This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Minnesota Department of Human Services,
Special Compensation Fund,
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C6-04-8712
James B. Peterson, Tanna B. Schwarz, Falsani, Balmer, Peterson, Quinn & Beyer, 1200 Alworth Building, 306 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802-1800 (for appellant Fish)
John H. Guthmann, Joseph G. Twomey, Hansen, Dordell, Bradt, Odlaug & Bradt, P.L.L.P., 3900 Northwoods Drive, Suite 250, St. Paul, MN 55112-6973 (for appellants Strata Corporation and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company)
Robert E. Kuderer, Stacey A. Nilsen, Johnson & Condon, P.A., 7401 Metro Boulevard, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55439-3034 (for respondents Lakes of the Woods County and Roseau County)
Brian T. Hardwick,
Brian T. Hardwick, P.A.,
Mark A. Fredrickson,
Rider Bennett, L.L.P.,
Mike Hatch, Attorney
General, Erika Schneller Sullivan, Assistant Attorney General,
Mike Hatch, Attorney
General, Rory H. Foley, Assistant Attorney General,
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Parker, Judge.
In this appeal from a grant of summary judgment, (a) appellants Strata Corporation, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., and Paul Fish argue that the issue of whether Fish was an employee of respondents Roseau County and Lake of the Woods County and therefore entitled to workers’ compensation benefits is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the workers’ compensation courts; (b) Strata Corporation and Liberty Mutual argue that the declaratory judgment action did not present a justiciable controversy because the district court did not have jurisdiction over the underlying claim; and (c) appellant Fish argues that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether Fish was a volunteer at the time of his injury and qualified as an employee under Minn. Stat. § 12.22, subd. 2a (2004) (describing conditions for determining the employment status of volunteers during emergencies and disasters). We vacate the district court’s judgment.
D E C I S I O N
Whether summary judgment was properly granted is a question
of law, which we review de novo.
The instant case began as a workers’ compensation claim
filed by Paul Fish after his injury while removing some flood-damaged
insulation from the home of respondent Robert Sutherland. The workers’ compensation statute is meant
“to assure the quick and efficient delivery of indemnity and medical benefits
to injured workers at a reasonable cost to the employers.”
After Fish filed his workers’ compensation claim,
After remand, the parties submitted cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the counties, concluding that the workers’ compensation hearing officers lacked jurisdiction to interpret Minn. Stat. § 12.22, subd. 2a (2004), for the purpose of determining whether Fish was an employee. The district court also concluded that Fish was not an employee of the counties at the time of his injury.
The threshold question for both the district court and the
workers’ compensation claim petition filed with the Minnesota Department of
Labor and Industry is whether Fish was an employee of the counties at the time
of his injury. Appellants Strata and
Liberty Mutual contend that the counties’ declaratory judgment action was
improper because the complaint did not present a justiciable controversy in
light of the pending workers’ compensation claim. We agree.
In the context of declaratory judgment actions,
justiciability requires that a controversy “(a) involve definite and concrete
assertions of right by parties with adverse interests, (b) involve a genuine
conflict in tangible interests of opposing litigants, and (c) be capable
of relief by a decree or judgment.” Graham v. Crow Wing County Bd. of Comm’rs,
515 N.W.2d 81, 84 (Minn. App. 1994), review
denied (Minn. June 2, 1994). “In
declaratory judgment actions, the ‘present controversy’ requirement of
justiciability is viewed leniently and is satisfied if there is a controversy
of ‘sufficient immediacy and reality’ to warrant issuance of a judgment.” Rice
Lake Contracting, 549 N.W.2d at 99 (quoting Holiday Acres No. 3 v.
Based on the facts in this case, the present-controversy
requirement is not satisfied. It is the
intent of the legislature that these claims be decided under the workers’
The dispositive issue here is not whether workers’ compensation courts or district courts have exclusive jurisdiction. Before the declaratory-judgment action was filed, Fish filed his workers’ compensation claim and that claim arose under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The workers’ compensation court, therefore, is the proper forum for determining whether he is an employee of the counties for purposes of section 12.22. Accordingly, it was an error for the district court to determine that question.
The counties argue that because Minn. Stat. § 12.22,
subd. 2a, arises outside the workers’ compensation statute, workers’
compensation judges lack the authority to interpret that statute as it applies
to Fish. But workers’ compensation
courts have frequently looked to other statutory and common-law authority for
determining an employee’s right to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation
e.g., Sundby v. City of St. Peter, 693 N.W.2d 206, 215-16 (
The district court erred in deciding the cross-motions for summary judgment. Because we conclude that no justiciable controversy exists, we vacate the judgment and do not reach the issue of whether Paul Fish was an employee of the counties under Minn. Stat. § 12.22, subd. 2a.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 Subdivision 2a, addressing volunteer assistance, provides:
Individuals who volunteer to assist a local political subdivision during an emergency or disaster, who register with that subdivision, and who are under the direction and control of that subdivision, are considered an employee of that subdivision.