may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
Allied Property & Casualty
Lynda K. Raymond,
Filed February 10, 1998
Polk District Court
File No. C4961578
John R. Thomas, George C. Hottinger, Erstad & Riemer, 1000 Northland Plaza, 3800 West 80th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55431 (for respondent)
Kenneth F. Johannson, Johannson, Taylor, Rust, & Fagerlund, P.O. Box 605, Crookston, MN 56716 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Foley, Judge.**
Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
Appellant claims the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of respondent-insurer, arguing that respondent waived its right to reimbursement against her and that, if respondent is entitled to reimbursement, she is entitled to an off-set for attorney fees because of respondent's conduct. We affirm on all issues.
Raymond also applied for no fault benefits from her automobile insurer, respondent Allied Property & Casualty Insurance Company (Allied). Raymond received $12,926 in medical expense benefits and disability income loss from Allied. When Allied learned of Raymond's workers' compensation claim, it discontinued payment of the no fault benefits and intervened in the workers' compensation action. Raymond filed an arbitration claim for her no fault benefits and on April 6, 1995, the arbitrator awarded her $10,895.06 in no fault benefits. Allied's motion to the district court to vacate the arbitrator's award was denied, and this court affirmed that decision in a published opinion. See Raymond v. Allied Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 546 N.W.2d 766 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. July 10, 1996).
Raymond settled her workers' compensation claim, receiving $40,000 for her wage loss claim, most of the medical expenses awarded in the arbitration, and $10,000 for future medical expenses. Although the workers' compensation carrier reimbursed Allied for the no fault benefits paid to Raymond, the settlement did not reimburse Allied for the no fault benefits awarded by the arbitrator.
In August and September 1996, Allied tendered Raymond checks totaling $10,895.06 in no fault benefits. Allied also demanded reimbursement of the amount of no fault benefits duplicated by her workers' compensation settlement. Raymond acknowledged receipt of the no fault benefits, but indicated she would not reimburse Allied.
In October 1996, Allied brought a motion for summary judgment in Polk County District Court, seeking to recover $10,895.06 in no fault insurance benefits it paid to Raymond. Allied claimed that, pursuant to Minn. Stat. §§ 65B.42, subd. 5, 65B.54, subd. 3 (1996), it was entitled to reimbursement of this amount because it represented a double recovery. Raymond countered, arguing that Allied's conduct violated Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 3, and the express purpose of the no fault statute by refusing to pay her no fault benefits promptly, and, therefore, Allied waived its right to reimbursement under the no fault statute. Raymond claimed further that by contesting its obligation to pay her benefits, Allied waived its reimbursement right under the equitable doctrine of unclean hands.
The district court granted summary judgment on behalf of Allied and ordered Raymond to reimburse Allied in the amount of $10,780.44. The district court ruled (1) that there was no legal support for the proposition that an insurer waives its right to reimbursement if it does not comply with the no fault statute, (2) that the equitable doctrine of unclean hands did not apply to Allied's subrogation claim because the no fault statute provides a legal remedy for an insurer's failure to pay claims under the statute, and (3) that Raymond was entitled to the 15% interest penalty provided by the no fault statute on the no fault benefit amount awarded by the arbitrator to be calculated from the date of the arbitration award until the time Allied paid Raymond the no fault benefits in full. The district court awarded Raymond $2,287.96 in interest pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 2 (1996). The district court denied Raymond's motion for reconsideration, including her request for attorney fees in the preceding litigation. This appeal follows.
Here, it is undisputed that Raymond received checks from Allied as payment for her no fault benefits on August 13, 1996 and September 16, 1996, totaling $10,895.06. The court concluded that, in light of her workers' compensation settlement, Raymond received a double recovery in the amount of $10,780.44. This finding is not challenged by Raymond. Raymond does not claim that an insurer does not have the right to reimbursement under the no fault act or that the no fault statute precludes an insured from receiving a double recovery. Rather, Raymond argues that Allied waived its right to reimbursement because it initially refused to pay her no fault benefits promptly and only begrudgingly paid the no fault benefits awarded by the arbitrator after three lengthy and costly appeals. Thus, the issue presented is whether Allied's delay in paying Raymond's no fault benefits constitutes a waiver of Allied's right to reimbursement.
Here, Allied refused to pay Raymond no fault benefits after it learned of her workers' compensation claim. Under the no fault statute, benefits paid or payable under a workers' compensation law are primary to basic economic loss benefits. Minn. Stat. § 65B.61, subd. 1 (1996). To offset the workers' compensation benefits paid or payable, "the reparation obligor shall make an appropriate rebate or reduction in the premiums of the plan of reparation security." Id.
The parties agree that until it learned of Raymond's workers' compensation claim, Allied paid Raymond $12,926 in no fault benefits. Only after learning of the workers' compensation claim did Allied refuse to pay Raymond further no fault benefits. It appears Allied refused to pay Raymond further no fault benefits because it was anticipating its right to reimbursement under Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 3 (1996) ("The obligor is entitled to reimbursement from the person obligated to make the payments or from the claimant who actually receives the payments.").
Allied's action in contesting its obligation to pay no fault benefits resulted in an arbitration proceeding and award, an appeal to the district court of that award, and finally an appeal to this court. We cannot say as a matter of law that Allied's actions were taken in bad faith. Arguably, Allied had the right to contest its obligation to pay no fault benefits to Raymond. Although Allied's position ultimately proved unsuccessful, that alone does not prove that Allied acted in bad faith in denying Raymond's claim.
In addition, it appears that Raymond knew that Allied was entitled to reimbursement under the no fault statute and that she would eventually have to reimburse Allied. It seems that Allied was trying to shorten the process by requesting the reimbursement amount up front instead of paying the benefits and then filing suit for
reimbursement. Raymond's counsel conceded as much during the summary judgment hearing when he stated:
Before [Allied contested its obligation to pay Raymond] they wrote and said, well, look, why don't you just forget about it all since we're entitled to reimbursement under the statute, and let's just call it a day. I said, no, you make your payment as you're obligated to do under the petition. They finally went ahead and did that, and then in October of 1996 started this lawsuit seeking reimbursement.
As noted by the district court, there is no support for Raymond's position that Allied's failure to pay her basic economic loss benefits when due under the no fault statute constitutes a waiver of Allied's right to reimbursement under Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 3.
Raymond argues that the equitable doctrine of unclean hands works to justify the denial of Allied's right to reimbursement under the no fault statute. The granting of equitable relief is within the discretion of the district court, and its decision will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of that discretion. Nadeau v. County of Ramsey, 277 N.W.2d 520, 524 (Minn. 1979). "Equitable relief is granted only upon a showing of the inadequacy of any legal remedy." Zimmerman v. Lasky, 374 N.W.2d 212, 214 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. Nov. 26, 1985). A remedy provided by statute "'is generally exclusive and will preclude any resort to equity.'" Id. (quoting Adelman v. Onishuk, 271 Minn. 216, 228, 135 N.W.2d 670, 678 (1965)).
The no fault act provides an express remedy if an insurer improperly refuses to pay no fault benefits promptly. Haagenson v. National Farmers Union Property & Cas. Co., 277 N.W.2d 648, 653 (Minn. 1979) (holding under Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd.2, no fault act provides remedy for nonpayment of insurance). If no fault payments become overdue, the statute states that "[o]verdue payments shall bear simple interest at the rate of 15 percent per annum." Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 2. This provision serves to compensate the insured for the use of his or her money and as a penal purpose to promote prompt payment of benefits by insurers. See Streich v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 358 N.W.2d 396, 400-01 (Minn. 1984) (referring to amounts payable under Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 2, as penalty); Burniece v. Illinios Farmers Ins. Co., 398 N.W.2d 542, 544 (Minn. 1987) (holding that amounts payable under Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 2, are interest that serves penal purpose, promoting prompt payment of no fault benefits).
Here, the district court awarded Raymond $2,287.96 in interest on the overdue benefits Allied owed her. Raymond did not and does not now argue that this remedy is inadequate. Because the no fault statute provides a specific legal remedy of money damages for an insurer's nonpayment of no fault benefits and Raymond has made no showing or argument that this remedy is inadequate, we conclude the district court properly refused to grant Raymond's request for equitable relief under the doctrine of unclean hands.
Likewise, we reject Allied's argument that the district court erred in awarding Raymond $2,287.96 pursuant to the 15% interest penalty provided in Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 2. Allied claims that Raymond waived her right to the 15% interest penalty because she did not raise the issue during the no fault arbitration, during the appeal to the district court, or on appeal. We disagree.
Here, the district court agreed with Allied and ruled that Raymond had waived her right to the 15% interest penalty on the no fault benefits due her from the time Allied stopped paying her benefits until the date of the arbitrator's award. Raymond does not contest this ruling and therefore this issue is not before the court. See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (reviewing court may generally only consider those issues presented to and ruled on by lower court). The district court did, however, rule that Raymond was entitled to the 15% interest penalty from the time of the arbitrator's award until Allied finally paid her no fault benefits in full on September 16, 1996.
Contrary to Allied's claim, nothing in the no fault statute precludes the district court from awarding the 15% interest penalty sua sponte. No fault benefits become overdue if not paid within 30 days after the insurer receives reasonable proof of the insured's basic economic loss and the amount of loss realized. Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 1 (1996). The clear language of Minn. Stat. § 65B.54, subd. 2, states that overdue amounts "shall bear simple interest at the rate of 15 percent per annum." The statutory interest penalty attaches once the no fault benefits amount becomes overdue regardless of whether a party requests it. Accordingly, the district court did not err in awarding Raymond the 15% interest penalty.
Finally, Raymond argues that if Allied is entitled to reimbursement, she is entitled to an offset for the attorney fees she incurred in asserting her rights to no fault benefits.
"Ordinarily, a party may not recover attorney fees unless a statute or contract provision expressly allows such recovery." State Bank v. Ziehwein, 510 N.W.2d 268, 270 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Mar. 15, 1994). The no fault statute does not provide for the recovery of attorney fees by a prevailing party in a challenge regarding the payment of no fault benefits. There is no evidence that the parties contracted to allow for the recovery of attorney fees. Raymond also did not make a claim for attorney fees in the preceding litigation. We conclude Raymond waived her right, if she had one, to attorney fees. See Thiele, 425 N.W.2d at 582 (reviewing court may generally only consider those issues presented to and ruled on by lower court).
On these facts, the no fault statute does not expressly permit the recovery of attorney fees. The parties did not have a contractual agreement to that effect. The district court did not err when it denied Raymond's request for attorney fees.