ROGER A. GIERSDORF, Employee, v. A & M CONSTR., INC., Employer, and THE HARTFORD, Appellant, and MERRIMAC CONSTR. CO., INC., and GENERAL CAS. INS. CO., Employer-Insurer, and RIVERS EDGE HOSP. & CLINIC, NEW RIVER MED. CLINIC, MAYO CLINIC, MINNEAPOLIS CLINIC OF NEUROLOGY, MINNESOTA DEP’T OF LABOR & INDUS./VRU, MINNESOTA DEP’T OF HUMAN SERVS./BRS, HENNEPIN FACULTY ASSOCS., CONSULTING RADIOLOGISTS, and HEALTHPARTNERS, INC., Intervenors.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
SEPTEMBER 20, 2011
APPEALS - INTERLOCUTORY ORDER. Decisions granting or denying motions to dismiss on subject matter jurisdiction grounds are immediately appealable.
INSURANCE - COVERAGE. Where the essential issue was whether the employer had workers’ compensation insurance coverage on the date of the employee’s alleged injury, not whether the insurer had breached its contract with the employer to provide insurance coverage, the compensation judge properly concluded that he had subject matter jurisdiction to resolve the controversy.
Determined by: Wilson, J., Pederson, J., and Johnson, J.
Compensation Judge: James F. Cannon
Attorneys: Jerry J. Lindberg, Lindberg Law, Sauk Rapids, MN, for the Respondent Employee. Devin Murphy and Julia Douglass, Aafedt, Forde, Gray, Monson & Hager, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondent Employer A & M. Thomas J. Peterson, McCollum Crowley, Moschet, Miller & Laak, Minneapolis, MN, for the Appellant. David O. Nirenstein and Melissa S. Hareid, Fitch, Johnson, Larson & Held, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondent Employer-Insurer, Merrimac Constr./ General Casualty.
DEBRA A. WILSON, Judge
The Hartford appeals from the compensation judge’s denial of its motion to dismiss a petition for declaration of insurance coverage, alleging that the judge erred in concluding that he had subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute. We affirm.
On May 3, 2011, A & M Construction, Inc. [the employer], filed a petition for declaration of insurance coverage, seeking a ruling that The Hartford was responsible for defending and indemnifying the employer against a claim filed by Roger A. Giersdorf, the employee in this matter, alleging entitlement to benefits as a result of a work-related injury allegedly occurring on January 20, 2009. According to the petition, The Hartford had insured the employer against workers’ compensation claims from June 12, 2007, until June 12, 2008, and, after auditing the employer’s books, The Hartford had increased the employer’s insurance premium, payable for the period June 12, 2008, until June 12, 2009, by an additional $8,242.00. The Hartford also allegedly demanded payment of the entire increased premium on a lump sum basis rather than allowing the employer to pay the premium in installments.
On November 13, 2008, The Hartford provided the employer with a notice of intent to cancel the employer’s insurance policy, based on nonpayment of the premium. The employer apparently again failed to make the payment demanded by The Hartford, and, according to the employer’s petition, “on December 18, 2008, The Hartford cancelled its workers’ compensation insurance coverage” for the employer. The employee’s alleged injury occurred about a month later, and the employer had not secured replacement insurance coverage by that date.
The Hartford filed an objection to the employer’s petition for declaration of insurance coverage and also filed a motion to dismiss, contending that workers’ compensation courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction to address what The Hartford characterized as a contract dispute. A hearing on The Hartford’s motion was held by telephone on May 2, 2011. In an order issued on May 17, 2011, the compensation judge determined that he had subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute, and he denied The Hartford’s motion to dismiss. The Hartford appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
“[A] decision which rests upon the application of a statute or rule to essentially undisputed facts generally involves a question of law which [the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals] may consider de novo.” Krovchuk v. Koch Oil Refinery, 48 W.C.D. 607, 608 (W.C.C.A. 1993).
Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 176.421, subd. 1, appeals to the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals [W.C.C.A.] may be taken from “an award or disallowance of compensation, or other order affecting the merits of the case.” “As a general rule, an ‘order affecting the merits of the case’ is one that ‘finally determines the rights of the parties or concludes the action.’” Herbst v. Jones Truck Lines, 59 W.C.D. 442, 444 (W.C.C.A. 1999) (citation omitted). Discovery orders, for example, are not immediately appealable. See Mierau v. Alcon Indus., Inc., 386 N.W.2d 741, 38 W.C.D. 652 (Minn. 1986). The employer argues that The Hartford’s appeal in the present matter constitutes an impermissible interlocutory appeal, meaning that the W.C.C.A. lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider it. We disagree.
This court has noted on a number of occasions that an order granting or denying a motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds is immediately appealable. See, e.g., Andor v. Buhler Mfg. Co., 56 W.C.D. 1 (W.C.C.A. 1996); Vandervest v. J & J Excavating, 54 W.C.D. 100 (W.C.C.A. 1995). As such, The Hartford’s appeal from the compensation judge’s order denying The Hartford’s motion to dismiss is properly before this court at this time. See id.
2. Jurisdiction over the Employer’s Petition for Declaration of Coverage
The Hartford sought dismissal of the employer’s petition for declaration of insurance coverage on grounds that the employer was asserting a claim for breach of contract, not a claim for insurance coverage. Because of the nature of the employer’s claim, The Hartford argues, the Minnesota workers’ compensation courts have no jurisdiction over the controversy. We are not persuaded.
Whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction depends on the court’s power to deal with the subject matter involved. The Minnesota workers’ compensation courts, created by statute, have limited jurisdiction. This court has ‘no jurisdiction in any case that does not arise under the workers’ compensation laws of [this] state.’ Minn. Stat. § [175A.01], subd. 5.
Erickson v. Otness Mgmt., 56 W.C.D. 323, 330 (W.C.C.A. 1997). The Hartford acknowledges that workers’ compensation courts have jurisdiction over “issues related to coverage under workers’ compensation insurance policies where such a determination is ancillary to the adjudication of an Employee’s claim.” See, e.g., Peterson v. Vern Donnay Constr. Co., 44 W.C.D. 664 (W.C.C.A. 1993). However, The Hartford maintains that such jurisdiction “does not extend to the interpretation of the terms of an insurance contract in the context of an alleged breach when the insurance policy has effectively been cancelled prior to the occurrence of an alleged work-related injury.”
We acknowledge, for purposes of this proceeding, that damage claims for breach of contract fall outside of the jurisdiction of the workers’ compensation courts. That is, workers’ compensation courts cannot fashion or impose remedies to be applied if a party to an insurance contract breaches that contract. We clearly have no authority to award damages. Furthermore, we acknowledge that, in the present case, the employer’s petition on its face seemingly raises such contract claims. The employer contended, for example, that “The Hartford wrongfully breached its insurance contract with A & M Construction, Inc. when it assessed the newly adjusted [insurance] premium in one lump sum payment instead of prorated installments,” contrary to what the employer asserts the insurance contract required. The employer also arguably admitted that The Hartford had in fact effectively cancelled the insurance policy. However, while some of the language of the employer’s petition points to a breach of contract claim, it is nevertheless apparent that the employer is seeking a ruling appropriately made in the workers’ compensation system, that is, that The Hartford is obligated to defend and indemnify the employer against the employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits because The Hartford had no right to cancel coverage. More precisely, what the employer is actually asserting is that The Hartford’s purported cancellation of the insurance contract was ineffective and that coverage therefore existed as of the date of the employee’s injury.
The compensation judge made no decision as to whether insurance coverage existed on the date of the employee’s injury; he merely ruled that he had jurisdiction to resolve that issue. Framed properly, the issue is indeed whether insurance coverage was in effect, and, viewed this way, the compensation judge was clearly correct in his ruling on jurisdiction. We therefore affirm the judge’s decision on that basis.
 The hearing was apparently not recorded; documents in the file indicate that no transcript of the proceedings was available. A record of the proceeding might have been useful but is not crucial for appellate review purposes given the issues involved here. The relevant facts are evidently undisputed.
 See also Black’s Law Dictionary 94 (7th ed. 1999) (an interlocutory appeal is one that occurs prior to the trial court’s final ruling on the entire case).