MINH-PHUONG T. PHAN, Employee/Appellant, v. RADISSON HOTEL and AMERICAN COMP. INS./RTW, Employer-Insurer.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
DECEMBER 6, 2005
EVIDENCE - RES JUDICATA. Where the employee=s medical expenses were not at issue at a prior hearing in 1999, and the previous claim covered temporary total disability and rehabilitation benefits from August 14, 1997, through June 14, 1999, and did not encompass the employee=s current claims for permanent total disability and rehabilitation benefits subsequent to the 1999 hearing, the compensation judge=s dismissal of the employee=s current claims on the basis of the doctrine of res judicata is vacated and the case is remanded for a hearing.
Vacated and remanded.
Determined by: Johnson, C.J., Rykken, J. and Pederson, J.
Compensation Judge: Peggy A. Brenden
Attorneys: Minh-Phuong T. Phan, pro se Appellant. Janet Monson and Shannon A. Nelson, Aafedt, Forde, Gray, Monson & Hager, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondents.
THOMAS L. JOHNSON, Judge
The employee appeals the compensation judge=s dismissal of her claim petition based upon the doctrine of res judicata. We vacate the Order of Dismissal and remand the employee=s claim petition to the compensation judge for a hearing.
Minh-Phuong T. Phan, the employee, sustained a personal injury on May 7, 1997, while working for the Radisson Hotel, the employer, insured by American Compensation Insurance/RTW. The employer and insurer admitted liability for the employee=s injury and commenced payment of workers= compensation benefits.
On September 29, 1997, the employee filed a claim petition seeking payment of temporary total disability benefits from and after August 14, 1997, together with rehabilitation benefits. In its answer, the employer and insurer denied liability for further benefits. The case was heard before Compensation Judge Peggy A. Brenden on July 17, 1999. In a Findings and Order, filed September 14, 1999, the compensation judge found the employee sustained an injury to her mid-back when a door knob struck her spine resulting in a thoracic contusion and thoracic strain/sprain. The compensation judge further found the Apreponderance of the evidence fails to establish the May 7, 1997 work injury was a substantial contributing factor in the employee=s pain during the period August 14, 1997 through June 14, 1999.@ (Finding 7.) Accordingly, the compensation judge denied the employee=s claim for temporary total disability benefits for the period August 14, 1997 through June 14, 1999, and denied the employee=s claim for rehabilitation assistance.
The employee appealed the compensation judge=s denial of benefits to the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals. By order, dated February 29, 2000, this court referred the employee=s appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings for factual findings as to whether the employee served a copy of the notice of appeal on counsel for the employer and insurer as required by Minn. Stat. ' 176.421, subd. 4(1). In findings filed May 8, 2000, the compensation judge found the notice of appeal was not served on the employer and insurer within the 30-day period for taking an appeal. The employee appealed this finding of the compensation judge. By decision filed December 14, 2000, this court affirmed the findings of the compensation judge and dismissed the employee=s appeal from the September 14, 1999, Findings and Order of the compensation judge. By order filed February 2, 2001, the Minnesota Supreme Court discharged the employee=s Writ of Certiorari because it was not timely served on the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals.
On December 28, 2004, the employee filed a second claim petition seeking permanent total disability benefits from May 7, 1997, rehabilitation benefits and approximately $40,000 in medical expenses. The employer and insurer filed an answer denying liability and moved to dismiss the employee=s claim petition asserting that in the September 14, 1999, Findings and Order, the compensation judge found the employee had no entitlement to any further benefits. On April 21, 2005, the compensation judge dismissed the employee=s claim petition concluding it was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The employee appeals.
This court has previously held that the principles of res judicata are applicable in worker=s compensation proceedings. Abrahams v. University of Minn., Duluth, 61 W.C.D. 103 (W.C.C.A. 2001). The doctrine precludes litigation of issues and claims that were in fact decided in an earlier decision. Fischer v. Saga Corp., 498 N.W.2d 449, 450, 48 W.C.D. 368, 369 (Minn. 1993); Westendorf v. Campbell Soup, 243 N.W.2d 157, 28 W.C.D. 460 (Minn. 1976).
Collateral estoppel is a limited form of res judicata whereby a prior judgment is conclusive in a later suit between the same parties as to issues finally decided in the former suit. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Thompson, 163 N.W.2d 289 (Minn. 1969). The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that the principles of collateral estoppel are appropriately applied in the following circumstances: (1) the issue was identical to one in a prior adjudication; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3) the estopped party was a party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication; and (4) the estopped party was given a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the adjudicated issue. Nelson v. American Family Ins. Group, 651 N.W.2d 499, 511 (Minn. 2002), Willems v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 333 N.W.2d 619, 621 (Minn. 1983). The court has also held that Aneither collateral estoppel nor res judicata is rigidly applied@ and that the focus is on Awhether its application would work an injustice on the party against whom estoppel is urged.@ Johnson v. Consolidated Freightways, 420 N.W.2d 608, 613-614 (Minn. 1988).
There is no dispute the employee sustained a work related injury on May 7, 1997. As a general proposition, an employer is required to provide all medical treatment reasonably necessary to cure and relieve the employee from the effects of the work-related injury. Minn. Stat. ' 176.135. The medical expenses currently claimed by the employee were not in issue before Judge Brenden in the prior hearing. There has been no determination whether the claimed medical expenses were reasonably necessary to cure and relieve the effects of the work injury. Accordingly, the issue in the current proceeding is not identical to the one in the prior adjudication and there has been no final judgment on the merits of the employee=s claim for medical expenses.
In the September 14, 1999, Findings and Order, the compensation judge found the employee failed to prove the May 7, 1997, work injury was a substantial contributing factor to the employee=s pain during the period August 14, 1997, through June 14, 1999. Accordingly, the compensation judge denied the employee=s claim for temporary total disability benefits for this period. The respondents contend the compensation judge found the employee=s work injury was temporary and its effects ceased after August 14, 1997. They further assert the compensation judge found no causal connection existed between the admitted work injury and any ongoing disability after August 14, 1997. Accordingly, the respondents argue the compensation judge=s order dismissing the employee=s claim petition on res judicata principles should be affirmed. We cannot agree.
The compensation judge=s findings dealt solely with the August 14, 1997, through June 14, 1999, time period. The compensation judge found only that the employee failed to establish her work injury was a substantial contributing cause of her pain during that period of time. The judge did not specifically find the employee=s injury was temporary nor did the judge specifically find the employee had no further entitlement to benefits. The Minnesota Supreme Court has indicated that in workers= compensation cases, principles of res judicata primarily govern with respect to periods of benefits specifically at issue. Lindberg v. J & D Enterprises, 543 N.W.2d 90 (1966). The employee=s claim for wage loss benefits for periods subsequent to the July 27, 1999, hearing before the compensation judge remain open. We, therefore, vacate the compensation judge=s order of dismissal and remand the case to the compensation judge to schedule a hearing on the employee=s claim petition.