Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Hennessey v. Milnor School District
Andrew Hennessey appealed a district court order dismissing with prejudice his action against the Milnor School District (“District”). The District employed Hennessey as a teacher for the 2021-2022 school year. In October 2021, the District placed Hennessey on paid administrative leave for immoral conduct and conduct unbecoming his position. The District requested Hennessey sign a resignation letter, which would have immediately terminated his employment, salary, and benefits. He declined to sign the resignation letter and requested an administrative hearing. The District then converted Hennessey’s leave from paid to unpaid leave and recommended his dismissal for cause. Hennessey subsequently signed a severance agreement providing him salary through October 2021 and insurance benefits through December 2021, and waiving his rights to challenge the dismissal. He later learned through an open records request that the District’s legal counsel had advised the District in an email, in part, to convert his leave to unpaid to have “some leverage over this guy.” In December 2022, Hennessey filed this action seeking to rescind the agreement’s release and waiver section to allow him to challenge his dismissal. He claimed the District exerted undue financial pressure on him to secure the waiver of his rights to an administrative hearing and to challenge his termination in district court when it converted his paid leave to unpaid leave. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, finding Hennessey failed to allege facts sufficient to support rescinding a contract for undue influence under N.D.C.C. § 9-09-02. View "Hennessey v. Milnor School District" on Justia Law
Kutcka, et al. v. Gateway Building Systems, et al.
David Kutcka, Tammy Dejno, as personal representative of Austin Dejno’s estate, and Tammy Dejno, as wrongful death plaintiff (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) appealed the dismissal of their negligence claims against Gateway Building Systems (“Gateway”). Plaintiffs argued the district court erred in concluding Gateway was Kutcka’s and Austin Dejno’s statutory employer entitling Gateway to immunity from suit under the workers’ compensation act. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed, concluding that Gateway, the general contractor, was not the statutory employer of its subcontractor’s employees, Kutcka and Dejno, entitling it to immunity under the exclusive remedy provisions of N.D.C.C. § 65-04-28, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Kutcka, et al. v. Gateway Building Systems, et al." on Justia Law
Larson Latham Huettl, LLP v. Iversen
Travis Iversen appealed a judgment entered in favor of appellee, Larson Latham Huettl, LLP (hereafter “LLH”), and an order denying relief from judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 59(j). Iversen was an attorney employed by LLH from February 2019 until July 2021. Iversen asserts that Tyrone Turner, an LLH partner, told Iversen that “you can only do the work that we give you.” After Iversen terminated his employment with LLH, LLH requested that Iversen refund it $35,772.63 for overpayment. LLH argues that Iversen owes this debt to LLH because he had not been credited with sufficient billable hours to justify the compensation he received under the employment agreement. Iversen refused to pay the deficiency, and LLH then sued Iversen. The district court issued a memorandum opinion granting LLH’s motion for summary judgment. Before judgment was entered, Iversen filed a “motion for reconsideration” citing N.D.R.Civ.P. 59(j). The district court denied Iversen’s motion. Iverson argued that several genuine issues of material fact remained, precluding summary judgment. He also argued the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion under Rule 59(j). Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment and the order denying Iversen’s Rule 59(j) motion. View "Larson Latham Huettl, LLP v. Iversen" on Justia Law
Keidel v. WSI, et al.
Jesse Keidel appealed a district court judgment affirming an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) decision denying Keidel permanent partial impairment (PPI) benefits. In May 1996, Keidel suffered a work-related injury to the meniscus of his left knee. Keidel had surgery in December 1996. In October 1997, Keidel underwent a second surgery to his left knee, a high tibial osteotomy. The doctor performing an independent medical evaluation in May 1998 opined that Keidel’s left knee condition was a “combination of his significant preexisting left knee degenerative joint disease and the work-related permanent aggravation.” Following a permanent impairment evaluation, WSI denied Keidel a PPI award because Keidel’s 15% whole body impairment was below the statutory 16% threshold for an impairment award. In January 2019, Keidel had left total knee replacement surgery. In June 2020, Keidel underwent a second permanent impairment evaluation. The evaluating doctor, Dr. Redington, determined Keidel had a 24% whole person impairment for the left total knee replacement. "Giving [Keidel] the benefit of the doubt, I will apportion 50% of the impairment rating of the left knee to pre-existing conditions." In November 2020, WSI denied an impairment award for Keidel’s left knee because his overall impairment rating after apportionment after the second evaluation was 12%, which was below the 14% threshold for an impairment award under then current version of N.D.C.C. § 65-05-12.2. At a hearing, Keidel argued the apportionment of his left knee impairment due to preexisting arthritis was litigated and decided in a 2000 hearing. Keidel argued administrative res judicata prohibited WSI from litigating whether his permanent impairment could be apportioned to a preexisting condition. The ALJ and district court concluded administrative res judicata did not apply. Finding no error in that judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Keidel v. WSI, et al." on Justia Law
Larson Latham Huettl, LLP v. Burckhard
Thomas Burckhard appealed a judgment entered following consideration of Larson Latham Huettl LLP’s motion for summary judgment. Burckhard began employment with Larson Latham Huettl LLP (hereinafter LLH) in January 2019. In May 2019 Burckhard signed an employment contract, under which Burckhard agreed he would receive compensation based upon projected hours billed. Any overpayment resulting from a deficiency between the projected hours he would bill and the actual hours he billed would be considered a debt owed by Burckhard to LLH. Burckhard’s employment with LLH ended on August 15, 2020. At that time, Burckhard was paid for 697.88 projected billable hours more than his actual billable hours resulting in an overpayment of compensation in the amount of $29,885.38. LLH filed suit alleging breach of contract seeking to recover the excess compensation plus pre-judgment interest. The district court granted LLH’s motion finding there were no issues of material fact and LLH was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Burckhard appealed, arguing summary judgment was improper because the contract’s purpose was frustrated, the contract is unconscionable, the contract fails for lack of consideration, LLH waived its right to obtain payment, there is a genuine dispute as to the amount of the damages, and the district court abused its discretion in denying Burckhard additional time for discovery. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined Burckhard failed to prove there was a genuine dispute as to any material fact. The district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of LLH and properly dismissed all of Burckhard’s affirmative defenses. View "Larson Latham Huettl, LLP v. Burckhard" on Justia Law
Provins v. WSI, et al.
Cliff Provins appealed a district court judgment affirming an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) decision that affirmed a Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) order denying liability for his post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and ending disability benefits in November 2019. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the ALJ did not err in concluding Provins’s PTSD was not compensable, and a reasoning mind could reasonably conclude his physical injuries did not cause his PTSD. View "Provins v. WSI, et al." on Justia Law
Procive v. WSI
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
Larson v. WSI
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
WSI v. Boechler, PC, et al.
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
Brendel Construction v. WSI
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