FEBRUARY 17, 2016

No. WC15-5802

JURISDICTION - SUBJECT MATTER.  The compensation did not err in dismissing the employer and insurer’s petition for recovery of erroneously paid medical benefits where there is no subject matter jurisdiction for the claim.

Determined by:
            Gary M. Hall, Judge
            Patricia J. Milun, Chief Judge
            Manuel J. Cervantes, Judge
            David A. Stofferahn, Judge
            Deborah K. Sundquist, Judge

Compensation Judge:  William J. Marshall

Attorneys:  Mark J. Fellman, Fellman Law Office, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Employee Respondent.  John T. Thul, Cousineau McGuire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the Appellants.  Kevin Sandstrom, Eckberg, Lammers, Briggs, Wolff & Vierling, P.L.L.P., Stillwater, Minnesota, for Intervenor Therapy Partners.  M. Shannon Peterson, McCollum, Crowley, Moschet, Miller & Laak, Ltd., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Intervenor Medica/Ingenix.  Kris A. Wittwer, Wittwer Syverson, P.A., Roseville, Minnesota, for Intervenor Courage Kenny Rehab. Inst.  David M. Wilk, Larson King, L.L.P., St. Paul, Minnesota, for Intervenors Regions Hosp. and Lakeview Hosp.  Christine N. Lindblad, Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, L.L.P., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Intervenor Summit Orthopedics.




The employer and insurer appealed from the compensation judge’s dismissal of its petition for recovery of erroneously paid medical benefits which sought reimbursement for medical expense payments made to various healthcare providers as a result of an injury that was previously adjudicated as not compensable.  We affirm.


On September 16, 2005, while in the employ of The Heavy Equipment Company, the employee, William David, suffered multiple injuries as a result of being struck by a falling chimney while he sat in a heavy equipment excavator.  The employer, insured by Auto-Owners Insurance Company, admitted liability and paid benefits including medical treatment expenses from September 16, 2005, through October 7, 2009.  In late September 2011, the employer and insurer filed a petition for reimbursement[1] and a petition for discontinuance.  Both were consolidated and heard by Compensation Judge William Marshall on June 1, 2012.

In Judge Marshall’s Findings and Order dated August 17, 2012, he determined that the injuries sustained by the employee on September 16, 2005, were the result of an activity not related to his employment, and therefore did not arise out of and in the course and scope of his employment with the employer.  Judge Marshall went on to find that the employee did not intentionally or knowingly misrepresent, misstate, or fail to disclose material facts relating to the accident as required by Minn. Stat. § 176.179,  and was therefore not guilty of theft and did not receive benefits in bad faith.  Judge Marshall granted the employer’s petition for discontinuance, but denied the petition for reimbursement.  The employer and insurer did not make a claim for reimbursement against the medical providers.  No appeal was taken from the August 17, 2012, Findings and Order.

More than two years later in November 2014, the employer and insurer filed a petition for recovery of erroneously paid medical benefits against the medical providers.  According to the petition, the employer and insurer paid medical treatment expenses totaling $162,577.32 and asserted a right of reimbursement from the medical providers to whom these expenses were paid.  In response to the employer and insurer’s petition, several of the medical providers filed motions to dismiss, including Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, Summit Orthopedics, Regions Hospital, and Lakeview Hospital.  A Special Term Proceeding was held on January 23, 2015, before Compensation Judge William Marshall.

In his Order Dismissing the Petition for Recovery of Erroneously Paid Medical Benefits dated February 2, 2015, Judge Marshall determined that the Workers’ Compensation Act and rules do not provide a basis for the employer and insurer’s claim, that Minn. Stat. § 176.291(a) does not provide the basis for an action to recover medical benefits paid on behalf of the employee, and that dismissal was appropriate.  In his supporting memorandum, the compensation judge noted that other various arguments were made as to why the claim should not move forward, but that because the claim was dismissed for lack of a legal basis for the claim, those arguments would not be addressed.  The employer and insurer appealed the dismissal of its petition.


The matter is before this court on a determination from the compensation judge that neither Minn. Stat. § 176.291, nor any other statute or rule of the Workers Compensation Act, provides a legal basis to make such a claim.  The employer and insurer contend that dismissal of their petition to recover erroneously paid medical benefits is procedurally premature, that such a petition is a justiciable controversy within the jurisdiction of the workers’ compensation system, that the proceeding is not barred by Minn. Stat. § 176.179, that the petition is not barred by laches or a statute of limitations defense, and that any such defense would necessitate an evidentiary hearing.

In its appeal to this court, the employer and insurer assert that a broad reading of Minn. Stat. § 176.291(a) is appropriate, that its petition concerns “a dispute as to a question of law or fact in connection with a claim for compensation,” and therefore, Minn. Stat. § 176.291(a) confers jurisdiction, at least to the extent that the petition should survive a motion to dismiss. However, we have concluded that under these facts the employer and insurer’s petition should be dismissed based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, and an appellate court may raise and determine jurisdiction on its own motion, even though none of the parties has raised the issue. See, e.g., Davidner v. Davidner, 304 Minn. 491, 493, 232 N.W.2d 5, 7 (1975); Rhoades v. K & C Distrib., 51 W.C.D. 305, 321-22 (W.C.C.A. 1994).  Whether a court has subject matter depends on that court’s power to deal with the subject matter involved.  Parties cannot by their actions or agreement confer subject matter jurisdiction on a court.  See, Zanmiller v. Montgomery Ward, 361 N.W.2d 59, 37 W.C.D. 391 (Minn. 1985); Hemmesch v. Molitor, 328 N.W.2d 445, 447 (Minn. 1983); Kramer v. State, Peace Officers Benefit Fund, 380 N.W.2d 497, 38 W.C.D. 423 (Minn. 1986); Petterson v. K & C Distrib. Co., slip op. (W.C.C.A. 1994).

As stated in pertinent part in Minn. Stat. § 175A.01, subd. 5, “The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals shall have no jurisdiction in any case that does not arise under the workers’ compensation laws of the state.”  That lack of jurisdiction extends throughout the workers’ compensation system.  See Cooper v. Younkin, 339 N.W.2d 552, 36 W.C.D. 277 (Minn. 1983) (compensable injury does not extend jurisdiction to subrogation against uninsured motorist); Hemmesch, 328 N.W.2d 445, 35 W.C.D. 541 (altering district court allocation of insurance proceeds is outside statutory authority of WCCA).  As the Minnesota Supreme Court stated in Freeman v. Armour Food Co., 380 N.W.2d 816, 820, 38 W.C.D. 445, 449 (Minn. 1986):

Of course, the WCCA has ‘no jurisdiction in any case that does not arise under the workers’ compensation laws.’  Minn. Stat. § 175A.01, subd. 2.  See also Hagen v. Venem, 366 N.W.2d 280, 37 W.C.D. 674 (Minn. 1985) (the WCCA is limited to ‘the construction and application of the Workers’ Compensation Act’).

With the August 17, 2012, final determination that there was no compensable work injury, there is no longer any basis for action under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  Because the absence of a compensable injury takes this matter outside of the subject matter jurisdiction of the workers’ compensation system, the argument over the breadth of Minn. Stat. § 176.291(a) is irrelevant to the disposition of this proceeding.  By its own terms, a dispute must arise “in connection with a claim for compensation” to fall within the reach of the statute.  With no subject matter jurisdiction, none of the other arguments advanced by the employer and insurer have any bearing on the outcome in this proceeding.  The dismissal of the employer and insurer’s petition is affirmed.

[1] In its petition, the employer and insurer sought reimbursement from the employee of $267,021.10, comprised of two periods of temporary total disability benefits in the amount of $43,800.00, vocational rehabilitation benefits in the amount of $16,833.03, and medical benefits in the amount of $206,388.07.