CAV TO COMP COMMISSION:  IT’S “E PLURIBUS UNUM” AND NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND

The Cura Group, Inc. is something known as a professional employer organization, an entity that staffs professional offices for its clients.  Pursuant to the Workers’ Compensation statutes, Cura is required to carry Workers’ Comp insurance, and to certify its coverage annually.  In 2003, the commission noticed that Cura had neglected to provide the required certification.  It gave Cura ten days to provide evidence of coverage.  Silence ensued.

The Commission then issued a show cause order, directing Cura to appear before a deputy commissioner to explain itself.  On the day of the hearing, the hearing room was emptier than it should have been.  The deputy thereupon issued 34 separate opinions (one for each of Cura’s client companies), in which Cura was fined $5,000 (the statutory maximum) for each “separate” violation.  The deputy also tagged on 34 separate $50 fines for Cura’s failure to appear at the contempt hearing. 

The full commission later vacated the $5,000 fines, but affirmed the 34 separate $50 fines.  Cura appealed to the Court of Appeals.  On Tuesday, May 10, the appellate court reversed (The Cura Group, Inc. v. VWCC), finding that the commission exceeded its authority by summarily splitting one case, and one show cause notice, into 34 separate “cases,” each with its own fine.  While recognizing the commission’s power to punish contempt, the court observed that “[t]here is no statute or rule that vests the commission with the authority to summarily divide one case into thirty-four.”  The court hinted that if the commission had imposed a unitary $1,700 fine, that would in all likelihood have been upheld.   But the court found the commission’s