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Dueling IMEs

The Maine Workers' Compensation Board's Appellate Division recently issued a decision affirming an Administrative Law Judge's decision awarding benefits for a work-related anxiety condition, based on the ALJ's interpretation of two §312 IME reports, without any explanation for the interpretation of the medical reports at issue.

In Gurney v. Rumford Group Homes, Dr. Barkin performed a §312 IME as a psychiatrist, and Dr. Bridgeman performed a §312 IME as a neurologist. Dr. Barkin was not shown Dr. Bridgeman's report and therefore did not consider it pursuant to §312 (7). Judge Goodnough found Dr. Barkin's report to be "somewhat internally inconsistent," and therefore he used other medical reports, including Dr. Bridgeman's, to interpret Dr. Barkin's report. Judge Goodnough interpreted Dr. Barkin's report as supporting Gurney's anxiety claim and granted his petition.

Rumford Group Homes evidently interpreted Dr. Barkin's report as stating that Gurney's anxiety was not work-related, and it appealed based on its argument that Judge Goodnough relied upon Dr. Bridgeman's report as "clear and convincing evidence to the contrary" to refute Dr. Barkin's opinion, despite the fact that Dr. Barkin had not considered Dr. Bridgeman's report as required by §312(7).

The appellate panel denied the appeal, ruling that Judge Goodnough did not find Dr. Bridgeman's report to be "contrary" to Dr. Barkin's opinion. Instead, it said Judge Goodnough used Dr. Bridgeman's report "to inform his reading of Dr. Barkin's report" in a way that allowed him to interpret it as supporting the claim.

It is neither new nor controversial to state that an ALJ may use the medical evidence in the record to help interpret an unclear §312 IME report. That is all this decision, as written, really stands for. Rumford Group Homes apparently thought that Judge Goodnough went beyond "interpretation" all the way to refutation based on his perception that the report was "somewhat internally inconsistent." Without any recitation of the language of the reports at issue, however, the Appellate Division has left us unable to understand the controversy or how the law was applied to the facts of this case.

Thomas Getchell
Daniel Gilligan
Michael Richards
Attorneys at Law