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Jason Labella claimed to have suffered injury in the form of COVID-19-related illness, as well as injury to the digestive, circulatory and nervous systems, while employed on December 6, 2021 as a pipe fitter by Marathon Petroleum.

The defendant filed petitions to compel the attendance at deposition of fact witnesses Briauna Hollingsworth, Marshall Mataalii, and Jenna Vasquez. They said that Labella and the fact witnesses lived at the same address, and that the depositions were necessary “to obtain details of Mr. LaBella’s possible exposure to COVID at home.”

The WCJ issued an order denying all three petitions to compel, stating, “this court is unaware of any basis or jurisdiction for compelling a non-party to appear for a deposition.”

The defendant’s Petition for Removal of the case was granted, and the WCAB rescinded the WCJ’s decision, and return this matter to the WCJ for further proceedings and decision in the case of Labella v Marathon Petroleum – ADJ15703855 (April 2023).

In his Petition, the defendant argued that pursuant to Labor Code section 5710, any party to a workers’ compensation proceeding may cause the deposition of witness.

Defendant cites to the WCAB panel decision in Terrones v. Remedy Temp (August 30, 2010, ADJ423557) [2010 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 451] as authority for the proposition that the WCJ is empowered to compel to the deposition of a non-party witness. Defendant also claims a due process right to conduct discovery relevant to applicant’s claim of industrial injury, and that the WCJ’s order declining to compel the requested depositions results in a denial of that due process right.

The WCJ’s Report initially describes various procedural irregularities in the subpoenas issued by the defendant. The report then responds to defendant’s citation to the panel decision in Terrones v. Remedy Temp, supra, 2010 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 451, observing that as a panel decision, the case is not mandatory authority.

The Report notes that Terrones involved nonparty employees of the defendant, as distinguished from the present matter in which the nonparty deponents are not employees of defendant, and are essentially strangers to the case. The WCJ observes that defendant has not established “good cause” for the deposition of the witnesses beyond their proximity in the same household as applicant, and that defendant may issue a subpoena for the witnesses to testify at trial.

The report concludes that “if defendant can show good service and ‘good cause ‘for taking the nonparties’ deposition…..this WCJ would consider whether or not an Order Compelling is appropriate.”

In response the WCAB panel noted that an adequate and complete record is necessary to understand the basis for the WCJ’s decision and the WCJ shall “…make and file findings upon all facts involved in the controversy[.]” (Lab. Code, § 5313; Hamilton v. Lockheed Corporation (2001) 66 Cal.Comp.Cases 473, 476 [2001 Cal.Wrk.Comp. LEXIS 4947] (Appeals Bd. en banc).

Here, the WCJ’s Order does not substantively address any issue beyond stating that there is no basis or jurisdiction to compel a non-party’s appearance at deposition. The record does not frame the issues, contains no exhibits, testimony or summary of evidence, and does not adequately explicate the basis for the order, To the extent that the WCJ’s report describes multiple other considerations, including whether the underlying subpoenas were procedurally defective, whether appropriate notice to the deponents was effectuated, whether the defendant’s petitions establish good cause for an order compelling, and whether a protective order or other limitations on the scope of the depositions is appropriate, the record is silent on these issues.”

“Accordingly, and pursuant to Hamilton v. Lockheed Corporation, supra, 66 Cal.Comp.Cases 473, we will rescind the October 25, 2022 Order, and return this matter to the trial level for further proceedings and for the creation of an adequate record.”

The WCAB pointed out several applicable code sections that provide guidelines for the taking of depositions, and that labor code section 5710 provides that attendance of witnesses and the production of records may be required.”

“Thus, while the Appeals Board may cause the taking of a deposition of a witness who happens to be an employee of a party, as was the case in Terrones v. Remedy Temp, supra, 2010 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 451, the jurisdiction of the Appeals Board in such nonparty cases is not limited to the employees of parties.