HONG T. NGUYEN, Employee, v. ANDERSON AUTOMATICS, INC., and FEDERATED MUT. INS. CO., Employer-Insurer/Appellants, and CENTRAL MED. CLINIC, Intervenor.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
MARCH 8, 2010
EVIDENCE - RES JUDICATA; PRACTICE & PROCEDURE - DISMISSAL. The compensation judge properly refused to apply res judicata in denying the employer and insurer’s motion to dismiss.
Determined by: Stofferahn, J., Pederson, J., and Rykken, J.
Compensation Judge: Paul V. Rieke
Attorneys: Bernard J. Robichaud, Robichaud & Anderson, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondent. David O. Nirenstein and Melissa S. Hareid, Fitch, Johnson, Larson & Held, Minneapolis, MN, for the Appellants.
DAVID A. STOFFERAHN, Judge
The employer and insurer appeal from the compensation judge’s denial of their motion to dismiss the employee’s amended claim petition. We affirm.
Hong Nguyen, the employee, sustained an admitted work injury on October 4, 2004, while employed by Anderson Automatics, Inc.
The employer and insurer filed a Notice of Intention to Discontinue Benefits on April 4, 2005, seeking the discontinuance of temporary total disability benefits. A rehabilitation request was also filed at the same time, asking for the cessation of rehabilitation services. Both pleadings were based on a report from Dr. Robert Barnett, who saw the employee for an independent medical examination [IME] on March 25, 2005. It was Dr. Barnett’s opinion, as set forth in his report, that the employee did not sustain a work injury in October 2004 and that she was not in need of work restrictions or medical care.
The employee requested an administrative conference on the NOID and on the rehabilitation request. The conference was held before Compensation Judge Jeanne Knight on May 9, 2005. The compensation judge issued an order on discontinuance pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 176.239 on May 18, 2005, and allowed the discontinuance of temporary total disability benefits. She also issued an order under Minn. Stat. § 176.106 allowing the cessation of rehabilitation services. The employee did not request a formal hearing on either of these orders.
The employee subsequently filed a claim petition, followed by an amended claim petition filed in July 2009. The employee’s amended claim petition alleges entitlement to temporary total and permanent total disability benefits as the result, in part, of her October 4, 2004, work injury.
The employer and insurer filed a motion to dismiss the employee’s amended claim petition. The motion asserted that the two administrative conference decisions were final because they were not appealed and that, as a result, the employee’s claims were barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel. Compensation Judge Paul Rieke denied the motion and this appeal followed.
Principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel are applicable in workers’ compensation cases. Darvell v. Wherley Motors, 63 W.C.D. 76 (W.C.C.A. 2003). These principles are applied only with respect to issues specifically litigated and decided in prior proceedings. Meyers v. Minnesota Supply Co., No. WC09-169 (W.C.C.A. Oct. 26, 2009). This court has also decided that unappealed decisions from administrative conferences may have resjudicata effect. Milosevic v. Certified Serv., slip op.(W.C.C.A. July 2, 1992).
There are problems, however, in using administrative decisions to bar future claims or defenses. No record is developed at an administrative conference. There is no testimony and there are no exhibits. The rules of evidence are not followed. Even in the best of circumstances it may be difficult to determine what issues were litigated and what findings were made in the conference. The present case exemplifies those difficulties.
One might assume the employer and insurer argued that there was no October 2004 work injury or that the 2004 injury was completely resolved, given the IME which was attached to the material which was filed. However, the orders do not indicate what information was reviewed by the compensation judge at the conference and the compensation judge made no findings on issues that may have been raised by the parties. In fact, in reviewing the orders, all that can be said with certainty is that the compensation judge allowed benefits to be discontinued.
The employer and insurer point to the memorandum which was written by the compensation judge as part of the order for discontinuance pursuant to Minn, Stat. § 176.239. First, we note that while the memorandum may set out the compensation judge’s rationale for her decision, it does not represent findings. It is instead a rationale for the decision. The memorandum can be summed up by the last sentence which states, “the employee continues to complain of pain, but the doctors do not think it is a result of her work injury.” We do not conclude this sentence can be read as a determination by the compensation judge that there was no work injury in October 2004 or that the work injury was resolved. Accordingly, we find that the claims by the employee for benefits arising out of her asserted October 2004 injury are not barred by res judicata.
The compensation judge did not err in denying the employer and insurer’s motion to dismiss. The compensation judge’s order is affirmed.