CLARENCE JOHNSON, Employee/Appellant, v. A TOUCH OF CLASS PAINTING, INC., and STATE FARM FIRE & CAS. CO., Employer-Insurer.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
DECEMBER 12, 2012
APPEALS - NOTICE OF APPEAL. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals may only review those issues raised in the notice of appeal. Minn. Stat. § 176.421, subd. 6.
VACATION OF AWARD. The pro se appellant failed to establish grounds to vacate an award on stipulation on grounds of mistake, newly discovered evidence, fraud, or a substantial change in condition or for any other reason.
EVIDENCE - RES JUDICATA. Res judicata applies to preclude an employee from proceeding with claims raised in prior litigation.
Determined by: Hall, J., Milun, C.J., and Wilson, J.
Compensation Judge: Paul V. Rieke
Attorneys: Clarence Johnson, pro se Appellant, Richfield, MN. Mark A. Wagner, Johnson and Condon, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondents.
GARY M. HALL, Judge
Clarence Johnson appeals from the compensation judge’s May 25, 2012 order dismissing his claim petition. We affirm.
The appellant, Clarence Johnson, performed work activities for A Touch of Class Painting, Inc., in late 2003. On December 26, 2003, appellant filed a self-generated first report of injury with the Department of Labor and Industry. He reported an injury to “both shoulders” as a result of “scraping digging hard caulking out of apt bldgs, and painting.” He reported using a scraper, utility knife, caulking gun, paint brushes, and ladders. He also admitted to having a pre-existing shoulder condition. The first report of injury alleged a hire date of September 12, 2003, and appellant had been laid off by the time he filed the report on December 26, 2003.
In September 2005, appellant, through his attorney at the time, filed a claim petition asserting two different Gillette injuries to his bilateral shoulders, culminating on or around October 15, 2003 and November 13, 2003. The September 2005 claim petition alleged entitlement to temporary total disability benefits from October 16, 2003 to March 15, 2004, subsequent temporary partial disability benefits, and permanent partial disability benefits (in the amount of a 6% rating), along with medical and rehabilitation benefits.
A Touch of Class and its insurer denied liability for the appellant’s claims. They also denied that appellant had ever been an employee and that they had received proper notice.
The parties entered into a stipulation for settlement, and an award on stipulation was served and filed on September 19, 2006. Appellant was represented by counsel when he filed his claim petition in 2005 and when he entered into the settlement. The parties agreed that the appellant had “performed work activities” for A Touch of Class, and the respondents admitted that appellant had sustained temporary Gillette injuries to his shoulders. However, they disputed the nature and extent of the appellant’s injuries, and the respondents maintained their defense that the appellant was an independent contractor. The terms of the settlement closed all claims related to the October 15, 2003 and November 13, 2003 Gillette injuries, including permanent partial disability and medical benefits, in their entirety. In fact, the Stipulation states:
IT IS STIPULATED AND AGREED BY CLARENCE JOHNSON that the injuries alleged in the paragraphs above comprise all injuries, whether they be physical or psychological, direct or consequential, specific or Gillette, he may have sustained as a result of his work injuries of October 15, 2003, and November 13, 2003 (Gillette) or his work activities with A Touch of Class Painting, Inc.
Benefits were paid according to the stipulation and award.
On October 16, 2007, appellant, acting pro se, filed an application/petition to vacate the stipulation and to set aside the award. This court denied the application/petition. Johnson v. A Touch of Class Painting, Inc., No. WC08-113 (W.C.C.A. Mar. 31, 2008). The appellant attempted to appeal, but the Minnesota Supreme Court denied his appeal for failure to perfect it in a timely manner. The appellant also attempted to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but his petition for a writ of certiorari was denied.
On April 6, 2009, the appellant filed another self-generated first report of injury alleging that “On 10/6/03, while painting, scraping, & others, I began to have bilateral shoulder pain, but continued, to work, was layed [sic] off, but continue to have said pain, on 11/13/03, still more pain. Later, surgery on both shoulders.” He reported using a paint brush, ladder, scraper, utility knife, caulking gun, and “paint sparaing [sic] machine.”
On May 6, 2009, appellant, acting pro se, filed an amended claim petition alleging that he sustained a personal injury on October 6, 2003, arising out of and in the course of his employment with the employer. The appellant claimed entitlement to temporary total disability benefits from November 13, 2003, through September 27, 2004, 6% permanent partial disability for his shoulders, and rehabilitation benefits.
A compensation judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings dismissed the appellant’s claim petition, reasoning that the appellant had not provided any evidentiary support for a new injury on October 6, 2003 and that simply alleging a new injury would not allow the appellant to circumvent the 2006 Stipulation, which had closed out the appellant’s shoulder injuries in their entirety. Appellant attempted to appeal the dismissal, but he was unable to perfect the appeal in a timely manner, and this court dismissed the appeal. Johnson v. A Touch of Class Painting, Inc., 69 W.C.D. 386 (W.C.C.A. 2009).
Appellant, once again acting pro se, filed a claim petition on April 19, 2012. It listed the following dates of injury: “10-15-03 - 11-13-03 Gillette.” Appellant attached the 2006 Stipulation in support of the claim petition. He is seeking temporary disability benefits from October 15, 2003, to the present and continuing, medical benefits, and permanent partial disability benefits amounting to “6 x 2 % per shoulder according to section 5223. 0450 subp. 3a(2).”
Respondents filed an answer denying liability for the appellant’s claims. They also filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the appellant’s current claims are barred by the 2006 Stipulation and Award, which closed out all claims relating to the appellant’s shoulders as against the respondents.
Appellant filed a response to the motion to dismiss, arguing that all parties knew he had sustained a Gillette injury while he worked with respondents. He also argued that the case should not have been settled in 2006 because he went on to have surgery after the settlement, and he argued that he was not a “subcontractor.” Appellant also raised issues of possible legal malpractice, fraud, frivolous denial, and procedural and reporting deficiencies on the part of the respondents.
The compensation judge determined that the appellant had settled all of his claims relating to his shoulders in 2006, and he dismissed the appellant’s claim petition in an order that was served and filed on May 25, 2012. Appellant filed his notice of appeal on June 12, 2012, and this appeal follows.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing cases on appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals must determine whether “the findings of fact and order [are] clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted.” Minn. Stat. § 176.421, subd. 1. Substantial evidence supports the findings if, in the context of the entire record, “they are supported by evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.” Hengemuhle v. Long Prairie Jaycees, 358 N.W.2d 54, 59, 37 W.C.D. 235, 239 (Minn. 1984). Where evidence conflicts or more than one inference may reasonably be drawn from the evidence, the findings are to be affirmed. Id. at 60, 37 W.C.D. at 240. Similarly, “[f]actfindings are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Northern States Power Co. v. Lyon Foods Prods., Inc., 304 Minn. 196, 201, 229 N.W.2d 521, 524 (1975). Findings of fact should not be disturbed, even though the reviewing court might disagree with them, “unless they are clearly erroneous in the sense that they are manifestly contrary to the weight of the evidence or not reasonably supported by the evidence as a whole.” Id.
“[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 Refinery, 48 W.C.D. 607, 608 (W.C.C.A. 1993).
As an initial issue, respondents argue that appellant has not properly raised the majority of his arguments in his notice of appeal. This court’s review, on appeal, “is limited to the issues raised by the parties in the notice of appeal.” Minn. Stat. § 176.421, subd. 6. There is no requirement in the statute or this court’s rules that would mandate a particular format or a listing of the findings or orders appealed by number. A notice of appeal is sufficient if it shows an intent to appeal and the order appealed from, and it apprises the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals and the other parties of the facts and issues being appealed. Atkinson v. Northern States Power Co., 55 W.C.D. 347, 351, summarily aff’d (Minn. Oct. 29, 1996).
Here, the pro se appellant’s notice of appeal is sufficient to confer jurisdiction on this court. However, appellant’s notice of appeal states that he sustained injuries to his knees and thumb when he fell from a ladder on April 24, 2006, and he states that he had bilateral knee surgery in 2006. The injuries at issue with A Touch of Class occurred in 2003 and involved appellant’s shoulders. Appellant appears to be referring to the knee issues and treatment in connection with his position that he was medicated and confused at the time of the 2006 settlement. If so, that argument is addressed below. Otherwise, this court will address only those injuries related to the 2003 Gillette injuries to the shoulders. See Minn. R. 9800.0900.
Appellant raises the following arguments in his appeal brief:
1. That respondents and his prior attorney conspired against him.
2. That the Department of Labor and Industry was responsible for investigating the denial of liability and whether the appellant was a subcontractor before 2005.
3. That the 2006 Stipulation needed to be accompanied by copies of all medical records in possession under “Minn. R. 1515.2000 (6).”
4. That he had shoulder surgery in 2008 and should be entitled to payment for disability ratings of 6%.
5. That he was not an independent contractor.
6. That he was on medication, unaware of Minnesota law, and confused at the time of the 2006 settlement, and that the settlement was, accordingly, inappropriate.
7. That he should be granted deference in litigation because he is pro se.
As indicated above, this court may only review those issues raised in the notice of appeal. Minn. Stat. § 176.421, subd. 6. As such, this court is not technically obligated to review any arguments beyond the following assertion from appellant’s June 12, 2012 notice of appeal:
The appellant was injured, confused, on medication when he signed the stipulation for settlement on 8-15-06, and the appellant had bilateral knee surgery on 8-24-06. Praying that the Judge will look at the proof and truth, and allow this claim petition to continue.
Nonetheless, all of the arguments that appellant is currently raising, are similar, if not identical, to the arguments he raised while pursuing his prior petition to vacate. See Johnson, No. WC08-113 (W.C.C.A. Mar. 31, 2008). Appellant is not claiming that he has sustained a new injury. Rather, he is once again arguing that he sustained a Gillette injury to his shoulders at some point while working with A Touch of Class in 2003. This claim was settled in the 2006 stipulation and award. Therefore, appellant is effectively attempting to vacate the 2006 settlement, which is evidenced in his reply brief, where he states that this court “has the authority and discreation [sic] to set aside an award, even when the stipulation for settlement contains a specific provision to the contrary.”
In workers’ compensation proceedings, principles of res judicata prevent additional consideration or review of issues litigated and decided in prior proceedings. Res judicata or “claim preclusion” is legal doctrine that is intended to provide finality, and “a final judgment on the merits bars a second suit for the same claim by parties or their privies.” Kaiser v. Northern States Power Co., 353 N.W.2d 899, 902 (Minn. 1984). This court has already painstakingly reviewed appellant’s circumstances and determined that he could not establish a reason to vacate the 2006 settlement, including mutual mistake of fact, newly discovered evidence, fraud, or a substantial change in medical condition. See Johnson, No. WC08-113 (W.C.C.A. Mar. 31, 2008).
Appellant has submitted no new evidence or records in support of his current claims, and he raised many similar arguments in the previous litigation and proceedings. He was represented by counsel at the time of the 2006 settlement, but in his 2008 case before this court, appellant primarily argued that his attorney made mistakes in the handling of his claims. His argument has now evolved to allege, instead, that he was on medication in 2006 because of a different injury. The employee has not submitted any evidence that he was somehow incapacitated at the time of the settlement. As in 2008, we see nothing new or different in the appellant’s submissions that would entitle him to vacation of the 2006 stipulation and award, and because appellant has already litigated the claims raised herein, they are barred by res judicata. Therefore, the May 25, 2012 order dismissing the appellant’s claim petition is affirmed.
 Time limitations for perfecting an appeal are jurisdictional. See Bjerga v. Maislin Transp., 400 N.W.2d 99, 39 W.C.D. 309 (Minn. 1987); Kearns v. Julette Originals Dress Co., 267 Minn. 278, 126 N.W.2d 266, 23 W.C.D. 127 (1964).
 See Minn. R. 9800.1600.
 It is well-established that the law generally favors settlement, and workers’ compensation settlements are to be encouraged. See Maurer v. Braun’s Locker Plant, 298 N.W.2d 439, 441, 33 W.C.D. 66, 71 (Minn. 1980); Senske v. Fairmont & Waseca Canning Co., 232 Minn. 350, 45 N.W.2d 640, 16 W.C.D. 242 (1951). An award on stipulation is valid and binding, unless good cause exists to vacate the award. Minn. Stat. §§ 176.461, .521.
 Appellant also argues that this court exceeded its authority in case number “WCo7254” by substituting its own judgment and findings on credibility. Appellant’s arguments in this regard, and his citation to “WCo7254,” refer to a different injury claim against a different employer and will not be addressed here. See Johnson v. University Good Samaritan Ctr., No. WC07-245 (W.C.C.A. Mar. 6, 2008).
 See Fischer v. Saga Corp., 498 N.W.2d 449, 450, 48 W.C.D. 368, 369 (Minn. 1993); Alexander v. Kenneth R. LaLonde Enters., 288 N.W.2d 18, 20, 32 W.C.D. 312, 314 (Minn. 1980).