Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Eight Ball Trucking, Inc., and David and Laurie Horrocks (collectively “defendants”) appealed from an order entered after the district court denied their motion under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) for relief from a summary judgment. The Horrocks are officers of Eight Ball, a Utah trucking company doing business in North Dakota during the relevant time period. A dispute arose over Eight Ball’s allocation of employees between North Dakota and Utah and Eight Ball’s obligation to procure North Dakota workers compensation insurance for its North Dakota employees. In late March and early April 2016, Workforce Safety & Insurance (“WSI”) commenced an action against the defendants by serving them with a summons and complaint to enjoin them from employing individuals in North Dakota and to collect $802,689.84 in unpaid workers compensation insurance premiums, penalties, and interest. The complaint alleged that WSI had issued an August 28, 2015 notice of an administrative decision finding the Horrocks personally liable for unpaid premiums and penalties owed by Eight Ball, that the Horrocks did not request reconsideration nor appeal from that decision, and that the administrative decision was res judicata. WSI filed the pending lawsuit in district court and moved for summary judgment. According to the Horrocks, they did not respond to the summary judgment motion because they thought they had submitted necessary documentation to WSI to resolve the issue. The district court ultimately granted WSI’s motion for summary judgment, awarding WSI $812,702.79 in premiums, penalties, and costs and disbursements and enjoining Eight Ball from engaging in employment in North Dakota. On December 19, 2016, WSI sent the Horrocks a letter, informing them the judgment had been entered against them on December 15, 2016, and requesting payment. The defendants did not appeal the summary judgment. Defendants moved to set aside the summary judgment on grounds of mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect. The district court denied the motion, determining the defendants’ disregard and neglect of the legal process was not excusable neglect and failed to establish extraordinary circumstances necessary to set aside the judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b). After review of the district court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concurred and affirmed judgment. View "WSI v. Eight Ball Trucking, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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James Sabo and Fun-Co., Inc., appealed a judgment affirming a decision of Job Service North Dakota determining Sabo was overpaid unemployment benefits in the amount of $14,638 and requiring him to refund those previously paid benefits. Sabo was an officer, employee, and owner of all shares of stock in Fun-Co., Inc., which operated a bar and restaurant in Fargo. After a fire damaged the building which housed the bar and restaurant, Sabo filed a claim for unemployment benefits. Job Service mailed a reconsidered monetary determination informing Sabo he was entitled to $67 per week for 26 weeks because he failed to disclose that he had a one-fourth or greater ownership interest in Fun-Co., Inc. The reconsidered monetary determination informed Sabo that if he disagreed with the determination, he “must file an appeal no later than 11/21/2017.” Sabo did not appeal. On December 1, 2017, Job Service issued a notice of overpayment and informed Sabo he had twelve calendar days to appeal the overpayment amount. Then, Sabo appealed. Because Job Service’s decision was in accordance with the law and was supported by a preponderance of the evidence, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Sabo, et al. v. Job Service" on Justia Law

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Frank Cuozzo appeals from a judgment dismissing his breach of contract action against the State, doing business as the University of North Dakota (UND), and its president Mark Kennedy. Cuozzo was a tenured faculty member in UND’s Anthropology Department. After failing to inform his department of convictions for driving under the influence and driving with a revoked license, Cuozzo was placed on a performance improvement plan which he subsequently violated. On January 30, 2017, Cuozzo was terminated from his position and he filed a formal grievance. The Standing Committee on Faculty Rights held a hearing and issued a four-page report finding there was clear and convincing evidence of adequate cause to terminate Cuozzo, but recommending that he be allowed to resign instead of being terminated for cause. The Standing Committee submitted its findings and conclusions to Kennedy. Four days after receiving the report, Kennedy wrote a letter to Cuozzo upholding the University's decision to terminate Cuozzo's employment. Cuozzo responded to Kennedy’s letter and complained about “such a quick decision,” alleging Kennedy failed to comply with the UND Faculty Handbook relating to dismissals which stated “[t]he president shall make a decision and provide written notice of the decision, including findings of fact and reasons or conclusions based on the hearing record.” Cuozzo sued UND and Kennedy claiming they breached his employment contract because Kennedy failed to review the hearing record and make his own findings and conclusions. When unsuccessful at district court, Cuozzo appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court, arguing the district court erred in ruling UND and Kennedy substantially complied with their obligations under the employment contract. The Supreme Court concluded Kennedy and UND substantially complied with their contractual obligations in terminating Cuozzo’s employment, and affirmed dismissal of Cuozzo's case. View "Cuozzo v. North Dakota, d/b/a University of North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law

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Aaron Cockfield appealed dismissal of his petition for a writ of mandamus seeking to compel the City of Fargo to reinstate him as an employee. Cockfield was employed by the City’s Solid Waste Department. In 2017, Cockfield was asked to perform a specific task within the scope of his employment. Cockfield refused to do it. Cockfield’s acting route supervisor, Shawn Eckre, approached Cockfield to talk about it. Cockfield was seated when Eckre approached, Cockfield stood up and pushed Eckre, and the push caused Eckre to fall against a wall. Cockfield was informed his conduct violated City policy, including the workplace violence policy. Cockfield was given an opportunity to provide an explanation of the incident. Cockfield did not deny refusing to perform the requested work, and he admitted he had pushed Eckre. At the conclusion of the meeting, Ludlum advised Cockfield the City was terminating his employment. Cockfield was told the reason for his termination, and he was provided with written notice of the termination. The Fargo Civil Service Commission upheld the termination. Following a hearing, the City Commission upheld the termination. Cockfield argues the district court abused its discretion by concluding he was provided with adequate pre-termination due process. The North Dakota Supreme Court disagreed with Cockfield's contentions, and affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing his request for mandamus relief. View "Cockfield v. City of Fargo" on Justia Law

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Debra Wald appealed after the district court denied her motion for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial on her claim that Benedictine Living Communities, Inc., doing business as St. Rose Care Center, terminated her employment in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In 2011, Wald sustained a work injury when she slipped and fell during the course of her employment as a cook and kitchen aid at St. Rose, a long-term care center in LaMoure, North Dakota. Workforce Safety & Insurance ultimately awarded her partial temporary disability benefits from 2011 to 2015. St. Rose notified Wald about her FMLA rights, and ten days later, St. Rose terminated her employment without providing her with an opportunity to effectuate those rights. Wald testified she would have been willing to go back to work with some accommodations to see what she could do. According to Wald, she attended some computer training courses through Workforce Safety & Insurance after her termination from St. Rose, but she stopped taking classes after she was denied further workers' compensation benefits. Wald testified she had not had a job after her employment was terminated by St. Rose because she decided to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. A jury returned a special verdict finding that Wald failed to prove St. Rose was liable for negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, but that it terminated Wald in violation of the FMLA and that she would have earned $118,610.76 in wages, salary, employment benefits and other compensation from the date of her termination through the date of the verdict. The jury further found that Wald failed to mitigate her damages by not seeking out or taking advantage of employment opportunities reasonably available to her after her termination and that she would have earned $118,610.76 if she had sought out or taken advantage of reasonably available employment opportunities. The special verdict effectively awarded Wald no damages for her FMLA termination claim. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court erred in its charge the jury, misapplying the law and allowing the jury's use of "common knowledge and experience" to conclude Wald could have mitigated her damages in the period at issue here. On these grounds, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's denial of Wald's motion for a new trial on damages. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Wald v. Benedictine Living Communities, Inc." on Justia Law

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Linda Grina appealed a district court judgment affirming the denial of her unemployment benefits. Grina started coaching at Bismarck Gymnastics Academy in 1992. In 2015 or 2016 she was appointed interim executive director/program director with retained coaching duties. When a new executive director was hired, Grina was instructed to assist the executive director in acclimating to the gym and working environment. In July 2017 the employer informed Grina she was placed on probation for failure to assist the new executive director as instructed. A week later Grina sent a letter to the gym's board of directors relinquishing the interim program director title and job duties and expressing her desire to stay employed as a coach. In August 2017 Grina met with the gym board of directors. The board informed Grina her duties as interim program director were not separable from her coaching duties, and if she chose to resign as interim program director she also would be resigning from coaching. Grina indicated she would not continue performing the duties of interim program director. The board then issued a termination letter. Grina filed for unemployment benefits through Job Service. Job Service granted Grina benefits in October 2017 after finding the employer did not show her termination was due to misconduct. The employer appealed and a Job Service appeals referee conducted a hearing in December 2017. The referee reversed the initial decision and found Grina voluntarily left her employment without good cause attributable to the employer. Grina appealed the referee's decision to the Job Service North Dakota Bureau and sought to introduce new evidence, including emails and a text message referencing Grina being "let go" or "terminated." The Bureau added the documents to the claim file but did not consider the information in its decision affirming the referee's determination. Grina appealed to the district court. The district court affirmed the Bureau's decision denying Grina unemployment benefits. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding under its standard of review, a reasoning mind could have determined Grina left her employment voluntarily and without good cause attributable to the employer. View "Grina v. Job Service" on Justia Law

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Nicholas Lechner appealed a judgment affirming an administrative order sustaining a Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") order denying his claim for workers' compensation benefits. Lechner argued he proved by the greater weight of the evidence that he suffered a compensable injury and that his claim was timely. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the administrative law judge's finding that Lechner failed to file a timely claim for benefits is supported by a preponderance of the evidence. View "Lechner v. WSI" on Justia Law

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William Beaulieu appealed a district court judgment reversing an administrative law judge's ("ALJ") order awarding benefits and affirming prior Workforce Safety & Insurance ("WSI") orders. The ALJ's order finding Beaulieu had a fifty percent permanent partial impairment rating was not in accordance with the law and not supported by the evidence. Therefore, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the ALJ erred in awarding permanent partial impairment and permanent total disability benefits. View "WSI v. Beaulieu" on Justia Law

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David Ramirez appeals from an order dismissing his retaliatory discharge action against Walmart without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Ramirez was employed by Walmart in Jamestown, North Dakota. On April 18, 2017 Walmart terminated Ramirez's employment. On October 13, 2017 Ramirez sued Walmart under N.D.C.C 34-01-20, which prohibited retaliatory discharges by employers. Ramirez claimed he was discharged from employment in retaliation for complaining to supervisors about other employees' "unfair" terminations. Walmart moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing Ramirez failed to plead any facts establishing that his complaints about "serial dismissals" constituted protected activity as defined in the statute. The district court granted the motion on December 1, 2017, and dismissed the action without prejudice. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ramirez v. Walmart" on Justia Law

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Parke Little appealed the denial of his petition for a writ of mandamus. Little was a disabled veteran who formerly served in the Marine Corps and the Army. Little worked for Stark County as a special deputy from approximately 2008-2016. In July 2008, while employed as a special deputy, Little applied for a "deputy sheriff" position with Stark County. Little indicated his veteran's preference status in the application. Little was interviewed in November 2008. After the interview, Little became aware the deputy sheriff position was given to a non-veteran. Little continued to work in his capacity as a special deputy for Stark County until 2016. In March 2015, Little, through counsel, sent a letter to the Stark County Sheriff's Department requesting written notification why he was refused the 2008 deputy sheriff position. The Department responded, referring Little's attorney to direct the matter to the state's attorney's office. Little, through counsel, submitted a letter to the Stark County States Attorney and the Stark County Sheriff on March 4, 2016, and received no response. Little petitioned the court to compel the Sheriff’s office to respond to his request. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order denying Little’s petition for a writ of mandamus:  Little was aware someone else was given the deputy sheriff position, continued to work for Stark County, and waited nearly eight years after the interview to inquire why he was refused employment. Little provides no reasonable excuse for the delay. It was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to consider the excessive delay in denying Little's petition. View "Little v. Stark County Sheriff" on Justia Law