RONALD E. ZAITZ, Employee/Appellant, v. THOMAS DOUGHERTY d/b/a MIDWEST MEATS & PRODUCE, UNINSURED, Employer, and SPECIAL COMPENSATION FUND.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
SEPTEMBER 6, 2007
PRACTICE & PROCEDURE - RIPENESS; SETTLEMENTS. The Special Compensation Fund cannot be compelled to enter into a settlement agreement. Where the employee sought only settlement of future medical expenses and made no claim for payment of medical benefits, there was no justiciable controversy and the compensation judge properly dismissed the employee=s claim petition.
Determined by: Johnson, C.J., Stofferahn, J., and Wilson, J.
Compensation Judge: James F. Cannon
Attorneys: Ronald E. Zaitz, pro se, Appellant. Sara J. Stoltman, St. Paul, MN for the Special Compensation Fund.
THOMAS L. JOHNSON, Judge
The employee appeals the compensation judge=s order dismissing his claim petition. We affirm.
Ronald E. Zaitz, the employee, sustained a personal injury on December 15, 1981, arising out of his employment with Thomas Dougherty d/b/a Midwest Meats & Produce, the employer, which was then uninsured for worker=s compensation liability. Thereafter, the Special Compensation Fund entered into a settlement in which the parties agreed the employee was permanently and totally disabled by reason of his personal injury. The Fund agreed to make monthly payments of permanent total disability benefits commencing on March 15, 1988, for the rest of the employee=s life and purchased an annuity to guarantee said payments. In consideration of these payments, the employee waived all claims for permanent total and permanent partial disability benefits, leaving open claims for reasonable and necessary medical care and treatment. An Award on Stipulation was served and filed on February 22, 1988.
On March 14, 2007, the employee filed a claim petition. The employee did not claim entitlement to any outstanding medical expenses or other benefits, but stated AI want to settle out for my future medical and carry my own insurance in case I get killed in Iraq.@ By motion dated April 12, 2007, the Fund moved to dismiss the employee=s claim petition on the basis that there was no current medical dispute. The matter was considered at a special term hearing on May 14, 2007, before a compensation judge. The employee was then represented by counsel. No record was made of the proceedings before the judge. By order, served and filed May 23, 2007, the compensation judge dismissed the employee=s claim petition concluding there was no medical dispute pending that would entitle the employee to proceed to a hearing. The employee appeals.
While the Special Compensation Fund may voluntarily agree to settle a claim, a compensation judge has no authority to compel the Fund to enter into a stipulated settlement. Parker/Lindberg v. Friendship Village, 395 N.W.2d 713, 39 W.C.D.125 (Minn. 1986); Husnik v. J.C. Penney, Co., Inc., 57 W.C.D. 264 (W.C.C.A. 1997). We therefore affirm the compensation judge=s decision that the employee cannot compel the Fund to enter into a settlement.
The employee=s claim petition sought only a settlement of the employee=s right to receive payment of future medical expenses from the Special Compensation Fund. The employee made no claim for payment of unpaid medical expenses in his claim petition. AThe existence of a justiciable controversy is prerequisite to adjudication. The judicial function does not comprehend the giving of advisory opinions. No controversy is presented, absent a genuine conflict in the tangible interest of opposing litigants.@ Izaak Walton League of Am. Endowment, Inc., v. State, Dept. of Natural Resources, 312 Minn. 587, 589, 252 N.W.2d 852, 854 (1977). An issue presented for decision must A(a) involve definite and concrete assertions of right by parties with adverse interests, (b) involve a genuine conflict and tangible interest of opposing litigants, and (c) be capable of relief by decree or judgment.@ Carlson v. Donovan Constr. Co., 62 W.C.D. 72 (W.C.C.A. 2001), citing Graham v. Crow Wing Co. Bd. of Comm=rs., 515 N.W.2d 81, 84 (Minn. Ct. App. 1994). The employee claimed entitlement to no benefits in this proceeding. Therefore, there was no controversy for the compensation judge to resolve and no relief for the judge to grant. Accordingly, the compensation judge properly dismissed the employee=s claim petition.
As part of his appeal brief, the employee included a bill from the Duluth Clinic in the amount of $174.00 and a statement from the University Medical Center - Mesabi dated May 18, 2006, reflecting an account balance of $1,969.60. The employee did not, however, seek payment for either of these bills in his claim petition. On the existing record, the court cannot determine whether these bills remain outstanding or whether the Special Compensation Fund has any liability for the bills. Under the terms of the settlement between the employee and the Special Compensation Fund, medical expenses causally related to the employee=s personal injury remain open. The employee is free to file a claim petition or a medical request seeking payment of unpaid medical expenses, if any.
 A party that enters into a settlement may have a claim for contribution or reimbursement against a non-settling party, including the Fund, for a portion of the payments made pursuant to an award on stipulation, including future benefits. There is, however, no claim for contribution or reimbursement by any party in this case. Husnik, id.; Roemhildt v. Gresser Companies, Inc., 729 N.W.2d 289, 67 W.C.D. 166 (Minn. 2007).