Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Plains Trucking’s petitions sought supervisory writs from the North Dakota Supreme Court in two civil actions that arose out of an explosion on March 27, 2013. One worker, Trevor Davis, was killed, and another worker, Darian Songer Bail, was injured in the explosion that occurred while Davis and Songer Bail were cleaning a crude oil tanker trailer owned by MBI Energy Services. Plains Trucking asserted both Davis and Songer Bail were its employees and that the civil actions were barred by N.D.C.C. title 65. Respondent Songer Bail cross-petitioned for a supervisory writ to direct the district court in his case to vacate its order determining as a matter of law that he was Plains Trucking’s employee on the date of his injury. The cases were consolidated for oral argument to the Supreme Court. Exercising its original jurisdiction, the North Dakota Supreme Court granted Plains Trucking’s petitions and denied Songer Bail’s cross-petition. View "Plains Trucking, LLC v. Hagar, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2014, Leonard Taylor, then 55 years old, sustained severe work-related injuries when he fell 15 feet while employed as an electrician by Industrial Contractors, Inc. Taylor suffered multiple compression fractures of the thoracic vertebrae, with a fragment impinging the spinal cord resulting in partial paraplegia. Taylor underwent surgery and was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury, incomplete paraplegia at T5-6, neurogenic bowel and bladder, a closed head injury, and neuropathic pain. While at the hospital, Taylor exhibited numerous signs of cognitive dysfunction. Taylor was eventually transferred to a hospital rehabilitation unit where he received physical, occupational, and cognitive therapy. WSI accepted liability for Taylor’s claim and paid him benefits. WSI appealed a judgment affirming an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) order finding Taylor had a retained earnings capacity of zero and he had good cause for noncompliance with vocational rehabilitation for failing to perform a good faith work search. Because the ALJ misapplied the law in determining Taylor had zero retained earnings capacity, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the judgment and remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings. View "WSI v. Taylor, et al." on Justia Law

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Jack Robinson appeals from a district court judgment affirming a Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) order finding Robinson personally liable for any unpaid workers’ compensation premiums, penalties, interest, and costs owed by Dalton Logistics, Inc. (“Dalton”). Robinson argues WSI failed to properly serve him with the administrative order resulting in a lack of personal jurisdiction and that his due process rights were violated. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the ALJ failed to make any findings of fact to support its conclusion that Robinson’s motion to dismiss be denied as a matter of law. It therefore reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded to the agency for further proceedings. View "Robinson v. WSI" on Justia Law

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Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) appealed a judgment affirming an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) decision that John Sandberg sustained a compensable injury because his repetitive work activities substantially worsened the severity of his preexisting degenerative disc condition. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the ALJ’s findings were not sufficient to understand the basis for the decision. The decision was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "WSI v. Sandberg, et al." on Justia Law

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Eight Ball Trucking, Inc., and David and Laurie Horrocks (collectively “defendants”) appealed from an order entered after the district court denied their motion under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) for relief from a summary judgment. The Horrocks are officers of Eight Ball, a Utah trucking company doing business in North Dakota during the relevant time period. A dispute arose over Eight Ball’s allocation of employees between North Dakota and Utah and Eight Ball’s obligation to procure North Dakota workers compensation insurance for its North Dakota employees. In late March and early April 2016, Workforce Safety & Insurance (“WSI”) commenced an action against the defendants by serving them with a summons and complaint to enjoin them from employing individuals in North Dakota and to collect $802,689.84 in unpaid workers compensation insurance premiums, penalties, and interest. The complaint alleged that WSI had issued an August 28, 2015 notice of an administrative decision finding the Horrocks personally liable for unpaid premiums and penalties owed by Eight Ball, that the Horrocks did not request reconsideration nor appeal from that decision, and that the administrative decision was res judicata. WSI filed the pending lawsuit in district court and moved for summary judgment. According to the Horrocks, they did not respond to the summary judgment motion because they thought they had submitted necessary documentation to WSI to resolve the issue. The district court ultimately granted WSI’s motion for summary judgment, awarding WSI $812,702.79 in premiums, penalties, and costs and disbursements and enjoining Eight Ball from engaging in employment in North Dakota. On December 19, 2016, WSI sent the Horrocks a letter, informing them the judgment had been entered against them on December 15, 2016, and requesting payment. The defendants did not appeal the summary judgment. Defendants moved to set aside the summary judgment on grounds of mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect. The district court denied the motion, determining the defendants’ disregard and neglect of the legal process was not excusable neglect and failed to establish extraordinary circumstances necessary to set aside the judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b). After review of the district court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concurred and affirmed judgment. View "WSI v. Eight Ball Trucking, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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James Sabo and Fun-Co., Inc., appealed a judgment affirming a decision of Job Service North Dakota determining Sabo was overpaid unemployment benefits in the amount of $14,638 and requiring him to refund those previously paid benefits. Sabo was an officer, employee, and owner of all shares of stock in Fun-Co., Inc., which operated a bar and restaurant in Fargo. After a fire damaged the building which housed the bar and restaurant, Sabo filed a claim for unemployment benefits. Job Service mailed a reconsidered monetary determination informing Sabo he was entitled to $67 per week for 26 weeks because he failed to disclose that he had a one-fourth or greater ownership interest in Fun-Co., Inc. The reconsidered monetary determination informed Sabo that if he disagreed with the determination, he “must file an appeal no later than 11/21/2017.” Sabo did not appeal. On December 1, 2017, Job Service issued a notice of overpayment and informed Sabo he had twelve calendar days to appeal the overpayment amount. Then, Sabo appealed. Because Job Service’s decision was in accordance with the law and was supported by a preponderance of the evidence, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Sabo, et al. v. Job Service" on Justia Law

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Frank Cuozzo appeals from a judgment dismissing his breach of contract action against the State, doing business as the University of North Dakota (UND), and its president Mark Kennedy. Cuozzo was a tenured faculty member in UND’s Anthropology Department. After failing to inform his department of convictions for driving under the influence and driving with a revoked license, Cuozzo was placed on a performance improvement plan which he subsequently violated. On January 30, 2017, Cuozzo was terminated from his position and he filed a formal grievance. The Standing Committee on Faculty Rights held a hearing and issued a four-page report finding there was clear and convincing evidence of adequate cause to terminate Cuozzo, but recommending that he be allowed to resign instead of being terminated for cause. The Standing Committee submitted its findings and conclusions to Kennedy. Four days after receiving the report, Kennedy wrote a letter to Cuozzo upholding the University's decision to terminate Cuozzo's employment. Cuozzo responded to Kennedy’s letter and complained about “such a quick decision,” alleging Kennedy failed to comply with the UND Faculty Handbook relating to dismissals which stated “[t]he president shall make a decision and provide written notice of the decision, including findings of fact and reasons or conclusions based on the hearing record.” Cuozzo sued UND and Kennedy claiming they breached his employment contract because Kennedy failed to review the hearing record and make his own findings and conclusions. When unsuccessful at district court, Cuozzo appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court, arguing the district court erred in ruling UND and Kennedy substantially complied with their obligations under the employment contract. The Supreme Court concluded Kennedy and UND substantially complied with their contractual obligations in terminating Cuozzo’s employment, and affirmed dismissal of Cuozzo's case. View "Cuozzo v. North Dakota, d/b/a University of North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law

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Aaron Cockfield appealed dismissal of his petition for a writ of mandamus seeking to compel the City of Fargo to reinstate him as an employee. Cockfield was employed by the City’s Solid Waste Department. In 2017, Cockfield was asked to perform a specific task within the scope of his employment. Cockfield refused to do it. Cockfield’s acting route supervisor, Shawn Eckre, approached Cockfield to talk about it. Cockfield was seated when Eckre approached, Cockfield stood up and pushed Eckre, and the push caused Eckre to fall against a wall. Cockfield was informed his conduct violated City policy, including the workplace violence policy. Cockfield was given an opportunity to provide an explanation of the incident. Cockfield did not deny refusing to perform the requested work, and he admitted he had pushed Eckre. At the conclusion of the meeting, Ludlum advised Cockfield the City was terminating his employment. Cockfield was told the reason for his termination, and he was provided with written notice of the termination. The Fargo Civil Service Commission upheld the termination. Following a hearing, the City Commission upheld the termination. Cockfield argues the district court abused its discretion by concluding he was provided with adequate pre-termination due process. The North Dakota Supreme Court disagreed with Cockfield's contentions, and affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing his request for mandamus relief. View "Cockfield v. City of Fargo" on Justia Law

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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