This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ' 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Aetna Casualty & Surety Company,
Minnesota Assigned Risk Plan,
Filed July 16, 1996
Hennepin County District Court
File No. CT957402
Larry J. Peterson, Larson J. Peterson & Associates, 250 Wright Building, 2233 University Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55114-1629 (for Appellant)
Douglas J. Brown, Brown & Holman, P.A., Suite 300, 8441 Wayzata Boulevard, Minneapolis, MN 55426 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Short, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On January 3, 1991, Lee Rundberg was injured in California while driving a truck for his employer, Hirschbach Motor Lines, Inc. The employer is a Nebraska company with operations in Minnesota. Aetna Casualty & Surety Company (Aetna) provided workers' compensation liability insurance in Nebraska. The Minnesota Assigned Risk Plan (MARP) provided workers' compensation liability insurance in Minnesota.
From January 4, 1991 to January 16, 1992, Aetna paid Rundberg's wage loss and medical benefits pursuant to Nebraska law. On January 16, 1992, Rundberg filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits in Minnesota. Aetna immediately ceased payments to Rundberg.
The employer objected to Rundberg's Minnesota action on jurisdictional grounds. Aetna intervened, seeking entitlement to reimbursement for all benefits paid to Rundberg. A Minnesota workers' compensation judge determined: (1) Rundberg was entitled to benefits in Minnesota; and (2) MARP was responsible for payment of Rundberg's past, present, and future benefits. That compensation judge ordered MARP to pay Rundberg's benefits, starting January 16, 1992, and to reimburse Aetna for past benefits paid to Rundberg under Nebraska law. MARP appealed and the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals reversed the compensation judge, holding the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Division did not have subject matter jurisdiction to order reimbursement of a Nebraska insurer for benefits paid under Nebraska workers' compensation law. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed in an unpublished opinion. Rundberg v. Hirschbach Motor Lines, 520 N.W.2d 747 (Minn. 1994).
Aetna filed this equitable action against MARP seeking reimbursement for benefits paid to Rundberg pursuant to Nebraska law. MARP moved for summary judgment, which was granted. On appeal, Aetna argues the trial court erred as a matter of law. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal from summary judgment, we determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the trial court erred in its application of the law. Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03; State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). Where there is no factual dispute regarding the issues addressed in an earlier proceeding, we review de novo the trial court's analysis concerning the applicability of res judicata. See Kolb v. Scherer Bros. Fin. Servs. Co., 6 F.3d 542, 544 (8th Cir. 1993) (reviewing de novo the application of res judicata to a case's undisputed procedural history); Nitz v. Nitz, 456 N.W.2d 450, 451-53 (Minn. App. 1990) (reviewing the trial court's application of res judicata for error).
Both parties argue they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because res judicata bars further litigation of Aetna's reimbursement claim. However, res judicata does not apply until a court of competent jurisdiction has reached an adjudication on the merits. See Kolb, 6 F.3d at 544 (listing the elements of res judicata). Because Aetna's prior reimbursement claim was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the earlier proceedings have no preclusive effect, and the trial court did not err in declining to apply res judicata. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 41.02(c) (recognizing that involuntary dismissal for lack of jurisdiction does not constitute an adjudication on the merits); Daigle v. Opelousas Health Care, Inc., 774 F.2d 1344, 1348 (5th Cir. 1985) (explaining a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction bars further litigation only of the jurisdictional issue).
Aetna also argues the trial court erred in concluding the unjust enrichment claim is untenable as a matter of law. See 4934, Inc. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 605 A.2d 50, 56 (D.C. 1992) (listing several cases in which courts have applied principles of unjust enrichment to workers' compensation cases). However, this is not a case in which (1) both insurers initially disputed their liability, (2) one insurer made interim payments with the understanding it expected reimbursement if the other was found to be the responsible party, and (3) the injured worker proved ineligible to receive benefits from the first insurer. Cf. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 532 N.E.2d 124, 125-26 (Ohio 1988) (requiring an Ohio insurer to reimburse a Mississippi insurer who provided an injured employee interim benefits under circumstances in which both insurers knew of a coverage dispute and the employee proved ineligible for Mississippi benefits); State ex rel. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 480 N.E.2d 815, 815-16 (Ohio 1985) (involving earlier litigation of the same case and noting the Mississippi insurer's repeated statements concerning its expectation of reimbursement). Rather, the facts of this case establish Aetna: (1) voluntarily paid Rundberg benefits for over a year pursuant to Nebraska law; (2) never disputed its responsibility to pay those benefits under Nebraska law; and (3) sought reimbursement only after Rundberg elected to pursue his workers' compensation remedy in Minnesota.
Rundberg's claim appears to present the common situation in which an injured employee (1) is entitled to benefits under two states' compensation regimes, (2) properly receives some benefits under the laws of one state, and (3) elects to receive further benefits under the laws of another. See, e.g., Stolpa v. Swanson Heavy Moving Co., 315 N.W.2d 615, 616-17 (Minn. 1982) (involving an injured employee who received voluntary payments under Wisconsin law, but later elected to receive benefits under Minnesota law); Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws ch. 7, Topic 3, Introductory Note (1969) (recognizing the frequency of situations in which an employee may receive benefits in more than one state). Under these circumstances, both avenues of relief are appropriate and equity requires only that the second state prevent double recovery by crediting the benefits received in the first state against those awarded in the second. See Stolpa, 315 N.W.2d at 618 (requiring deduction of benefits voluntarily paid in Wisconsin from the compensation awarded in a Minnesota proceeding); Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws ' 182 & cmt. b (recognizing that compensation may be allowed under the laws of two states, but providing for an offset in the event of recovery under both). Thus, Aetna cannot maintain its unjust enrichment claim without showing it was the victim of improper exploitation. See Pelser v. Gingold, 214 Minn. 281, 291, 8 N.W.2d 36, 42 (1943) (holding the "exercise of a legal right cannot [trigger] liability for unjust enrichment to a party who has not been wronged thereby").
Aetna's claim of wrongful payment depends on a theory that it had no obligation to pay Rundberg's benefits and is entitled to their return under Nebraska law. However, the authority to establish and enforce rights under Nebraska's compensation statutes belongs to the tribunals of that state and, although we are a court of general jurisdiction, conflict-of-laws principles prevent us from assuming their role. See Murphy Motor Freight Lines, Inc. v. Interstate Motor Freight Sys., 384 N.W.2d 196, 199-200 (Minn. App. 1986) (holding the recognition and enforcement of reimbursement rights created by statute in another state presents a conflict-of-laws issue), review denied (Minn. May 16, 1986); see also 3 Arthur Larson, Workmen's Compensation ' 84.21, at 16-2 (desk ed. 1996) (discussing conflict-of-laws problems and stating "rights created by the compensation act of one state cannot ordinarily be enforced in another state or in a federal court"); cf. Dial v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 863 F.2d 15, 16-17 (5th Cir. 1989) (affirming the dismissal of a tort action because the plaintiff's claim depended on his eligibility for workers' compensation benefits under Mississippi law, which was a matter to be decided by the state's administrative tribunal). Because it is not appropriate for us to fashion a collateral remedy, we affirm the grant of summary judgment.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, ' 10.