ANGELA HAWLEY, Employee/Respondent, v. CITY OF BLAINE and LEAGUE OF MINN. CITIES, Employer-Insurer/Appellants.

JULY 31, 2019

No. WC19-6274

JURISDICTION - SUBJECT MATTER. Where the employee had never sought or received workers’ compensation benefits, but had merely completed a first report of injury, and the employer and insurer had denied the alleged injury, a compensation judge has no subject matter jurisdiction to consider a discovery motion by the employer and insurer.

    Determined by:
  1. Patricia J. Milun, Chief Judge
  2. Gary M. Hall, Judge
  3. Sean M. Quinn, Judge

Compensation Judge: Lisa B. Pearson

Attorneys: Ashley N. Biermann, Meuser Law Office, P.A., Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for the Respondent. Thomas L. Cummings and Joseph S. Koe, Jardine, Logan & O’Brien, P.L.L.P., Lake Elmo, Minnesota, for the Appellants.




The employer and insurer appeal the compensation judge’s denial of their discovery motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We affirm.


On August 29, 2018, the employee worked for the City of Blaine as a police officer. On October 25, 2018, a First Report of Injury was filed at the Department of Labor and Industry, reporting an alleged August 29, 2018, work injury in the nature of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Six days later, a Notice of Insurer’s Primary Liability Determination was filed, denying liability for the claimed work-related injury. No pleadings were filed by the employee.

On January 24, 2019, the employer and insurer filed a motion to compel seeking the employee’s attendance at an independent psychological evaluation (IPE) with a psychologist of their choosing, and requesting that any entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits be forfeited while the employee refused to comply with the request for an evaluation.

The employee filed a response to the motion, arguing the compensation judge did not have subject matter jurisdiction to compel the employee to attend the IPE, because no claim had been brought under the Workers’ Compensation Act, and that even if the compensation judge did have subject matter jurisdiction, the request was not reasonable under Minn. Stat. § 176.155. The employee further argued that the issuance of an order to compel attendance at an IPE, before an employee has chosen whether to pursue litigation after a primary denial of liability, would be inconsistent with the legislative intent of the statute and contrary to public policy.

On February 27, 2019, the employer and insurer filed a reply to the employee’s objection, asserting that the compensation judge has subject matter jurisdiction, that the requested evaluation was reasonable under the statute, and that the public policy arguments put forth by the employee were without merit.

A telephone conference was held on the motion to compel. Based upon the file and proceedings in this matter, the compensation judge held that subject matter jurisdiction was lacking and denied the employer and insurer’s motion to compel. The employer and insurer appeal, arguing the compensation judge’s determination does not conform with the Workers’ Compensation Act and that the judge committed an error of law.


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(3). 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, 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 evidence or not reasonably supported by the evidence as a whole.” Northern States Power Co. v. Lyon Food Prods., Inc., 304 Minn. 196, 201, 229 N.W.2d 521, 524 (1975).

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), summarily aff’d (Minn. June 3, 1993).


Appellants contend the compensation judge’s order affects the merits of their case because it “functionally end[s] litigation . . . leaving the Employer and Insurer without recourse.”[1] Specifically citing Cohen v. Beneficial Indus. Loan Corp.,[2] appellants argue the order denies their statutory rights and therefore causes irreparable harm. Thus, the appellants argue, the order is a final order, in that it is dispositive of their “fundamental right to litigate a matter in order to fairly and effectively resolve a dispute.”[3]

The appellants’ position rests principally on the case of Vaynberg v. The McKnight Foundation.[4] In Vaynberg, this court held that compensation judges are charged with the responsibility to enforce provisions of the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act and that an order to compel attendance at an independent medical examination may be an appropriate means by which to enforce compliance with Minn. Stat. § 176.155, subd. 1. The compensation judge here, however, concluded that the determinative facts in the present case were distinguishable from those in Vaynberg. The judge stated that in Vaynberg, and in the other cases cited by appellants,[5] the injured worker had received benefits in the past, either by adjudication or by admission.

Here, the judge noted that the employee had never sought or received workers’ compensation benefits; the employee merely reported an injury. The employer and insurer, after being provided with signed authorizations and obtaining medical records, denied liability for the alleged injury. In concluding that she had no subject matter jurisdiction over the employer and insurer’s motion, the judge considered dispositive the facts that the employee had not filed a claim petition, nor had the employer and insurer admitted the reported injury.

Discovery is intended to take place largely without a compensation judge’s involvement. Discovery motions generally provide for the enforcement of discovery rights where the claim is pending. Here, no proceeding was pending when the motion to compel was made, and the order does not prevent the appellants from seeking further discovery after a claim or proceeding is initiated.[6]

We affirm the compensation judge’s determination that she lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the discovery motion submitted by the employer and insurer.

[1] Appellants’ Brief at 6.

[2] 337 U.S. 541, 546 (1949). Appellants also cite to Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 525 (1985) and Abney v. U.S., 431 U.S. 651, 659 (1977).

[3] Appellants’ Brief at 6.

[4] No. WC04-219 (W.C.C.A. Oct. 14, 2004).

[5] In their trial brief, the employer and insurer also cited Offerosky v. GAF Bldg. Materials, slip op. (W.C.C.A. June 29, 1994), Kling v. St. Barnabas Hosp., 190 N.W.2d 674, 26 W.C.D. 53 (Minn. 1971), and Pojanowski v. Hart, 178 N.W.2d 913, 25 W.C.D. 206 (Minn. 1970).

[6] See Minn. Stat. § 176.271.