JOHN ROSENDAHL, Employee/Appellant, v. P.B. DISTRIBUTING, INC., and AUTO OWNERS INS. CO., Employer-Insurer, and SMDC HEALTH SYS., Intervenor.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
JUNE 24, 2008
PRACTICE & PROCEDURE - DISMISSAL; JURISDICTION - SUBJECT MATTER; STATUTES CONSTRUED - MINN. STAT. ' 176.106, SUBD. 7. Where the request for formal hearing was not timely filed, the compensation judge properly determined that he was without jurisdiction to consider the request and properly dismissed the request pursuant to Minn. Stat. ' 176.106, subd. 7.
Determined by: Rykken, J., Stofferahn, J., and Pederson, J.
Compensation Judge: Jerome G. Arnold
Attorneys: Andrew P. Pierce, Falsani, Balmer, Peterson, Quinn & Beyer, Duluth, MN, for the Appellant. Thomas F. Coleman, Cousineau McGuire, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondents.
MIRIAM P. RYKKEN, Judge
The employee appeals from the compensation judge's order dismissing his request for formal hearing. We affirm.
John Rosendahl, the employee, sustained an admitted work-related injury to his low back on February 27, 2003, while employed by P.B. Distributing, Inc., the employer. The employee also claimed to have sustained a work-related injury to his left knee on April 14, 2003. The employer and insurer, Auto Owners Insurance Group, denied liability for the left knee injury. During the course of earlier litigation on this claim, in which the employee sought benefits as a result of both injuries, the parties entered into a stipulation for settlement. Pursuant to the stipulation, all claims related to the admitted and contested 2003 injuries were resolved on a full, final and complete basis, with the exception of certain future medical expense claims, for which the employee=s claims remained open. On February 9, 2006, an award on stipulation was served and filed.
In April 2007, the employee alleges he experienced a sudden spasm in his low back, causing him to fall and injure his left elbow. He sought medical treatment, later developed an infection in his left elbow, and required medical treatment. The employee contended that because his back spasm was related to his 2003 injury, the medical treatment for his left elbow was compensable as it was causally related to his original work-related injury. The employer and insurer denied liability for the employee=s left elbow injury, and denied payment for the claimed medical expenses.
On May 30, 2007, the dispute over payment of medical expenses was certified, by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI), as a dispute in accordance with Minn. Stat. ' 176.081, subd. 1(c).
On July 18, 2007, the employee filed a medical request with the DOLI, seeking payment for medical expenses related to treatment of his left elbow. In its medical response, the employer and insurer denied payment. On August 10, 2007, the employee filed an amended medical request, seeking payment for additional expenses related to treatment of his left elbow.
On August 13, 2007, the employee=s claims for expenses listed in both the original and amended medical requests were addressed at an administrative hearing before a mediator/arbitrator at the DOLI, pursuant to Minn. Stat. ' 176.106. On August 14, 2007, the mediator/arbitrator served and filed a decision in which he denied the employee=s claims, concluding that the employer and insurer were not liable to pay for the employee=s claimed medical treatment and prescription expenses resulting from his left elbow injury. The decision and order included a provision stating that the employee could object by filing a written request for a formal hearing with the Department of Labor and Industry. The decision and order stated that AThe Request must be received no later than 30 days after the date this decision is served and filed.@
The employee requested a supplemental report from Dr. Wade Lillegard, asking him to address an issue raised by the mediator/arbitrator in his memorandum concerning the causal relationship between the employee=s original low back injury and his left elbow injury. On September 27, 2007, the employee then filed a request for formal hearing, to which he attached Dr. Lillegard=s supplemental report. Following a special term hearing on November 13, 2007, Compensation Judge Jerome Arnold issued an order dismissing the employee=s request for a formal hearing. Compensation Judge Arnold found that the Office of Administrative Hearings was without jurisdiction to hear a request for formal hearing that was filed more than 30 days after the service and filing of the administrative decision that had been issued pursuant to Minn. Stat. ' 176.106. The employee appeals.
Minn. Stat. ' 176.106, subd. 7, provides that "[a]ny party aggrieved by the decision of the commissioner may request a formal hearing by filing the request with the commissioner no later than 30 days after the decision." Because the employee=s request for a formal hearing was filed beyond the thirty-day limit, the compensation judge dismissed the request.
The employee argues that dismissal of his claim is unduly prejudicial, and that a dismissal on procedural grounds should be granted only under exceptional circumstances, citing to Firoved v. General Motors Corp., 277 Minn. 278, 283, 152 N.W.2d 364, 368 (1967) and Lamkin v. JWS Homes and Contracting, Inc., No. WC06-294 (W.C.C.A. Apr. 10, 2007). He argues that his request for formal hearing should be reinstated, alleging that the rules governing workers= compensation practice and procedure do not require dismissal in these particular circumstances. He contends that the sanctions outlined in Minn. R. 1420.3700, such as dismissal of his request, are not mandatory, but instead are discretionary with a compensation judge and are dependent upon the circumstances of an individual case. The employee does not request that this court rule on the merits of his case, but instead that the court reinstate his request for formal hearing.
Time limitations for perfecting an appeal are jurisdictional. Carlise-Palmer v. Sammy=s Pizza, slip op. (W.C.C.A. July 23, 1993), citing to Bjerga v. Maislin Transp., 400 N.W.2d 99, 99, 39 W.C.D. 309, 310 (Minn. 1987); Bostrom v. Minnesota Fabrics, slip op. (W.C.C.A. Mar. 20, 1992). Because the employee's request for formal hearing was untimely filed, jurisdiction was lacking. See Bjerga, 400 N.W.2d at 99, 39 W.C.D. at 310. A tribunal cannot determine the merits of a case where subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. Benedix v. Falls Tenco, Inc., slip op. (W.C.C.A. Sept. 27, 1991) (cite omitted). Therefore, the compensation judge properly dismissed the employee's request for formal hearing, and we affirm that decision.
 Our decision is limited to the issue presented on appeal, and does not address any ancillary issues raised in the parties= appellate briefs, such as whether the Department of Labor and Industry had jurisdiction to address the amended medical request which involved a claim for medical expenses exceeding the $7,500.00 limit referred to in Minn. Stat. ' 176.106, subd. 1.