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Appeal of Coviello

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

August 28, 2008

Appeal of James Coviello

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

The employee, James Coviello, appeals an order of the compensation appeals board (board) denying his claim for benefits. He argues that the board erred in: (1) denying his request for a continuance; (2) requiring that he demonstrate that the hearing officer's decision was clearly unreasonable or unlawful; and (3) finding that his claim was barred by the statute of limitations. We affirm.

We will affirm the board's decision absent an error of law or unless by a clear preponderance of the evidence, we conclude that it is unjust or unreasonable. Appeal of Fay, 150 N.H. 321, 324 (2003). We consider the board's factual findings to be prima facie lawful and reasonable. Id. The appealing party bears the burden of demonstrating that the board's decision was erroneous. Id.

Citing RSA 281-A:43 and Lab. 203.05(a)(1), the employee argues that the board erred in denying his request for a continuance. RSA 281-A:43, I (b) provides in relevant part: "Continuances of any hearing are discouraged; however, should a continuance be necessary, the parties requesting such a continuance shall file with the board a written petition for such continuance at least 7 days prior to the hearing." This language does not require that the board grant any request for continuance filed at least 7 days prior to the hearing. Lab. 203.05(a)(1) also sets forth several examples that might support a finding that a continuance was warranted. Both the statute and the rule demonstrate that whether a continuance is granted is discretionary. The employee requested a continuance so that he could obtain a rebuttal letter from his doctor to materials submitted by the employer prior to the hearing. If such grounds could automatically trigger a continuance, the employer would arguably be entitled to a subsequent continuance; the board's ability to efficiently process cases would clearly be handicapped. Because the employee had both notice of the hearing and that it was his burden to prove his case, we find no error in the denial of his request for a continuance. See Appeal of Demeritt, 142 N.H. 807, 811 (1998) (pro se litigants bound by same procedural rules that govern parties represented by counsel).

The employee also argues that the board erred by requiring that he demonstrate that the hearing officer's decision regarding benefits was clearly unreasonable or unlawful. While the board's original order might be construed as citing conflicting burdens, the employee filed a motion to reconsider specifically raising this issue. The board then issued an order stating that it had considered the case de novo, and required that the employee prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was entitled to benefits. The purpose of a motion to reconsider is to allow a board to clarify its order or correct any errors, see, e.g., Blagbrough Family Realty Trust v. Town of Wilton, 153 N.H. 234, 238-39 (2006). In this case, the board addressed the issues raised in the employee's motion to reconsider; we find no error in its response on this issue.

The employee also argues that the board erred in finding that his claim was barred by the statute of limitations. He concedes in his brief that his claims relative to expenses dated September 19, 2002, November 22, 2002, January 7, 2003 and February 12, 2003 were time-barred. The employer concedes that the employee's "request for payment of prescriptions for the dates of February 20, 2004 through January 10, 2007 were not barred by the statute of limitations."

The board's other findings, however, compel a conclusion that the employee failed to sustain his burden of establishing that the contested prescriptions were required by a work-related injury. In denying the employee's request for reimbursement of a January 2007 bill for a doctor's office visit, the board found that the employee had failed to satisfy his burden of proof. The board cited normal findings of three MRI exams dating from 1992, 1995 and 2002, as well as the employee's significant work history, and the period of years between medical treatments. These same findings compel a conclusion that the employee failed to satisfy his burden of proof with respect to the contested prescriptions and a bill for a 2005 office visit. Accordingly, he has failed to demonstrate any prejudice. See Appeal of Ann Miles Builder, 150 N.H. 315, 320 (2003) ("Where it appears that an error did not affect the outcome below, or where the court can see from the entire record that no injury has been done, the judgment will not be disturbed.").

In light of the foregoing, the employee's remaining argument that he was denied due process requires no further discussion.

Affirmed.

DUGGAN, GALWAY and HICKS, JJ., ...


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