DEBORAH K. LEADENS, Employee/Petitioner, v. DIVERSIFIED DISTRIB. and MINN. INS. GUAR. ASS’N, Employer-Insurer/Respondents, and SPECIAL COMP. FUND.

NOVEMBER 14, 2022
No. WC22-6475

VACATION OF AWARD – VOIDABLE AWARD.  Because the employee has not shown that the award on stipulation was erroneous or was founded on an irregularity, the award cannot be considered voidable and her request for a referral to a compensation judge for review of the settlement agreement is denied.

    Determined by:
  1. David A. Stofferahn, Judge
  2. Deborah K. Sundquist, Judge
  3. Thomas J. Christenson, Judge

Attorneys:  Joshua E. Borken, Joshua Borken Law Office, St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Petitioner.  Craig A. Larsen, Aafedt, Forde, Gray, Monson & Hager, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the Respondents.

Petition denied.



The employee petitions this court for a determination of whether the 1998 Award on Stipulation is voidable and for a referral of the stipulation to the Office of Administrative Hearings for review of the agreement.  We deny the petition.


The employee, Deborah Leadens, sustained a work injury on October 1, 1979.  The employer and insurer admitted liability and paid benefits for wage loss, medical care, rehabilitation services and permanent partial disability.  The employee, who was not represented by an attorney at the time, settled all workers’ compensation claims related to the October 1, 1979, injury on a full, final, and complete basis in exchange for $105,000, leaving open only future medical expenses.  The settlement was approved by a compensation judge, “having examined [the stipulation] and all the files, records and proceedings herein and finding said stipulation to be in substantial accord with the workers’ compensation law.”  (Ex. B.)  An Award on Stipulation was issued on September 21, 1998.

In October 2020, the employee, with the assistance of a lawyer, filed with this court a petition to vacate the 1998 Award.  The employee alleged in her petition that there had been a substantial change in her medical condition that was clearly not anticipated and could not reasonably have been anticipated at the time of the award.  In her petition and supporting brief, the employee also argued that a settlement in which an employee is not represented by a lawyer is per se unreasonable and voidable on the basis of fairness and public policy.

This court, in a decision served and filed June 25, 2021, denied the employee’s petition.  We determined that the employee had failed to establish that the changes to the admitted low back and left knee conditions could not reasonably have been anticipated.  We also rejected the employee’s argument that the settlement should be vacated as a matter of public policy, stating that our authority to vacate an award is limited to cause as defined by Minn. Stat. § 176.461.  The statutory definition of cause does not include public policy.  Minn. Stat. § 176.461(b).  The employee appealed this court’s decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which summarily affirmed the denial of the petition.  Leadens v. Diversified Distrib., No. WC20-6375 (W.C.C.A. June 25, 2021), summarily aff’d (Minn. Dec. 14, 2021).

The employee has now filed another petition with this court, alleging that the 1998 award is voidable and requesting referral to the Office of Administrative Hearings.[1]


In her prior petition, one basis upon which the employee sought vacation of the 1998 Award on Stipulation was for mutual mistake of fact, arguing that the award was per se voidable under public policy and fairness principles because she was not represented at the time of settlement.  This court did not accept this argument and denied the petition.  Now, in her current petition, the employee asks that this court find the award voidable and refer the stipulation to a compensation judge to determine whether the settlement was fair, reasonable, and in conformity with Minn. Stat. Ch. 176.[2]  We decline to do so.

A judgment is voidable only if it is erroneous or founded on some irregularity.  Lange v. Johnson, 204 N.W.2d 205, 208 (Minn. 1973).  The employee asserts that the award is voidable but identifies no error or irregularity.  Her prior petition asserted that because she was not represented, the award should be considered voidable per se.  This argument was rejected by decision of this court, which was summarily affirmed by the supreme court.  Her current petition advances essentially the same position.  Rather than identify an error or irregularity such that the award would be voidable, the employee asserts that a compensation judge should have reviewed the agreement with the employee.  Specifically, she states that the compensation judge should have reviewed with her the law regarding supplementary benefits and simultaneous injury factor benefits, and should have explained to her the impact of closing out certain benefits.  She states that “no one conducted an exposure analysis” or told her what the future value of her claim would be, and that had she known, she would not have entered into the agreement.  (Pet. Mem. at 5.)  We note that such a process is not required under the statute and would go far beyond the appropriate role of a compensation judge.

The employee seeks similar relief as that provided by the court in Rossbach v. Rossbach Constr., Inc., 77 W.C.D. 911 (W.C.C.A. 2017).  However, in Rossbach, an error was made.  The compensation judge issued an award that incorrectly stated that both parties to the agreement were represented when in fact, neither were represented, and presumed the agreement was fair, reasonable, and in conformity with the statute.  In the absence of any indication that the agreement was reviewed and approved, this court referred the matter for a determination of whether the agreement was fair, reasonable, and in conformity with the statute.  The facts of Rossbach are distinguishable from those presented here.  In this case, the award issued does not erroneously state that the employee was represented when she was not.  In addition, the language in the 1998 award indicates that the compensation judge examined the stipulation before approval, as is required by Minn. Stat. § 176.521, subd. 1(a), where a party to the agreement is not represented by an attorney.  Unlike in Rossbach, this case presents no basis upon which to determine that the award was voidable.

We conclude that the award is not erroneous and was not founded on an irregularity, and therefore is not voidable.  As such, no further analysis is necessary by this court or upon referral to a compensation judge.  The petition is denied.

[1] The petition filed is titled “petition to void/remand per Minn. Stat. §176.521.”  Throughout, the employee uses void and voidable, and remand and refer, interchangeably.  The court notes that these are distinct procedural concepts.  Given the content of the employee’s memorandum in support of this petition, the court will interpret the petition as requesting a determination of whether the 1998 Award on Stipulation is voidable and referral to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

[2] The employee mentions one of the four factors outlined in Sondrol v. Del Hayes & Sons, Inc., 47 W.C.D. 659 (W.C.C.A. 1992).  These factors do not apply to determine whether an award is voidable.  When an award is voidable, the four Sondrol factors may be used to determine whether the voidable award should be vacated.  See Milner v. Schwan’s Sales Enters., 59 W.C.D. 163 (W.C.C.A. 1999).