Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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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

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Dawn Osborne appealed a district court's order granting Brown & Saenger, Inc.'s motion to dismiss for improper venue. In 2011, Brown hired Osborne as a sales representative in its Fargo office to sell office supplies to businesses. Brown was headquartered in South Dakota, but operated as a foreign business corporation in North Dakota. Osborne signed yearly employment contracts with Brown. The parties agreed that the 2015 Employment Agreement was the controlling contract for this action, and it was the only one brought before the district court. The two clauses at issue in deciding the motion to dismiss were the "Agreement Not to Compete" ("non-compete clause") and the "Choice of Law/Forum" clauses. In January 2017, Brown terminated Osborne. Osborne sued Brown, alleging retaliation, improper deductions, and breach of contract. Osborne also sought a declaratory judgment declaring the non-compete clause to be void. Osborne moved for a preliminary injunction seeking to prevent Brown from enforcing the covenant-not-to-compete against her. Brown responded to that motion and moved to dismiss the action for improper venue. Brown argued the forum-selection clause in the employment agreement was valid and therefore a North Dakota court was an improper venue. Brown argued that the clause required the case to be heard by the South Dakota court specified in the agreement. The district court, without ruling on the motion for preliminary injunction, agreed with Brown and granted the motion to dismiss. Additionally, Brown sued Osborne in the state circuit court situated in Minnehaha County, South Dakota, seeking a preliminary injunction against Osborne restricting her actions under the non-compete clause. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed under N.D.C.C. 28-04.1-03(5), concluding the forum-selection clause in the parties' employment agreement violated North Dakota's public policy against non-compete agreements. The non-compete clause was unenforceable under N.D.C.C. 9-08-06 to the extent it limited Osborne from exercising a lawful profession, trade, or business in North Dakota. View "Osborne v. Brown & Saenger, Inc." on Justia Law

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North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") appealed a judgment affirming a decision of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") that had reversed WSI's administrative reclassification of Questar Energy Services, Inc.'s ("Questar") employees. n July 2012, Questar applied for and received insurance coverage from WSI. Following an audit in 2014, WSI determined Questar's employees had been improperly classified and reclassified Questar's employees. The classification of employees directly impacts the insurance rate used to calculate Questar's premiums for the insurance received from WSI. WSI contends the ALJ applied the wrong standard of review, improperly excluded from evidence the changes to the Rate Classification Manual, and erred in determining classification of Questar's employees was not supported by the record. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded after review, the ALJ's underlying factual conclusions were supported by a preponderance of the evidence, and affirmed. View "WSI v. Questar Energy Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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North Dakota, by the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Youth Correctional Center, petitioned for a supervisory writ directing a district court to vacate its July 18, 2017 order denying the State's motion for summary judgment on Delmar Markel's negligence claim. Markel cross-petitioned for a supervisory writ directing the district court to vacate its January 21, 2016 order dismissing Markel's claim for constructive and retaliatory discharge. Markel worked at the North Dakota Youth Correctional Center on December 9, 2012, when several inmates broke out of their locked rooms. The inmates injured Markel during their escape. In 2015, Markel brought a complaint against the State alleging one count of negligence for failure to fix faulty locks permitting the inmates to escape and one count of constructive and retaliatory discharge. The State argued that the Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") Act in N.D.C.C. Title 65 barred Markel's negligence claim and that Markel failed to exhaust administrative remedies regarding his discharge claim. On January 21, 2016, the district court dismissed the discharge claim for failure to pursue available administrative remedies. The district court also denied the State's motion to dismiss Markel's negligence claim. The North Dakota Supreme Court exercised its original jurisdiction by granting the State's petition and denying Markel's cross-petition. The district court erred as a matter of law in denying the State's motion to dismiss Markel's negligence claim. Markel failed to allege and support at least an "intentional act done with the conscious purpose of inflicting the injury" to overcome the State's immunity. The State had no adequate remedy to avoid defending a suit from which it has immunity. View "North Dakota v. Haskell" on Justia Law

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Marqus Welch appealed, and Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") cross-appealed a judgment affirming an administrative law judge's ("ALJ") decision that affirmed a WSI order ending Welch's vocational rehabilitation benefits and disability benefits and that reversed a WSI order finding Welch committed fraud and requiring him to repay benefits. To trigger the civil penalties for making a false statement in connection with a claim for WSI benefits, WSI must prove: (1) there is a false claim or statement; (2) the false claim or statement is willfully made; and (3) the false claim or statement is made in connection with any claim or application for benefits. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the ALJ did not err in affirming WSI's disability benefits order because a reasoning mind could reasonably conclude Welch could return to work. The Court concluded, however, the ALJ misapplied the law in failing to apply the proper definition of "work" and in analyzing whether Welch had "willfully" made false statements. View "Welch v. Workforce Safety & Insurance" on Justia Law