Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) appealed a district court order and judgment affirming an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order reversing a WSI order. The reversed WSI order had determined Badger Roustabouts was an employer of individuals providing roustabout services. In addition to affirming the ALJ’s order, the court awarded attorney’s fees to Badger under N.D.C.C. 28-32-50. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment affirming the ALJ’s order, but reversed the court’s award of attorney’s fees. View "WSI v. Badger Roustabouts" on Justia Law

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North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) appealed a district court judgment reversing an administrative order sustaining a WSI order denying Bruce Bahmiller’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court judgment, concluding the administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) finding that Bahmiller failed to file a timely claim for benefits within one year of his work injury was not supported by the weight of the evidence. View "Bahmiller v. WSI, et. al." on Justia Law

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In June 2008, Scot Decker sustained work related injuries while he was working for Cyclone Drilling, Inc. in Mountrail County, North Dakota. WSI accepted liability and Decker received more than $1,250,000 in benefits from WSI. In June 2014, Decker signed a third party notice of legal representation advising WSI that he retained an attorney and planned to bring an action against a third party for the work related injuries. The notice stated Decker would act as a trustee for WSI’s subrogated interest. The notice also included a lien notice, advising that WSI had a lien in the full amount it paid in all benefits for Decker’s claim and that WSI could sue if Decker received any money related to the claim from a third party and WSI did not receive payment of its lien within 30 days of the third party’s payment to Decker. Decker brought an action against I.E. Miller Services, Inc., received a favorable verdict, and was awarded $2,045,972.60 in damages. In December 2018, WSI issued a subrogation order, finding it paid Decker for his work related injury and Decker failed to pay WSI’s subrogation interest and lien within 30 days. Decker requested a hearing before an ALJ. Decker alleged WSI incorrectly applied the law, it inappropriately included in the subrogation order benefits paid related to medical negligence which is the subject of a separate third-party action, and it did not properly determine the amount of its lien. Decker also argued WSI did not have a right to recovery of its lien before attorney’s fees and litigation expenses were paid. The ALJ ruled in favor of WSI, and Decker appealed. Decker argued the district court erred in concluding it does not have jurisdiction and dismissing his appeal. The North Dakota Supreme Court found Decker brought his appeal in Burleigh County District Court, and it was undisputed that Decker did not reside in Burleigh County and that his injuries did not occur in Burleigh County. Because N.D.C.C. 65-10-01 applied and required Decker to bring the appeal in the county where he resided or the county where the injury was inflicted, the Burleigh County district court did not have jurisdiction over the appeal. Dismissal was affirmed. View "Decker v. WSI" on Justia Law

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WSI appealed a judgment ordering payment of death benefits to Gloria Felan. In 2017, Fred Felan was injured when driving a loaded truck that tipped on its side. Julie Schulz of KBO Farms, Fred’s employer, arrived at the scene a short time later. Fred declined an ambulance but agreed to allow Schulz to drive him to the hospital. At the hospital Fred complained of left chest and rib pain. X-rays taken at the hospital did not reveal any fractures. The next morning, Schulz picked Fred up from the hotel. She noted Fred was falling asleep during the meal and expressed concern he should return to the hospital to get checked again. Fred declined. Fred was discovered dead in his hotel room two days after the accident. WSI accepted Fred’s claim for injuries relating to his truck accident for contusion of thorax. WSI also did not believe Fred died from his work-related injury because Fred had multiple health problems including some related to his heart and diabetes. An autopsy confirmed Fred died of congestive cardiomyopathy and arteriosclerotic heart disease. Gloria thereafter filed a claim for death benefits. WSI would deny this claim, but an ALJ reversed the agency’s denial. WSI argued the ALJ and the district court misapplied the law by failing to properly apply N.D.C.C. 65-01-02(11)(a)(3). The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the ALJ and district court, finding the ALJ was not provided objective evidence of the claimed injury: Fred died of a cardiac arrhythmia caused by blunt force trauma to his chest cavity. However, a medical expert admitted there was no objective medical evidence that an arrhythmia occurred. Rather, the conclusion the expert reached was a result of deductive reasoning. “As our precedent indicates, objective medical evidence may be established by a physician’s medical opinion based on an examination, a patient’s medical history, and the physician’s education and experience. However, objective medical evidence may not be established solely by deductive reasoning. On this record, the ALJ erred in concluding there was objective medical evidence of a cardiac arrhythmia.” View "WSI v. Felan, et al." on Justia Law

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North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) appealed a district court judgment affirming an ALJ’s revised order on remand, entered after the North Dakota Supreme Court's decision in State by & through Workforce Safety & Ins. v. Sandberg, 2019 ND 198, 931 N.W.2d 488 (“Sandberg I”). The ALJ’s revised order made additional findings of fact and conclusions of law, and again found John Sandberg had sustained a compensable injury and was entitled to benefits. Under its deferential standard of review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part; however, in light of the ALJ’s revised order, the Court remanded the case to WSI for further proceedings on whether benefits should have been awarded on an aggravation basis and the proper calculation of those benefits under N.D.C.C. 65-05-15. View "WSI v. Sandberg, et al." on Justia Law

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Chris Oden appealed a district court order vacating a transcribed Missouri foreign judgment. Oden argued: (1) vacating the transcribed Missouri judgment violated the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution; (2) the court erred in relying on a decision issued between the parties in prior litigation because that decision was barred by administrative res judicata as the result of Oden’s Missouri workers compensation claim; and (3) the court erred by affording a prior judgment res judicata effect while that case was pending on appeal. In May 2010, Oden was injured in Missouri while employed by Minot Builders Supply. North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) accepted the claim and awarded benefits for Oden’s injuries. In May 2013, Oden filed a claim for compensation in Missouri for the same work-related injury. In October 2013, WSI suspended payment of further benefits on Oden’s claim after Oden claimed benefits Missouri. Subsequent to Oden settling his Missouri workers compensation claim, WSI sent Oden notice that the prior North Dakota workers compensation award was being reversed because Oden’s receipt of benefits in Missouri. WSI provided notice to Oden his workers compensation benefits were being denied, informed Oden he would need to reimburse WSI, and informed Oden he had thirty days to request reconsideration. Oden did not request reconsideration of WSI’s decision. In July 2018, WSI commenced an action in North Dakota against Oden seeking reimbursement for previous payments made to Oden. The district court in the Burleigh County case granted summary judgment in favor of WSI and awarded WSI the full amount paid to Oden, plus accruing interest, costs, and disbursements. Oden argued in the North Dakota case that WSI was bound by the Missouri workers compensation settlement because the settlement agreement included a signature of an attorney purportedly acting on behalf of WSI. The court determined WSI could not be bound by the Missouri agreement because WSI was not a party to the settlement, and there was no evidence to support a finding that the attorney who purportedly signed on behalf of WSI had any authority to represent WSI or act as WSI’s agent. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Oden v. Minot Builders Supply, et al." on Justia Law

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Carrie Thompson-Widmer appealed the dismissal of her claims of defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship against Kimberly Larson, Wells County, Eddy County, and Foster County. In January 2017, Larson filed a formal complaint with the State Board of Social Work Examiners against Thompson-Widmer on the basis of Thompson-Widmer’s actions in two child protection services cases. Larson alleged Thompson-Widmer misrepresented information about a child’s home environment in one case, and altered a report about methamphetamine in an infant’s meconium in the other case. Larson also met with a state’s attorney about Thompson-Widmer’s actions. The attorney referred the matter to a special prosecutor for consideration of potential criminal charges. Because the complaint to the State Board was filed while Thompson-Widmer was a Tri-County employee, Larson placed the complaint and the supporting documents in Thompson-Widmer’s employee personnel file. After the criminal investigation into Thompson-Widmer’s action was suspended, she became employed with Catholic Charities in April 2017. Tri-County worked with Catholic Charities on adoption placement cases. Larson’s staff informed her they did not feel comfortable working with Thompson- Widmer. Larson notified Catholic Charities that Tri-County would rather work with someone other than Thompson-Widmer. Catholic Charities submitted an open records request for Thompson-Widmer’s personnel file, and Larson fulfilled the request on Tri-County’s behalf. In May 2017, after receiving the personnel file, which included Larson’s complaint against Thompson-Widmer, Thompson-Widmer was terminated because she was not forthcoming about her issues while employed by Tri-County. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding Larson’s communications were privileged and therefore not subject to liability for defamation. View "Thompson-Widmer v. Larson, et al." on Justia Law

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Cherokee Services Group, LLC; Cherokee Nation Government Solutions, LLC; Cherokee Medical Services, LLC; Cherokee Nation Technologies, LLC (collectively referred to as the “Cherokee Entities”); Steven Bilby; and Hudson Insurance Company (“Hudson Insurance”) appealed district court orders and a judgment reversing an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) order. The ALJ’s order concluded the Cherokee Entities and Bilby were protected by tribal sovereign immunity and Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) had no authority to issue a cease and desist order to Hudson Insurance. The district court reversed the ALJ’s determination. The Cherokee Entities were wholly owned by the Cherokee Nation; Bilby served as executive general manager of the Cherokee Entities. Hudson Insurance provided worldwide workers’ compensation coverage to Cherokee Nation, and the Cherokee Entities were named insureds on the policy. WSI initiated an administrative proceeding against the Cherokee Entities, Bilby, and Hudson Insurance. WSI determined the Cherokee Entities were employers subject to North Dakota’s workers’ compensation laws and were liable for unpaid workers’ compensation premiums. WSI also ruled that Bilby, as executive general manager, was personally liable for unpaid premiums. WSI ordered the Cherokee Entities to pay the unpaid premiums, and ordered Hudson Insurance to cease and desist from writing workers’ compensation coverage in North Dakota. The Cherokee Nation had no sovereign land in North Dakota, and the Cherokee Entities were operating within the state but not on any tribal lands. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the district court judgment, and reinstated and affirmed the ALJ’s order related to the cease and desist power of WSI, but the matter was remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings on the issue of sovereign immunity. View "WSI v. Cherokee Services Group, et al." on Justia Law

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Brandon Potts appealed after a district court granted summary judgment to the City of Devils Lake and the Devils Lake Police Department (collectively, “Devils Lake”), which dismissed his claim for wrongful termination. Potts argued the court erred in holding under North Dakota law that no exception to the employment-at-will doctrine existed for law enforcement officers who act in self-defense. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in holding under North Dakota law no public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine exists for law enforcement officers who act in self-defense. Therefore, the court did not err in granting summary judgment to Devils Lake. View "Potts v. City of Devils Lake, et al." on Justia Law

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Brendel Construction appealed a district court judgment affirming an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) decision to hold Brendel Construction liable for unpaid workers compensation premiums and penalties attributed to a subcontractor’s account, and determining Randy Brendel was personally liable for unpaid workers compensation premiums. North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) cross-appealed the district court’s order dismissing WSI’s cross-appeal from the decision of the ALJ as untimely filed. WSI identified Brendel Construction as the general contractor for a roofing project in Bismarck where crew members were reported to be working without fall protection. WSI’s investigation of the report regarding the lack of fall protection expanded into an investigation of workers compensation coverage. WSI ultimately concluded that two of Brendel Construction’s subcontractors, Alfredo Frias and Daniel Alvidrez, were uninsured and not providing North Dakota workers compensation coverage for their employees. WSI requested, but did not receive, information from Brendel Construction regarding the subcontractors’ income. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the imposition of liability against Brendel Construction for unpaid workers compensation premiums and penalties, and affirmed the imposition of liability against Randy Brendel. The Court reversed and remanded the dismissal of WSI’s cross-appeal as untimely filed. View "Brendel Construction v. WSI" on Justia Law