KATHLEEN SHAMP, Employee, v. DAYBREAK FOODS, and HARTFORD INS. GROUP, Employer-Insurer/Appellants.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
NOVEMBER 28, 2005
COSTS & DISBURSEMENTS; SETTLEMENTS - INTERPRETATION. Where the stipulation for full, final, and complete settlement was unambiguous and made no provision for payment of taxable costs, the compensation judge erred in concluding that the agreement did not close out such claims.
Determined by: Wilson, J., Rykken, J., and Johnson, C.J.
Compensation Judge: John Ellefson
Attorneys: Linda Schoep, Schoep & McCashin, Alexandria, MN, for the Respondent. Anne E. Kevlin, Law Offices of Adam S. Wolkoff, Eagan, MN, for the Appellants.
DEBRA A. WILSON, Judge
The employer and insurer appeal from the judge=s award of costs and disbursements. We reverse.
Kathleen Shamp [the employee] sustained an admitted injury in the nature of thoracic outlet syndrome on May 22, 1999, while working for Daybreak Foods [the employer]. The employer and its workers= compensation insurer, The Hartford Insurance Group, admitted liability for that injury and paid medical and indemnity benefits.
The employee alleged that she had also sustained an injury in the nature of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome arising out of her employment with the employer, culminating on or about May 22, 1999, and/or November 18, 1999. The employer and insurer denied liability for such an injury.
The employee apparently filed a claim petition seeking benefits related to the alleged bilateral carpal tunnel injury, which proceeded to mediation. A mediation settlement agreement was entered into on August 27, 2004, providing for a full, final, and complete settlement closing out Atemp totals, temp partial, permanent total, permanent partial, closing rehabilitation and retraining, waiving future Heaton fees.@ The agreement further specified that A[m]edicals will remain open on the thoracic outlet syndrome except for specific list of soft medicals which specifically do not include braces in the durable medical equipment category.@
Counsel for the employer and insurer, Anne Kevlin, prepared a stipulation for settlement and forwarded it to the employee=s attorney, Linda Schoep. Ms. Schoep responded by requesting changes regarding interest, penalties, and payment of temporary partial disability benefits. The changes were made, the parties signed the stipulation for settlement, and an award on stipulation was filed on October 25, 2004. The stipulation stated, at page 5, that the payment of $38,000,
shall constitute a full, final and complete settlement of any and all past, present or future claims under the Minnesota Workers= Compensation Act, including but not limited to, temporary total disability, temporary partial disability, permanent partial disability, permanent total disability, rehabilitation and/or retraining and attendant expenses and benefits, interest to-date, penalties to date, underpayment of wage loss benefits, all past and future medical treatment for the claimed carpal tunnel condition, chiropractic care, treatment and expense, acupuncture and/or acupressure, mental health care and treatment, health club memberships, pain clinic and/or pain management care, counseling and expense, durable medical supplies other than braces for the bilateral thoracic outlet condition, chemical dependency treatment and expense, nursing services, home exercise equipment, household remodeling, or any other benefit the employee may be entitled to or claim to be entitled to arising out of the accident and injuries described herein, with the sole exception of future reasonable and necessary causally related medical treatment and expense, not specifically closed out herein, related to the admitted bilateral thoracic outlet syndrome and subject to the maximum fee schedule and attendant Roraff fees.
On November 11, 2004, Ms. Schoep wrote to Ms. Kevlin and provided documentation of office costs incurred in representation of the employee, indicating that the costs Awere inadvertently omitted from the Stipulation for Settlement.@ Ms. Kevlin responded by objecting to the request for costs, contending that all benefits were closed out by the stipulation for settlement, including costs.
The matter proceeded to hearing on July 11, 2005. In a decision filed on August 2, 2005, the compensation judge determined that the stipulation for settlement did not close out claims for taxable costs and disbursements, and he awarded Ms. Schoep $1,390.09, as claimed. The employer and insurer appeal.
Minn. Stat. ' 176.511 and Minn. R. 1415.3300 govern claims for costs and disbursements. Minn. Stat. ' 176.511, subd. 2, provides that a compensation judge Amay award the prevailing party reimbursement for actual and necessary disbursements.@ Minn. R. 1415.3300, subp. 1, provides that Acosts associated with cases settled before hearing may be recovered by agreement in a stipulation or retainer agreement.@
In the instant case, the compensation judge determined that the stipulation for settlement did not close out Ms. Schoep=s claims for taxable costs and disbursements. The judge=s rationale for this decision can be ascertained from his other findings. Specifically, the judge indicated that it is routine practice to assume that an insurer will reimburse taxable costs, that the stipulation did not specifically list taxable costs as a benefit to be closed out, and that, when the stipulation for settlement was signed, Ms. Schoep expected that the insurer would pay her taxable costs, and Ms. Kevlin was aware of Ms. Schoep=s expectation. On appeal, the employer and insurer contend that the judge erred, in that the stipulation for settlement clearly and unambiguously closed out future benefits, including taxable costs. We agree.
Whether the terms of a contract are ambiguous is a question of law. Current Tech. Concepts v. Irie Enterps., Inc., 530 N.W.2d 539, 543 (Minn. 1995). In determining whether a contract is ambiguous, Aa court must give the contract language its plain and ordinary meaning.@ Id. In the present case, the stipulation for settlement uses Aincluding but not limited to@ language when describing the benefits covered by the full, final, and complete settlement. As such, the omission of costs and disbursements from the list of closed-out claims cannot be interpreted to mean that those claims remain open. There is nothing ambiguous about the stipulation for settlement, and it does not contain any agreement for payment of costs and disbursements. We would also note that at no time prior to execution of the stipulation for settlement did Ms. Schoep request that language be added regarding payment of costs and disbursements. Furthermore, there is nothing in the statement of proceedings that would support the judge=s finding that Ms. Kevlin was aware that Ms. Schoep expected the insurer to pay her taxable costs.
Because the stipulation for settlement is clear and unambiguous, and because it fails to provide for the payment of taxable costs and disbursements, the judge=s findings and order to the contrary are reversed.
 Because of technical difficulties concerning the tape recording of the hearing before the compensation judge, the parties were directed to prepare a statement of proceedings. In that statement, Ms. Schoep and Ms. Kevlin agreed that no evidence was submitted at this hearing beyond the exhibits.