The Search for “Bigfoot” Continues—The Iowa Court of Appeals Yet Again Finds Insufficient Evidence to Meet the Seemingly Unattainable Standard for Reversing for Workers’ Compensation Decisions

The search for the “Bigfoot” of the legal community continues, specifically the search for a case reversing final agency action on the ground that the agency’s action is unsupported by substantial evidence or is irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable. In McComas-Lacina Construction v. Drake, McComas-Lacina, Mr. Drake’s employer, appealed the district court’s decision to affirm a workers’ compensation award in favor of Mr. Drake.  The employer argued that the determinations regarding Mr. Drake’s permanent total disability and date of last injury was “an abuse of discretion, irrational, illogical, unreasonable, unjustifiable, arbitrary and capricious, and error of law, and not supported by substantial evidence.”
In reviewing the case, the Iowa Court of Appeals recognized that the legislature granted the workers’ compensation commissioner the discretion to make factual determinations. Thus, district and appellate courts must affirm these factual determinations if they are supported by “substantial evidence in the record before the court when the record is viewed as a whole.” Substantial evidence is evidence of the quantity and quality that would be deemed sufficient by a neutral, detached, reasonable person to establish the fact at issue when the consequences of establishing that fact are of great importance. Iowa Code §17A.19(10)(f)(1). The court of appeals clarified that it would affirm a decision as having met the substantial evidence burden, even if the court would have come to a different conclusion as to the factual determinations. Because establishing the date injuries and deciding whether an employee is permanently and totally disabled are factual determinations, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision, concluding that there was little it could add the workers’ compensation court’s reasoning that supported these factual determinations.
As noted by the appellate court and evidenced through McComas, nearly all cases are won or lost in the workers’ compensation court. The Iowa Court of Appeals reinforced the widespread belief that a case reversing a final agency action on the ground that the determination was unsupportable by substantial evidence “is the Bigfoot of the legal community—an urban legend, rumored to exist but never confirmed.” Therefore, the search for "Bigfoot” continues.