THERESA L. CHAPMAN, Employee, v. WAL-MART STORES, INC., and INSURANCE CO. OF THE STATE OF PA./AIG, adm'd by CLAIMS MGMT., INC., Employer-Insurer/Appellant.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
MAY 2, 2002
APPEALS - INTERLOCUTORY ORDER. The compensation judge=s order denying a motion to dismiss a claim petition on grounds that the claim is barred by res judicata is not an appealable order.
Determined by: Rykken, J., Wilson, J., and Johnson, J.
Compensation Judge: Jeanne E. Knight
MIRIAM P. RYKKEN, Judge
The employer and insurer appeal the compensation judge=s order denying their motion to dismiss the employee=s claim petition on grounds of res judicata. We dismiss the appeal.
Theresa Chapman, the employee, worked as a cashier for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the employer, which was insured for workers= compensation liability by Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania/AIG, insurer. On June 24, 1999, the employee filed a claim petition for benefits based upon an alleged low back work injury on March 4, 1999. A hearing was held before Compensation Judge William R. Johnson on May 24, 2000, and a Findings and Order was served and filed on August 14, 2000. The compensation judge found that the employee did not sustain a specific work-related injury on March 4, 1999, and, on that basis, the compensation judge denied the employee=s claims for benefits. The compensation judge further noted that the employee did not plead a Gillette injury so that issue was not addressed at hearing. No appeal was taken from this Findings and Order.
On September 20, 2000, the employee filed another claim petition for the same benefits alleging a Gillette injury culminating on March 4, 1999. On October 4, 2000, the employer and insurer filed a motion to dismiss the latest claim petition, claiming that it was barred by res judicata. The motion was heard and granted by Compensation Judge Penny Johnson. The employee filed a request for formal hearing seeking a hearing de novo on the motion to dismiss. A hearing was held on August 23, 2001, before Compensation Judge Jeanne Knight, who denied the motion to dismiss by order dated September 21, 2001. The employer and insurer appeal.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A decision which rests upon the application of a statute or rule to essentially undisputed facts generally involves a question of law which the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals may consider de novo. Krovchuk v. Koch Oil Refinery, 48 W.C.D. 607, 608 (W.C.C.A. 1993).
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.@ Orders which do not affect the merits of the case, or do not prevent a later determination of the case on the merits, are not appealable to this court. Mierau v. Alcon Indus., Inc., 386 N.W.2d 741, 38 W.C.D. 652 (Minn. 1986) (discussing appealable orders). Generally, only an order which finally determines rights of the parties and concludes the action 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 a claim petition does not affect the merits of the case. The case is simply reserved for trial. Thompson v. AT & T, slip op., (W.C.C.A. Dec. 21, 2000); see also 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); but see Andor v. Buhler Mfg. Co., 56 W.C.D. 1 (W.C.C.A. 1996) (order denying motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction was an appealable order). See also Crump v. Control Data Corp., No. 349-36-9223 (W.C.C.A. May 11, 1995) (order denying a motion to dismiss a claim petition pursuant to Minn. R. 1415.1700 is not appealable). Accordingly, the order denying the employer and insurer=s motion to dismiss the claim petition on grounds that the claim is barred by res judicata is not appealable. We therefore dismiss the employer and insurer=s appeal, and return the matter to the compensation judge for further proceedings.