ANTHONY WEIDLER, Employee/Petitioner, v. JOHANNING TRANS-FARE, INC., and CONTINENTAL CAS. CO./RSK CO., Respondents, and DAKOTA CLINIC, LTD., Intervenor.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
JUNE 30, 2005
VACATION OF AWARD; JURISDICTION - SUBJECT MATTER; STATUTES CONSTRUED - MINN. STAT. § 176.82. Where the employee petitioned to vacate a stipulation for settlement for the sole purpose of eliminating a closeout of claims under Minn. Stat. ' 176.82, and where the employee made no additional claim for underlying workers= compensation benefits by proceeding with a petition to vacate, and because the enforceability of a closeout of claims under Minn. Stat. ' 176.82 is to be determined by the District Courts and not by the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals, the petition to vacate is dismissed.
Petition to vacate award on stipulation dismissed.
Determined by: Rykken, J., Johnson, C.J., and Pederson
Compensation Judge: Gary P. Mesna
Attorneys: Duane E. Arndt, Arndt & Benton, Minneapolis, MN, for the Petitioner. Roderick C. Cosgriff, Heacox, Hartman, Koshmrl, Cosgriff & Johnson, St. Paul, MN, for the Respondents.
MIRIAM P. RYKKEN, Judge
The petitioner seeks to vacate, based upon a mutual mistake of fact, an award on stipulation served and filed on January 8, 2004. We conclude that no grounds exist to vacate the award and therefore dismiss the petition to vacate the award on stipulation.
Anthony Weidler, the employee, sustained a work-related injury on December 24, 2001, while working for Johanning Trans-Fare, Inc., the employer. The employee injured his right hand and wrist, in the nature of a triangular fibrocartilage tear of the right wrist, and underwent surgery to repair the tear on October 14, 2002. The employer and insurer denied primary liability for the claimed injury; the employee filed a claim petition, seeking payment of temporary total disability benefits and medical expenses related to treatment for his injury. On March 28, 2003, and May 20, 2003, a hearing was held before a compensation judge in order to address the employee=s claim petition. In his findings and order served and filed July 25, 2003, the compensation judge found that the employee=s injury of December 24, 2001, arose out of and in the course of his employment with the employer, and awarded a portion of the temporary total disability benefits claimed by the employee, as well as payment for medical expenses.
The employer and its workers= compensation insurer, Continental Casualty Company/RSK Co., appealed from the findings and order on August 20, 2003. On August 22, 2003, the employee filed a cross-appeal from the findings and order. During the pendency of the appeal, the parties reached settlement on the claim and submitted a stipulation for settlement to the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals on January 6, 2004. This court issued an award on stipulation on January 8, 2004.
On March 15, 2005, the employee filed a petition to vacate the award and to substitute an amended stipulation and award. On April 27, 2005, the employer and insurer filed an objection to the employee=s petition to vacate. On June 20, 2005, this matter was heard at oral argument.
The employee has petitioned to vacate the award on stipulation, arguing that he has shown good cause for this court to vacate an award. This court=s authority to vacate an award is governed by Minn. Stat. '' 176.461 and 176.521, subd. 3. For awards on stipulation issued on or after July 1, 1992, Agood cause@ to vacate an award is limited to:
(1) a mutual mistake of fact;
(2) newly discovered evidence;
(3) fraud; or
(4) a substantial change in medical condition since the time of the award that was clearly not anticipated and could not reasonably have been anticipated at the time of the award.
Minn. Stat. ' 176.461.
In this case, the employee petitions to vacate the award on stipulation based upon an alleged mutual mistake of fact. He claims that the mistake of fact relates to the language in the stipulation that closes out, on a full, final and complete basis, a claim for civil damages pursuant to Minn. Stat. ' 176.82. He claims that this recitation, included in the list of potential claims to be foreclosed by the stipulation, is contrary to the understanding of the employee and his counsel, and also is contrary to the expressed understanding of counsel for the employer and insurer. The employee alleges that during settlement discussions, the employee=s attorney specifically advised counsel for the employer and insurer that the employee agreed to a full, final and complete settlement of workers= compensation-related claims, but did not agree to settle any employment-related claims, and, by inference, did not agree to settle any claims covered under Minn. Stat. ' 176.82. The employee further argues that the settlement, and the notice of benefit payment issued by the employer and insurer, indicate Athat there was no consideration paid, as part of this settlement, for any civil claims raised by the provisions of Minn. Stat. ' 176.82 or any other civil claim.@ As a result, the employee claims that all parties were mistaken as to the agreement concerning settlement of potential employment-related claims, and, therefore, the award on stipulation should be vacated.
The employer and insurer contend that no mutual mistake of fact exists, in that the settlement agreement, reviewed and signed by the employee and his attorney, itemizes a closeout of claims pursuant to the Minnesota Workers= Compensation Act, which includes potential claims raised under Minn. Stat. ' 176.82.
In his pleadings, and again at oral argument on this matter, the employee confirmed that the sole reason for pursuing a vacation of the award on stipulation is to allow the employee to proceed with an action for civil damages claimed under the provisions of Minn. Stat. ' 176.82. The employee is making no additional claim for underlying workers= compensation benefits by proceeding with a petition to vacate the stipulation. The sole reason for the petition to vacate rests in the employee=s desire to delete the provision that closes out potential claims under Minn. Stat. ' 176.82.
Minnesota District Courts, and not this court, have jurisdiction to determine the validity of a provision in a workers= compensation settlement that closes out claims under Minn. Stat. ' 176.82. In Karnes v. Quality Pork Processors, 532 N.W.2d 560, 563 (Minn. 1995), the Minnesota Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a release in a workers= compensation settlement from civil liability arising from a common law cause of action is valid and enforceable in an employee=s civil action. In Karnes, the supreme court held that
A section 176.82 retaliatory discharge action is . . . a common law cause of action outside the purview of the Workers= Compensation Act, see Bergeson v. U. S. Fidelity & Guar. Co., 414 N.W.2d 724, 727 (Minn. 1987), and jurisdiction is placed in the District Court. Inasmuch as the W.C.C.A. does not have jurisdiction over matters outside the Workers= Compensation System, Minn. Stat. ' 175A.01, subd. 5 (1994) when a party pleads a release contained in a workers= compensation settlement as an affirmative defense in a subsequent retaliatory discharge action, it is the District Court, not the W.C.C.A., that has jurisdiction to resolve the dispute.
In this case, the award on stipulation settled agreed-upon claims within the Minnesota Workers= Act. In Karnes, the supreme court did not necessarily prohibit inclusion, in a workers= compensation stipulation for settlement, of a closeout of claims pursuant to Minn. Stat. ' 176.82. But the court held that the enforceability of such a closeout is to be determined by the district courts as opposed to the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals. Because the employee is making no additional claim for benefits provided by the Workers= Compensation Act, and because this court does not have jurisdiction to determine matters outside its purview, the petition is dismissed.
 Minn. Stat. ' 176.82 provides as follows:
176.82 Action for civil damages for obstructing employee seeking benefits.
Subdivision 1. Retaliatory discharge. Any person discharging or threatening to discharge an employee for seeking workers' compensation benefits or in any manner intentionally obstructing an employee seeking workers' compensation benefits is liable in a civil action for damages incurred by the employee including any diminution in workers' compensation benefits caused by a violation of this section including costs and reasonable attorney fees, and for punitive damages not to exceed three times the amount of any compensation benefit to which the employee is entitled. Damages awarded under this section shall not be offset by any workers' compensation benefits to which the employee is entitled.
Subd. 2. Refusal to offer continued employment. An employer who, without reasonable cause, refuses to offer continued employment to its employee when employment is available within the employee's physical limitations shall be liable in a civil action for one year's wages. The wages are payable from the date of the refusal to offer continued employment, and at the same time and at the same rate as the employee's preinjury wage, to continue during the period of the refusal up to a maximum of $15,000. These payments shall be in addition to any other payments provided by this chapter. In determining the availability of employment, the continuance in business of the employer shall be considered and written rules promulgated by the employer with respect to seniority or the provisions or any collective bargaining agreement shall govern. These payments shall not be covered by a contract of insurance. The employer shall be served directly and be a party to the claim. This subdivision shall not apply to employers who employ 15 or fewer full‑time equivalent employees.