Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Robert Procive appealed when a district court dismissed his appeal of an Administrative Law Judge’s order that denied his claim for Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) benefits. Procive submitted his first claim in 2020, alleging he suffered carpal tunnel syndrome due to injuries to both wrists, elbows, and shoulders resulting from repetitive digging, hammering and driving stakes, steel posts, and iron rods into the ground. He claimed his original injury occurred in western North Dakota, and he notified his employer of his injury in November 2004 and October 2016. WSI accepted liability for Procive’s right carpal tunnel injury, but denied for the left. Later WSI issued its order reversing its acceptance of liability for the right carpal tunnel, finding Procive willfully made false statements about whether he had prior injuries or received treatment. WSI ordered Procive to repay past benefits he received. After a hearing the ALJ affirmed WSI’s decisions denying coverage. Procive appealed to the district court in Stutsman County. WSI moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Procive was required to file his appeal in the county where the injury occurred or the county where he resided. To this, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, finding the district court did not have jurisdiction. View "Procive v. WSI" on Justia Law

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Christine Larson, doing business as Active Nutrition, appealed a judgment entered after the district court ordered Larson’s appeal be dismissed and denied her request for a writ of mandamus. In a notice of decision dated January 27, 2021, Workforce Safety & Insurance (“WSI”) informed Larson that it had determined Active Nutrition is an employer subject to N.D.C.C. tit. 65, the Workforce Safety and Insurance Act, and that Active Nutrition was required to submit all earned wages for all employees for the previous four years and pay premiums, assessments, penalties, and interest accrued. The notice of decision also advised Larson that she could appeal the decision by “[s]ubmit[ting] a written request to WSI within 30 days to have the decision reconsidered[.]” On February 25, 2021, Larson mailed a written request for reconsideration to WSI. WSI received the request on March 1, 2021. On March 10, 2021, WSI sent Larson notice it received her request for reconsideration but the request was not timely. The notice also informed Larson that WSI’s decision dated January 27, 2021 was final. On May 27, 2021, Larson sent WSI a second request for reconsideration. Larson argued her first request for reconsideration was timely because WSI’s notice of decision was served by regular mail and therefore three additional days should be added to the time computation under N.D.R.Civ.P. 6(e). On June 8, 2021, WSI informed Larson it had received her second request, the request was not timely, and the decision was final. To the North Dakota Supreme Court, Larson argued her request for reconsideration was timely. Alternatively, she requested a writ of mandamus determining her request was timely and to direct WSI to review the merits of her request. The Supreme Court concluded Larson did not appeal from an appealable order and the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying her request for a writ of mandamus. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Larson v. WSI" on Justia Law

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Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) sued law firm Boechler, P.C., and Jeanette Boechler, individually, to collect unpaid workers’ compensation premiums and penalties, and to enjoin them from employing others until they complied with the North Dakota Workers Compensation Act, including paying the premiums and penalties. The firm appealed the district court’s ultimate judgment holding the firm liable for the premiums and penalties, and Boechler appealed the order dismissing the personal liability claim against her without prejudice. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgments, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "WSI v. Boechler, PC, et al." on Justia Law

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North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance ("WSI") appealed after a district court affirmed an ALJ’s decision reversing WSI’s imposition of derivative premium liability on Brendel Construction, Inc. for unpaid premiums due from one of its subcontractors, Daniel Alvidrez. WSI determined Daniel Alvidrez and Alfredo Frias were roofing subcontractors of Brendel Construction. WSI investigators noticed Frias and Alvidrez each used the same Texas address, and because of this “cross-over information relating to Frias and Alvidrez, [WSI] established two separate accounts.” After unsuccessfully attempting to collect premium amounts from each, WSI imposed derivative liability on Brendel Construction. Brendel Construction appealed to the district court, and WSI cross appealed. The court affirmed imposition of liability as to the Frias account and dismissed as untimely WSI’s cross appeal concerning the Alvidrez account. In Brendel Construction I, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed as to the Frias account and reversed the dismissal of WSI’s cross appeal. On remand, the district court affirmed the ALJ’s decision determining Brendel Construction was not liable for the Alvidrez account. WSI appealed that last judgment. The Supreme Court determined that even if there was evidence Alvidrez had employees, WSI still had not provided reliable information to support its imposition of premium liability. Judgment was thus affirmed. View "Brendel Construction v. WSI" on Justia Law

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Joseph Motisi appealed a district court order and judgment denying his petition for writ of mandamus. Hebron Public School District employed Motisi as a teacher during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. Prior to his employment with the District, Motisi worked as a teacher in another North Dakota school district for four years. On April 23, 2021, the District sent Motisi a Probationary Teacher Notice of Nonrenewal, informing him the District would not be renewing his teaching contract. Motisi sent a letter to the District on April 26, 2021, notifying the District of his acceptance of a continuing contract for the 2021-22 school year. The District then notified Motisi he was unable to accept an offer to renew a contract because his contract was nonrenewed. Motisi applied for a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and later for a writ of mandamus. The court issued an order denying Motisi’s petition for writ of mandamus, stating the sole issue was “whether Motisi is a probationary employee under N.D.C.C. 15.1-15-02(8)” and that “Motisi concedes that if he was a probationary teacher, the District complied with the law.” The district court rejected Motisi’s argument that because he had four years of experience at another school, he could not be considered a probationary teacher under the statute. The court ultimately found “[t]he District followed the requirements of the statute when it non-renewed Motisi’s contract” and “Motisi has not demonstrated that he has a clear legal right” to the renewed contract. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in interpreting N.D.C.C. 15.1-15-02(8), and affirmed judgment. View "Motisi v. Hebron Public School District" on Justia Law

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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