Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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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

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The United States District Court for the District of North Dakota certified questions of North Dakota law to the North Dakota Supreme Court involving Dawn Vail's right to bring a common law tort action against S/L Services, Inc., for personal injuries she sustained while working for S/L Services. The certified questions and the parties' arguments involved issues about employer immunity and an employee's exclusive or dual remedy for injuries occurring during the course of employment under North Dakota’s statutory provisions for workforce safety and insurance. The Supreme Court concluded the exclusive remedy provisions of North Dakota’s workers' compensation laws did not preclude Vail's tort action against S/L Services under provisions authorizing the action for willfully misrepresenting to Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") the amount of payroll upon which a premium is based, or for willfully failing to secure workers' compensation coverage for employees. View "Vail v. S/L Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Under workers' compensation law, seasonal employment includes occupations that are not permanent or that do not customarily operate throughout the entire year and is determined by what is customary with respect to the employer at the time of injury. Industrial Contractors, Inc., appealed a judgment affirming a decision by an independent administrative law judge determining Leonard Taylor's employment with Industrial Contractors was not seasonal employment. Industrial Contractors argued the ALJ misapplied the law for determining seasonal employment. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the ALJ misapplied the law and the ALJ's decision was not supported by a preponderance of the evidence. View "Industrial Contractors Inc. v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Arjuna Zerr appealed a judgment dismissing his action seeking declaratory relief against North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI"). The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in dismissing his complaint based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction because Zerr did not exhaust his statutory administrative remedies. View "Zerr v. Workforce Safety & Insurance" on Justia Law

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JB Construction, Inc. appealed the district court's judgment affirming Job Service's "Notice of Determination" stating Jesse Jahner's and Vance Jahner's services constituted employment under N.D.C.C. 52-01-01(17). On appeal, JB Construction argued the plain language of section 52-01-01(17)(a)(1) showed new corporate officers did not need to file for an exemption if an exemption was granted to prior officers and the current officers meeting all of the requirements under the statute. The Supreme Court found N.D.C.C. 52-01-01(17)(a)(1) unambiguously required corporate officers to file their own application for an exemption, and as such, affirmed the lower court's judgment. "The exemption of certain officers from 'employment' under the unemployment compensation law is granted to an officer as an individual, not to the officer's position. Under the unemployment compensation law, if an exempt officer transfers his interest and position in a corporation to another individual, the individual must apply for his own exemption." View "J B Construction, Inc. v. Job Service" on Justia Law

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Penny Bartholomay, individually for herself and the heirs of her deceased husband, Jon Bartholomay, appealed a judgment dismissing her wrongful death action against Jon Bartholomay's former employer, Plains Grain & Agronomy, LLC. On January 18, 2013, Jon was loading grain into railcars at the Sheldon Grain Elevator as an employee of Plains, which was an insured employer under the Workforce Safety and Insurance Act, N.D.C.C. tit. 65. Jon fell from the top of a railcar he was loading and suffered serious injuries. Plains had no safety equipment in place to protect against falls, but intended to install a fall protection system. Jon never regained consciousness and died as a result of his injuries approximately one month after the . Penny Bartholomay sued Plains for wrongful death damages alleging it intentionally exposed Jon to unsafe working conditions. Plains answered and claimed the lawsuit was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Act. The district court granted summary judgment dismissing the lawsuit because, as a matter of law, Plains' alleged conduct did not rise to the level of an intentional act done with the conscious purpose of inflicting the injury. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, because the facts alleged did not provide a genuine issue of material fact to avoid the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workforce Safety and Insurance Act. View "Bartholomay v. Plains Grain & Agronomy, LLC" on Justia Law

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Lori Jury appealed a district court's order denying her motion to vacate a summary judgment. Jury argued the district court should have provided notice of the summary judgment hearing independent of the notice provided by the Barnes County Municipal Airport Authority ("BCMAA"). Jury had sued BCMAA pro se after she was terminated from her at-will employment. Jury worked as a part-time clerk for the Airport under the direction of its board and manager. In 2012, Jury applied for the vacant manager position. The BCMAA board of directors did not hire Jury for the manager position and shortly thereafter the BCMAA terminated her, citing a lack of trust. Jury filed a charge with the North Dakota Department of Labor alleging, among other things, that the BCMAA discriminated against her based on her gender. The Department found no probable cause to substantiate Jury's allegations and dismissed her charge. Jury subsequently sued the BCMAA alleging workplace discrimination, wrongful termination, defamation of character, harassment, emotional distress, loss of income, and retaliation. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Jury v. Barnes County Municipal Airport Authority" on Justia Law