EDWARD G. SMITH, Employee/Appellant, v. RECEIVABLE MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS, INC. and MINN. WORKERS= COMPENSATION ASSIGNED RISK PLAN/BERKLEY RISK ADM=RS., Employer-Insurer.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
JANUARY 21, 2003
PRACTICE & PROCEDURE - DISMISSAL; STATUTES CONSTRUED - MINN. STAT. ' 176.82, SUBD. 1. Where the parties entered into a full, final, and complete settlement, the compensation judge properly dismissed the employee=s post-settlement claim petition for a finding on primary liability on grounds that it did not set forth an actionable claim for benefits, notwithstanding the employee=s objective of asserting a civil action for damages in district court under Minn. Stat. ' 176.82, subd. 1, for obstruction of his efforts to obtain workers= compensation benefits.
Determined by Pederson, J., Rykken, J., and Stofferahn, J.
Compensation Judge: Danny P. Kelly.
WILLIAM R. PEDERSON, Judge
The employee appeals from an order of the compensation judge dismissing the employee=s claim petition for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted. We affirm.
On June 25, 2002, the employee, Edward Smith, filed a claim petition alleging that on July 23, 2000, he sustained a personal injury in the nature of carpal tunnel syndrome and ulnar nerve neuropathy arising out of and in the course of his employment with Receivable Management Solutions, Inc., the employer herein. The sole claim set forth in the petition was a request for Adetermination of primary liability only for purposes of 176.82 action.@
On July 31, 2002, the employer and insurer filed an answer to the employee=s claim petition, as well as a motion to dismiss on grounds that the issue of primary liability had previously been settled by the parties and that the pending claim petition failed to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted. Attached to the motion to dismiss was a copy of a Stipulation for Settlement signed by the parties on April 23, 2002, and of the Award on Stipulation served and filed in this matter on May 1, 2002.
The Stipulation for Settlement signed by the parties provided for a compromised payment of $14,000.00 in Afull, final, and complete settlement of any and all past, present, and future claims for workers= compensation disability benefits the employee may have regarding his July 23, 2000 right wrist/ulnar nerve injury, including future medical expenses@ (emphasis in original). The Stipulation also provided that, A[b]y paying the amounts above, the employer and MWCARP are in no way admitting primary liability for this injury.@
On August 23, 2002, a compensation judge issued an Order Dismissing Employee=s Claim Petition, stating that A[t]he pending issue was previously settled on a full, final, and complete basis. Furthermore, the employee=s Claim Petition fails to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted against the employer and insurer.@ The employee appeals from the judge=s order.
The employee contends that the compensation judge=s dismissal of the employee=s claim petition alleging entitlement to a post-settlement finding of primary liability was improper, contending that Minn. Stat. ' 176.82, subd. 1, requires for its very implementation a finding on the issue of primary liability before an employee can proceed in a civil action for the punitive damages that are provided for under that section. He argues that the stipulation for settlement in this case left open the availability of a section 176.82 action by the employee and that, contrary to the determination of the judge, the very availability of such an action constitutes a Abenefit@ to the employee under Minnesota workers= compensation law such as may establish a cause of action. We are not persuaded.
Although a civil action in district court under Minn. Stat. ' 176.82, subd. 1, may have been left open under the stipulation for settlement between the parties, the parties specifically settled all claims for benefits available in the Minnesota workers= compensation system. The employee himself has conjectured that a civil court may, within its authority as a court of general jurisdiction, defer to a workers= compensation judge for a finding as to primary liability on the merits in this case. But that possibility was neither the concern nor in the legal purview of the compensation judge once the parties had settled their case on a full, final, and complete basis for purposes of benefits within the workers= compensation system, nor is it our concern or within our purview. A civil court may require or permit whatever method of establishing facts that it deems proper under the statutes within its broader legal purview.
In that all claims for disability, rehabilitation, and medical benefits had already been settled in the parties= full, final, and complete settlement, the compensation judge properly dismissed the employee=s claim petition on grounds that it did not set forth an actionable claim for benefits under the Minnesota workers= compensation laws. All justiciable controversies within the workers= compensation system had been resolved by the award on settlement, and A[t]he existence of a justiciable controversy is prerequisite to adjudication.@ Izaak Walton League of Am. Endowment, Inc. v. State, Dep=t of Natural Resources, 312 Minn. 587, 589, 252 N.W.2d 852, 854 (1977). In the absence of a claim for specific disability, rehabilitation, or medical benefits, there is nothing before this court for consideration. Therefore, because no justiciable controversy was presented to the compensation judge, we affirm the judge=s Order Dismissing Employee=s Claim Petition.
 The civil penalties and punitive damages permitted under Minn. Stat. ' 176.82 for obstruction in bringing a claim are arguably nonworkers= compensation benefits, although they are referenced under our statute.