THERESA A. THOMPSON, Employee, v. AT&T, SELF-INSURED, adm'd by GATES MCDONALD, Employer.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
DECEMBER 21, 2000
APPEALS - INTERLOCUTORY ORDER; JURISDICTION - SUBJECT MATTER. An order denying a motion to dismiss a claim petition is not an appealable order since it is not an Aorder affecting the merits of the case,@ and the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals lacks jurisdiction to hear an appeal of an order denying a motion to dismiss a claim petition.
Determined by: Rykken, J., Johnson, J., Wheeler, C.J.
Compensation Judge: Donald C. Erickson
MIRIAM P. RYKKEN, Judge
The self-insured employer appeals from the compensation judge=s denial of its motion to dismiss the employee=s claim petition. We dismiss the appeal.
On November 2, 1992, Theresa Thompson, the employee, sustained a personal injury arising out of her employment with AT&T, the employer, self-insured for workers= compensation liability. The self-insured employer admitted primary liability for the employee=s work-related injury and paid benefits to the employee. Prior to September 1996, the employee received approximately one month of intermittent temporary total disability benefits, together with medical expenses and rehabilitation benefits.
On June 23 and September 16, 1997, the employee filed a claim petition and an amended claim petition, alleging entitlement to permanent total disability benefits from and after September 10, 1996; benefits based upon permanent partial disability equivalent to 39.25 percent of the body as a whole as a result of the employee=s injuries to her medial, radial and ulnar nerves; medical expense benefits; and reimbursement of the intervenor=s claim for rehabilitation benefits provided to the employee. The self-insured employer denied liability for those claims. A hearing was held before a compensation judge on August 18, 1998. On October 19, 1998, the compensation judge issued Findings and Order in which he determined that the employee had failed to sustain her burden of proof that she is permanently and totally disabled from all employment due to an upper extremity overuse syndrome. The compensation judge also denied the employee=s claim for payment of permanency benefits, but ordered payment of claimed medical expenses and reimbursement to the intervenor for rehabilitation services provided to the employee. In the compensation judge=s memorandum he explained that in pre-trial proceedings the employee had specifically excluded a claim that her alleged permanent total disability was based on a mental condition. The compensation judge further explained in his memorandum that:
Accordingly, the compensation judge, pursuant to a prehearing motion, ordered >that the area of inquiry of (a psychological independent medical examination) shall be limited to fibromyalgia and chronic pain syndrome and shall not be a general mental or emotional examination of the employee.= Thus, it should be understand that in this proceeding the employee neither alleged, nor litigated, a claim that she was permanently totally disabled due to her mental condition.
(Judgment Roll, emphasis in the original.)
No appeal was taken from the 1998 Findings and Order. On March 25, 1999, the employee filed another claim petition, alleging entitlement to permanent total disability benefits as of September 10, 1996. In her claim petition, the employee asserted that the nature of her injury was Aoveruse syndrome; depression; chronic pain disorder.@ (Judgment Roll.)
On August 13, 1999, the self-insured employer filed a motion to dismiss the employee=s claim petition asserting that the employee was attempting to relitigate her previous claim and to request benefits that had already been denied in a prior unappealed decision. The self-insured employer asserted that the current claim is barred by the doctrine of res judicata, as the employee had earlier litigated her claim that she was entitled to workers= compensation benefits as a result of her alleged November 2, 1992 injury. The employer asserted that characterization of the nature of the employee=s injury does not matter for purposes of application of res judicata. The employer argued that even though the employee earlier asserted overuse syndrome and now asserts that the nature of her injury is depression, the claim for an injury in the nature of depression is a claim that could have been litigated in 1997. The employer further argues that the same nucleus of operative facts was submitted for determination in 1998, and that as a matter of law, the employee=s 1999 claim petition is barred.
In an Order served and filed April 5, 2000, the compensation judge denied the self-insured employer=s motion to dismiss the claim petition. The compensation judge determined that the employee=s current claim alleged mental injuries that were neither alleged nor litigated in the previous case, specifically, chronic pain and depression. The judge further stated that had those medical conditions been alleged in the previous case, the self-insured employer would have been allowed to schedule the employee for a full mental and physical examination. The compensation judge determined that A[a]s the employee has alleged new injuries, chronic pain and depression, that were not previously litigated as a basis for permanent total disability, the self-insured employer=s motion to dismiss on res judicata grounds is denied.@
The self-insured employer appealed from the compensation judge=s denial, asserting that the order does not conform with Minn. Ch. ' 176 et seq. and that the compensation judge committed an error of law in denying its motion to dismiss.
Subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, and an appellate court may raise and determine jurisdiction on its own motion, even though none of the parties has raised the issue. See, e.g., Davidner v. Davidner, 304 Minn. 491, 493, 232 N.W.2d 5, 7 (1975); Rhoades v. K & C Distrib., 51 W.C.D. 305, 321-22 (W.C.C.A. 1994). In this matter, neither party raised the issue of whether this court has jurisdiction to address a compensation judge=s denial of a party=s motion to dismiss. Whether a court has subject matter depends on that court=s power to deal with the subject matter involved. Parties cannot by their actions or agreement confer subject matter jurisdiction on a court. Petterson v. K&C Distrib. Co., slip op. (W.C.C.A. 1994).
Minn. Stat. ' 176.421, subd. 1, provides that appeals to this court can be taken from Aan award or disallowance of compensation, or other order affecting the merits of the case.@ See generally Mierau v. Alcon Indus., Inc., 386 N.W.2d 741, 38 W.C.D. 652 (Minn. 1986) (discussing appealable orders). As a general rule, only an order which finally determines rights of the parties and concludes the actions is appealable. Zizak v. Despatch Indus., Inc., 427 N.W.2d 755, 756 (Minn. App. 1988). The policy behind the general rule is to prevent piecemeal appeals and protect the rights of all parties until all claims have been adjudicated in the trial court. Johnson v. Johnson, 363 N.W.2d 355, 357 (Minn. App. 1985) (citing Comment, Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 104.01), pet. for rev. denied (Minn. May 6, 1985). An order denying a motion to dismiss does not affect the merits of the case. The case is simply reserved for trial. See Kokesh v. City of Hopkins, 307 Minn. 159, 238 N.W.2d 882 (1976), cited in Lick v. State, Ah-Gwah-Ching Nursing Home, 40 W.C.D. 315, 316 (W.C.C.A. 1987) (holding denial of motion to dismiss is not appealable). Accordingly, the appeal of the self-insured employer is premature, and this court lacks jurisdiction to consider the appeal.
This court has earlier held that an order denying a motion to dismiss a claim petition pursuant to Minn. R. 1415.1700 is not appealable. Crump v. Control Data Corp., slip op. (W.C.C.A. May 11, 1995). We therefore dismiss the employer=s appeal, and return the matter to the compensation judge for further proceedings.