SUZANNE E. MARKGRAF, Employee/Appellant, v. TRADER JOE’S CO. and ACE AM./GALLAGHER BASSET SERVS., INC., Employer-Insurer, and PRIMARY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CLINIC, INC., MINNESOTA DEP’T OF LABOR & INDUS./VRU, LAKEVIEW HOSP., UCARE/INGENIX, and THERAPY PARTNERS, INC., Intervenors.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
MARCH 10, 2011
CAUSATION - SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE. Substantial evidence, primarily in the form of expert medical opinion, supported the compensation judge’s decision that the employee’s work activities did not cause, aggravate, or accelerate the employee’s plantar fasciitis.
Determined by: Wilson, J., Pederson, J., and Rykken, J.
Compensation Judge: Cheryl LeClair-Sommer
Attorneys: Suzanne E. Markgraf, pro se Appellant. Brian P. Thompson, Johnson & Condon, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondents.
DEBRA A. WILSON, Judge
The pro se employee appeals from the compensation judge’s finding that her bilateral plantar fasciitis was not causally related to her employment with the employer. We affirm.
The employee began part-time employment with Trader Joe’s [the employer] on August 29, 2007, working as an artist. The store to which she was assigned opened for business on October 1, 2007, at which time the employee began some sporadic cashiering in addition to her art work. At some point, the employee switched to cashiering, exclusively, and she worked five hours a day, five days a week in that capacity.
On June 18, 2008, the employee was seen by Dr. Michael Finch, complaining of numbness and tingling in both feet. She reported that this was a longstanding issue and that she could not recall when it started.
When seen by podiatrist Dr. Sean Thayer on July 9, 2008, the employee reported bilateral foot pain over the past month and a half and gave a history of new shoes, new job, and a 20-pound weight gain in the past six months. The employee was diagnosed with bilateral plantar fasciitis.
On July 16, 2008, the employee reported to the HealthEast Oakdale Clinic that her heels would throb after a five-hour shift at Trader Joe’s. She stated that she had had pain in her feet for two months.
Eventually, the employee filed a First Report of Injury, alleging that she had developed plantar fasciitis in both feet as a result of a claimed injury on June 1, 2008.
In October of 2008, the employee began treatment with Dr. Melanie Berg, whose office note of October 8, 2008, relates that the employee had experienced ongoing heel pain for four to five months, starting after her move to a cashiering job at work. Dr. Berg’s December 31, 2008, office note indicates that the employee related that “increased weight-bearing activity that the new position requires caused the plantar fasciitis.” Dr. Berg did not indicate that the employee’s foot condition was work-related until a April 15, 2009, Report of Work Ability, in which she noted that the “disorder is most likely work related.”
On February 23, 2009, the employee filed a claim petition, seeking temporary partial disability benefits continuing from June 1, 2008.
The employee began treatment with a podiatrist, Dr. Jeff Pellersels, on July 8, 2009. His office notes for that date reflect that the employee presented “with complaint of a painful heels which have been present for 2 years+.”
On August 28, 2009, the employee was examined by Dr. Dennis Callahan, on behalf of the employer and insurer. In his report of that date, Dr. Callahan agreed that the employee had plantar fasciitis but stated that plantar fasciitis “is ubiquitous” and that the employee’s condition was “not in any way related to her work activities” with the employer.
The employee’s attorney wrote to Dr. Pellersels in November of 2009, requesting an opinion as to causation of the employee’s bilateral plantar fasciitis. In response to that letter, Dr. Pellersels wrote that the employee had had problems with plantar fasciitis since 2006 and that the employee had stated that the symptoms began after she started a job as a cashier. Dr. Pellersels opined that it was “almost impossible” to prove that the employee’s job as a cashier was the cause of her plantar fasciitis but that “it most certainly was an aggravating factor in the development of her ongoing problems with the feet.”
On July 28, 2010, Dr. Pellersels completed a form, apparently provided by the employee’s attorney. On that form, he indicated by circling that the “workplace incident, as described by the patient, more likely than not caused or significantly contributed to the injury or condition,” and he answered “yes” that he believed that the employee’s current symptoms were related to the injury of June 1, 2008.
Dr. Callahan reexamined the employee on July 30, 2010, and reviewed additional medical records. He again concurred that the employee’s symptoms were consistent with plantar fasciitis, and it remained his opinion that that condition was not related to any work activities at the employer.
At hearing, the employee claimed that she had sustained an injury, in the nature of bilateral plantar fasciitis, as a result of her work as a cashier for the employer, culminating on June 1, 2008. In findings and order filed on October 1, 2010, the compensation judge found that the evidence failed to prove that the employee had sustained a work-related injury culminating on June 1, 2008, and that the opinion of Dr. Callahan was more persuasive than that of Dr. Berg or Dr. Pellersels. The employee was represented by counsel at hearing but appeals pro se.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals must determine whether “the findings of fact and order [are] clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted.” Minn. Stat. § 176.421, subd. 1 (2010). Substantial evidence supports the findings if, in the context of the entire record, “they are supported by evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.” Hengemuhle v. Long Prairie Jaycees, 358 N.W.2d 54, 59, 37 W.C.D. 235, 239 (Minn. 1984). Where evidence conflicts or more than one inference may reasonably be drawn from the evidence, the findings are to be affirmed. Id. at 60, 37 W.C.D. at 240. Similarly, findings of fact should not be disturbed, even though the reviewing court might disagree with them, “unless they are clearly erroneous in the sense that they are manifestly contrary to the weight of evidence or not reasonably supported by the evidence as a whole.” Northern States Power Co. v. Lyon Food Prods., Inc., 304 Minn. 196, 201, 229 N.W.2d 521, 524 (1975).
On appeal, the employee has presented a clear and concise statement of her arguments. The determinative issue is the last issue raised in the employee’s letter brief, that is, whether the compensation judge erred in accepting the opinion of Dr. Callahan over that of Dr. Pellersels.
The employee contends that Dr. Callahan’s opinion is a “paid opinion” and that Dr. Callahan “works for Gallagher-Bassett.” However, the record contains no evidence of an employment relationship between Dr. Callahan and Gallagher-Bassett. Dr. Callahan examined the employee solely for the purposes of giving an independent medical opinion and not for the purposes of treatment. Nothing in the law requires a judge to accept the opinion of a treating doctor over that of an independent medical examiner.
The employee also contends that Dr. Callahan incorrectly diagnosed her condition as Reiter’s disease. However, Dr. Callahan’s diagnosis was bilateral plantar fasciitis, the same diagnosis rendered by Dr. Pellersels. Dr. Callahan did not opine that the employee had Reiter’s disease; he merely stated that it is unusual, but not unheard of, for a person to have bilateral plantar fasciitis, unless the person also has some sort of underlying rheumatological disorder, such as Reiter’s disease.
Pursuant to case law, a judge’s choice between experts whose testimony conflicts is usually upheld unless the facts assumed by the expert in rendering his opinion are not supported by the evidence. Nord v. City of Cook, 360 N.W.2d 337, 37 W.C.D. 364 (Minn. 1985).
In the instant case, the employee points to no specific facts assumed by Dr. Callahan that were not in evidence. According to Dr. Callahan, the employee experienced shooting pains in the feet and heels beginning in June of 2008. This account is most consistent with the employee’s testimony and the medical records. Dr. Callahen also gave a detailed description of the employee’s work activities as a cashier, which involved standing sometimes on a mat and sometimes on the floor for 25 hours a week. Dr. Callahan’s opinion differs from Dr. Pellersels in that Dr. Callahan believes that plantar fasciitis “is ubiquitous; it is present in people who are standing on their feet, people who have sitting jobs, people who are walking on cement floors, people who are walking on carpeted floors or mats.” It was his opinion that “[the employee’s] plantar fasciitis is not in any way related to her work activities.” The compensation judge did not err in choosing the opinion of Dr. Callahan over that of Dr. Pellersels, in that Dr. Callahan had foundation for his opinion, and the employee has pointed to no facts assumed by Dr. Callahan that were not supported by the evidence.
The employee also contends that the compensation judge erred in finding that her work activities did not “cause” her condition, because the real question was whether her condition was “aggravated” by her work activities. It is true that injuries are compensable if the employment substantially causes the condition or if the employment aggravates or accelerates a preexisting condition. Wallace v. Hanson Silo Co., 305 Minn. 395, 235 N.W.2d 363, 28 W.C.D. 79 (1975). The compensation judge, however, found not only that the employee’s work activities were not a substantial contributing cause of the plantar fasciitis but that the employee’s work activities did not aggravate any underlying condition. It is clear that the judge applied the correct legal standards.
Substantial evidence, in the form of Dr. Callahan’s reports, supports the judge’s findings in their entirety, and we affirm.
 The employee also argues that Dr. Pellersels’s report of November 2009 contained a typographical error, which he has since corrected, and that Dr. Pellersels told her that Dr. Callahan’s diagnosis was incorrect. We did not consider these arguments. This court’s review is limited to the evidence submitted to the compensation judge. See Gollop v. Gollop, 389 N.W.2d 202, 38 W.C.D. 757 (Minn. 1986).