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Ramiro Rodriguez claimed injury to the neck, arms, back, shoulders, nervous system, depression and anxiety through February 20, 2003 while employed as a forklift operator by Las Vegas LA Express. The employer denied the claim in its entirety.

Julie Goalwin, Ph.D. evaluated applicant as the psychiatric qualified medical evaluator (QME) on June 21, 2003 and served her report on the parties on July 14, 2003. Dr. Goalwin sold the receivables for her evaluation and report of applicant to Angoal Medical Collections on July 1, 2003.

Janine Angelotti, D.C. evaluated applicant as the applicant’s chiropractic QME on June 25, 2003. Dr. Angelotti also filed a lien claim in the amount of $2,845 for her evaluation and report on July 21, 2003.

Applicant’s claim was dismissed for lack of prosecution on February 3, 2010.

The matter proceeded to trial on December 19, 2019 regarding Angoal Medical Collections’ lien for Drs. Goalwin and Angelotti. Several issues were identified as in dispute including laches. The WCJ issued the F&O in which he found that the lien claim was barred by laches. All other issues were found to be moot and were not addressed in the F&O.

The WCAB panel granted the lien claimants petition for reconsideration, rescinded the F&O and remanded the case for further proceedings in the case of Ramiro Rodriguez v Las Vegas LA Express – ADJ1424195 (November 2022).

In common law legal systems, laches is a lack of diligence and activity in making a legal claim, or moving forward with legal enforcement of a right, particularly in regard to equity. In this case the lien claimant contends on reconsideration that the WCJ erroneously found its lien was barred by laches although defendant did not prove prejudice from the delay in pursuing the lien.

The equitable doctrine of laches applies to proceedings before the Appeals Board. (See Truck Ins. Exchange v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (Kwok) (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 394, 401-402 [81 Cal.Comp.Cases 685] [“The appeals board has broad equitable powers with respect to matters within its jurisdiction. . . . Thus, equitable doctrines such as laches are applicable in workers’ compensation litigation.”].) The Appeals Board may apply the doctrine of laches to lien claims. (Kaiser Foundation Hospitals v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (Martin) (1985) 39 Cal.3d 57, 68, fn. 11 [50 Cal.Comp.Cases 411] [“a lien claim may be barred by laches if there is unjustifiable delay”].”

However “the affirmative defense of laches requires unreasonable delay in bringing suit ‘plus either acquiescence in the act about which plaintiff complains or prejudice to the defendant resulting from the delay.’ Prejudice is never presumed; rather it must be affirmatively demonstrated by the defendant in order to sustain his burdens of proof and the production of evidence on the issue. Generally speaking, the existence of laches is a question of fact to be determined by the trial court in light of all of the applicable circumstances…”

“It is acknowledged that there was a substantial delay between the lien claim’s filing and lien claimant’s pursuit of reimbursement. The WCJ in his Opinion on Decision and Report indicates that prejudice to defendant may be presumed by this delay. However, defendant must show that it was actually prejudiced by the delay.”

In this matter, defendant only offered two exhibits at trial to dispute the lien claim: an EAMS lien printout for the case and Elaine Taite’s deposition transcript. No witnesses were offered by defendant. The WCJ presumed that defendant’s file has been destroyed, but there is no evidence in the record to support this presumption. Moreover, defendant has not demonstrated how it was prejudiced by the delay. Consequently, the evidence does not support a finding that the lien is barred by laches.

The case was returned to the trial level for further proceedings.