, the “appropriate date of termination” of Mr. Seibert’s disability compensation.
The dissenting judge wrote that he believed there was sufficient evidence on the record to support the termination date of benefits.
The attorneys involved could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation approved a proposal from Gov. Mike DeWine’s office to send $1.5 billion of the agency’s revenues to Ohio employers covered by the state’s workers compensation system, the bureau said in a news release on Friday.