may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Quality Pork Processors,
Filed March 25, 1997
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Mower County District Court
File No. C1-95-700
Warren F. Plunkett, Peter D. Plunkett, Warren F. Plunkett & Associates, 107 West Oakland Avenue, Post Office Box 463, Austin, MN 55912 (for Appellant)
John S. Beckmann, Steven J. Hovey, Hoversten, Johnson, Beckmann, Wellmann & Hovey, 807 West Oakland Avenue, Austin, MN 55912 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Mansur, Judge.[*]
Appellant Margaret Leeper and respondent Quality Pork Processors both challenge the grounds for the trial court's involuntary dismissal of this case under Minn. R. Civ. P. 41.02. Because the evidence does not support appellant's claim that respondent intentionally obstructed her from seeking workers' compensation benefits or respondent's claim for bad-faith attorney fees, we affirm. We reverse and remand for findings on the issue of disbursements.
[a]ny person * * * in any manner intentionally obstructing an employee seeking workers' compensation benefits is liable in a civil action * * *.
Minn. Stat. § 176.82 (1994). An obstruction under this statute is "an impediment to or frustration of the receipt of benefits." Flaherty v. Lindsay, 467 N.W.2d 30, 32 (Minn. 1991).
A plain reading of the statute also suggests some actual denial or disruption in the receipt of benefits must occur to warrant recovery; normally, such actions involve the denial of monetary benefits.
Id. Minn. Stat. § 176.82 "is intended to cover those situations where the insurer's delay or denial of benefits goes beyond unreasonableness, neglect, or obstinance." Bergeson v. United States Fidelity & Guar. Co., 414 N.W.2d 724, 727 (Minn. 1987) (statute's explicit allowance of treble punitive damages also indicates that statute addresses "outrageous conduct").
Appellant contends that respondent intentionally obstructed her "quest for workers compensation benefits." She alleges that respondent intentionally underpaid her by calculating her benefits based on her $6.50 per hour starting wage rather than her $8.40 per hour wage at the time of her last injury. She contends that respondent knew of her dire financial straights when it incorrectly calculated the benefits.
As support for her obstruction claim, appellant cites Kaluza v. Home Ins. Co., 403 N.W.2d 230 (Minn. 1987). In Kaluza, however, the basis for the intentional obstruction was (1) refusal to reinstate benefits even after the insurer knew its allegations were unfounded, (2) termination of benefits on the same day the insurer agreed to a consent order requiring continued payments, and (3) failure to pay benefits as ordered by a hearing officer. Id. at 233-34. As a later supreme court characterized Kaluza, it was a case of "the insurer's outright refusal to pay benefits after falsely accusing the employee of forging records[.]" Flaherty, 467 N.W.2d at 32.
Appellant's contention that respondent intentionally reduced her payments so that she would default on her house payments is unsupported. The record establishes that respondent gave appellant workers' compensation benefits as she incurred injury. She received alternative light work for 290 days in an effort to rehabilitate her for a regular position. Only when it became clear to respondent's medical officer that appellant would never return to regular employment did respondent bring in an assistant to help appellant find other employment. Respondent started by giving appellant part- and then full-time job-search assistance. Appellant quit her job with respondent once she had obtained full-time employment elsewhere. These facts do not establish the outrageous conduct contemplated by the statute.
As for the reduction of benefits based on appellant's wage at the time of the first injury, respondent established a good-faith basis for that decision. Appellant herself testified that the back injury did not cause her to lose work time. Also, appellant's own medical examiner concluded that her later back injury did not result in permanent partial disability.
In short, the trial court's findings supporting the rule 41.02(b) dismissal of appellant's claim were not clearly erroneous. See Poured Concrete Founds., Inc. v. Andron, Inc., 507 N.W.2d 888, 891 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Jan. 27, 1994). Having concluded that there was no violation of Minn. Stat. § 176.82, we need not reach respondent's accord and satisfaction claim.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.