Constitutional Law: Contract Clause

Gunder v. CIGNA [5/3/99] 1999 MTWCC 31 Claimant appealed from the decision of Department of Labor holding that failure of the insurer to deny an occupational disease claim within 30 days does not preclude the insurer from contesting the claim. Claimant asked the WCC to find the "retroactive" application of section 39-71-606(5), MCA (1997) unconstitutional. That section, which specifies that failure to deny within 30 days does not constitute acceptance, was expressly made applicable by the Montana Legislature to matters pending prior to its enactment. The WCC held that application of section 39-71-606(5), MCA (1997) to claims existing prior to the effective date of the statute does not violate the contract clause of either the Montana or United States Constitutions. Given the statement in section 39-72-103, MCA (1995) that rights to compensation for occupational diseases did not vest and could be changed by the legislature, an occupational disease claimant had no contractual right to benefits as described in a particular year's legislation. Given this and in light of applicable precedent, the retroactive application of the 1997 amendment to section 39-71-606(5), MCA was constitutional. (Note: the appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, Gunder v. CIGNA, No. 99-337, was ordered dismissed on May 18, 2000, based upon notice from the parties that the matter had settled.)