39-71-2905, MCA

MONTANA SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

Boyd v. Zurich American Ins. Co. [03/16/10] 2010 MT 52 Section 39-71-2905, MCA, is a specific statute that establishes the limitations periods for disputes over benefits and requires that a petition for hearing be filed within two years of denial of benefits.  It controls the time for petition filing and § 27-2-203, MCA, does not apply where § 39-71-2905, MCA, controls. 

Boyd v. Zurich American Ins. Co. [03/16/10] 2010 MT 52 Where the insurer’s letter firmly established a denial of benefits and the existence of a “dispute over liability,” the two-year statute of limitations was triggered.
Dildine v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp., 2009 MT 87 The Workers’ Compensation Court has jurisdiction to decide a claimant’s request for a Lockhart lien because it is a dispute pertaining to benefits in 39-71-2905, MCA. 

Kessel v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [11/27/07] 2007 MT 305 The WCC correctly held that the limitations period of § 39-71-2905, MCA, does not begin to run until after the OD evaluation report is issued. (See § 39-72-602, MCA.)

Thompson v. State, 2007 MT 185, 338 Mont. 511, 167 P.2d 867 The history of the WCC and the statute providing for exclusive jurisdiction in that court “to make determinations concerning disputes under [the WCA],” § 39-71-2905(1), MCA, indicates that the jurisdiction of the court goes beyond the minimum whenever the dispute is related to benefits payable to a claimant. However, this does not mean that the WCC may issue declaratory rulings outside the context of a dispute concerning benefits.

Thompson v. State, 2007 MT 185, 338 Mont. 511, 167 P.2d 867 The WCC does not have jurisdiction to issue a declaratory judgment ruling in the particular context of this case. Unlike the general jurisdiction granted to district courts over “all cases in law and in equity,” the WCC is a court of limited jurisdiction. It is an administrative tribunal governed by MAPA and allocated to the Department of Labor and Industry for administrative purposes. As such, courts of limited jurisdiction have only such power as expressly conferred by statute, and the applicable statutes here (§§ 2-4-501, 39-71-2905(1), MCA) authorize the WCC to issue declaratory rulings only in the context of a dispute concerning benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act and only as to the applicability of any statutory provision, rule, or order of the agency to that dispute.
[1989] Bare v. Liberty Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 1998 MT 106 Supreme Court affirmed WCC conclusion that WCC lacked jurisdiction to determine claimant's disability status under the 1989 WCA where claimant had failed to exhaust the rehabilitation panel procedures under sections 39-71-1012 through 39-71-1033, MCA (1989). The WCC had determined that the Department of Labor had original jurisdiction to assess return-to-work options for claimant. If the DOL made a final decision, the WCC had appellate jurisdiction on challenge of that decision; it had original jurisdiction only when the DOL determined that none of the statutory return-to-work options were appropriate. In agreeing, the Supreme Court concluded that the statutory rehabilitation panel procedures were "dispute resolution requirements" under section 39-71-2905, MCA (1989), meaning the WCC had jurisdiction over the dispute only after those requirements were satisfied.
[1995] Liberty Northwest Insurance Corporation (Brand S Lumber) v. State Fund, 1998 MT 169. Supreme Court agreed that WCC did not have subject matter jurisdiction over a claim in tort by Liberty Northwest Insurance Company against State Fund. Liberty alleged State Fund had written a letter to Liberty's insured leading it to believe that a subcontractor was insured for workers' compensation purposes, when in fact the subcontractor was uninsured, causing Liberty to pay workers' compensation benefits to an injured worker of the subcontractor pursuant to section 39-71-405, MCA. Even though the damages sought against State Fund would correspond to the workers' compensation benefits paid by Liberty, the claim was in tort and not a dispute concerning benefits under the WCA, as required for WCC jurisdiction under section 39-71-2905, MCA (1995).
WORKERS' COMPENSATION COURT DECISIONS
Hardie v. Montana State Fund [01/09/12] 2012 MTWCC 2 The Montana Supreme Court has previously held that the statute of limitations in § 39-71-2905(2), MCA, is tolled from the date a claimant files for mediation through the 25-day timeframe set forth in § 39-71-2411(7), MCA.  The court has further held that the tolling period is calculated from the date of the mediation request through the deadline for both parties to respond to the mediator’s recommendation.  Petitioner’s petition in this matter was timely as it was filed within two years of the claim denial, when the tolling of the statute of limitations from the date of the mediation petition filing through 25 days following the issuance of the mediator’s report is taken into account.
Bell v. Montana State Fund [08/02/11] 2011 MTWCC 23 Where an insurer accepted a claim and then later sent a letter denying a specific medical bill, the insurer cannot construe that letter as a general denial of liability and thereby raise a statute of limitations defense to other elements of the claim under § 39-71-2905(2), MCA.
Johnson v. Montana State Fund [07/22/11] 2011 MTWCC 22 Even though Respondent indicated that it would continue to investigate Petitioner’s claim, it denied his claim and consistently maintained its denial from a certain date forward. This denial firmly established the existence of a “dispute over liability” and triggered the two-year statute of limitations found in § 39-71-2905(2), MCA.
Liberty Northwest v. Montana State Fund (In re Ellis) [03/01/11] 2011 MTWCC 8 Indemnification sought by one insurer against another falls within the Court’s jurisdiction under § 39-71-2905, MCA, because the dispute involves an insurer who has a dispute concerning benefits under the WCA.
Burke v. Roseburg Forest Products [09/14/09] 2009 MTWCC 32 Where a department mediation occurred and a mediator’s report was eventually issued, but the parties did not inform the mediator whether the recommendation had been accepted or rejected until the Court prompted the parties to do so, the Court determined that, although the case had proceeded for two months from the time the petition was filed, if it were to continue, it would do so under a cloud of uncertainty as to whether jurisdiction had been lacking from the inception. Therefore, the Court dismissed the petition without prejudice.
Boyd v. Zurich [08/12/09] 2009 MTWCC 26 Section 39-71-2905(2), MCA, unambiguously requires that “a petition for hearing . . . must be filed within 2 years after benefits are denied.” This Court has never recognized an “implied tolling” until the claimant obtains medical evidence in support of his claim. Such a tolling would effectively eliminate the statute of limitations for every claim that is denied because the claimant lacked supporting medical evidence.

Hopkins v. Uninsured Employers' Fund [03/20/09] 2009 MTWCC 12 Although the UEF argues that § 39-71-2905, MCA, gives the Court the authority to consider its dispute against an alleged uninsured employer, this statute specifically reads that a claimant or insurer . . . may petition this Court. The UEF is not a claimant and has repeatedly argued to this Court that it is not an insurer. It offers no rationale as to why this Court should consider it an insurer for purposes of § 39-71-2905, MCA, and yet not consider it an insurer under § 39-71-2907, MCA.

Baker v. Transportation Ins. Co. [02/01/07] 2007 MTWCC 6 Although the matter was not mediated and Petitioner did not file a statement that the parties had attempted to resolve the dispute, this Court has jurisdiction of a pre-1987claim because an attempt to resolve the dispute at the time would have been futile since Petitioner’s claim for benefits was denied on the basis of a statute of limitation.
Thompson v. State of Montana and Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. and Montana State Fund [04/28/06] 2006 MTWCC 19 Although § 39-71-2905, MCA, states that the penalties and assessments allowed against an insurer under chapter 71 are the exclusive penalties and assessments that can be assessed by the WCC against an insurer for disputes arising under chapter 71, when the Respondent in a declaratory judgment action is not an insurer, the WCC is not constrained to the penalties and assessments allowed against insurers under chapter 71.

Clemons v. Liberty Northwest [04/20/06] 2006 MTWCC 16 Section 39-71-2905(2), MCA, applies to claims for injuries occurring on or after July 1, 1997 [the statute’s effective date].

Clemons v. Liberty Northwest [04/20/06] 2006 MTWCC 16 The appropriate date to determine whether § 39-71-2905, MCA, applies to a petitioner’s claim is the date he alleges his injury occurred.

[1995-2003] Kessel v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [08/04/05] 2005 MTWCC 45 In occupational disease cases, the two-year limitations period prescribed by section 39-71-2905(2), MCA (1995-2003), begins to run only after the medical panel evaluation required in section 39-72-602, MCA (2001), has been held, a panel report has issued, and the insurer has denied liability after reviewing the report. The limitations period is not triggered by a pre-panel denial of liability.

[1997-2003] Fleming v. International Paper [07/08/05] 2005 MTWCC 34 The statute requiring a claimant to file a petition within two years of a denial of benefits, § 39-71-2905(2), MCA (1997-2003), is a statute of limitations, not a statute of repose.
[1997-2003] Fleming v. International Paper [07/08/05] 2005 MTWCC 34 The statute requiring the claimant to petition the Workers’ Compensation Court for benefits within two years of an insurer’s denial of benefits, § 39-71-2905(2), MCA (1997-2003), is tolled during mediation. See Preston v. Transportation Ins. Co., 2004 MT 339, 324 Mont. 225, 102 P.3d 527.
[2001] Kutzler v. Montana State Fund [01/26/05] 2005 MTWCC 5 Workers' Compensation Court lacks jurisdiction over a petition for workers' compensation benefits where the parties have not completed mandatory mediation.
[1997] Smith v. Highlands Ins. Group [08/31/04] 2004 MTWCC 63 Where payment for medical treatment has been denied or authorization refused, the Court has jurisdiction to adjudicate the dispute.  39-71-2905, MCA (1997-2003).
[2001] Taves v. AIU [6/16/03] 2003 MTWCC 43 Mediation is a jurisdictional prerequisite to filing a petition in the Workers' Compensation Court.

[2001] Travelers v. State Fund and State Fund v. Feller [6/11/03] 2003 MTWCC 41 The Workers' Compensation Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over tort actions. Liberty Northwest v. State Fund, 1998 MT 169, 10, 289 Mont. 475, 962 P.2d 1167.

[1999] Steck v. Liberty Mutual Northwest [3/10/03] 2003 MTWCC 17 Petition seeking medical benefits is time barred under section 39-71-2905(2), MCA, where commenced more than 2 years after the denial of the benefits. However, the bar does not extend to medical benefits which were not within the scope of the denial.
[1999] Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. v. Halling and Oliver [1/7/02] 2002 MTWCC 1 The limitation on penalties and assessments stated in section 39-71-2905, MCA (1999), does not prevent the Workers' Compensation Court from ordering an insurer which filed a declaratory judgment action to compensate the reasonable fees of a guardian ad litem appointed by the Court to represent the interests of a minor child. Section 39-71-612, MCA (1999), does require the insurer to pay reasonable costs as established by the Court if there is a dispute over the amount of benefits due. While the insurer has evidently paid benefits on behalf of the minor, it has apparently not paid all benefits due beneficiaries and has filed a declaratory judgment action putting the amount of the minor's benefits at issue. It is within the equitable power of the Court and the costs provision of section 39-71-612, MCA (1999), to treat guardian fees as a cost to be assessed against the insurer.
[1997] Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp, v. Nancy Petak [3/4/98] 1998 MTWCC 21 WCC has jurisdiction over dispute between medical provider, claimant, and insurer regarding whether attorneys fees are properly paid out of medical benefits obtained through the efforts of the attorney. With a few exceptions not relevant here, the WCC has broad jurisdiction over matters arising under the WCA, including matters which do not directly involve but affect benefits. The distribution of benefits under the WCA falls under the Court's jurisdiction.
[1995] Bare v. Liberty Mutual Fire Ins. Co. [5/27/97] WCC No. 9704-7739 Where claimant's petition shows that he seeks permanent total disability benefits under the 1989 WCA, but he has not exhausted the rehabilitation procedures under section 39-71-1012 through -1003, MCA (1989), his petition must be dismissed. (Note: Affirmed at Bare v. Liberty Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 1998 MT 106, No. 97-434.)
[1995] Liberty Northwest Insurance Corporation (Brand S Lumber) v. State Fund [10/1/97] 1997 MTWCC 54 While the jurisdiction of the WCC extends to any matter relating to benefits, including claims between insurers to determine which of them is liable to a claimant, the WCC does not have jurisdiction over tort actions against insurers, even though the measure of tort damages may involve the amount of benefits paid by an insurer under the Workers' Compensation Act. (Note: affirmed in Liberty Northwest Ins. v. State Fund, 1998 MT 169.)
[1989] Bare v. Liberty Mutual Fire Ins. Co. [5/27/97] WCC No. 9704-7739 Where claimant's petition shows that he seeks permanent total disability benefits under the 1989 WCA, but he has not exhausted the rehabilitation procedures under section 39-71-1012 through -1003, MCA (1989), his petition must be dismissed. (Note: Affirmed at Bare v. Liberty Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 1998 MT 106, No. 97-434.)
Chippewa v. Montana State Fund [11/02/95] 1995 MTWCC 88 Workers’ Compensation Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over claimant’s objection to garnishment of his biweekly temporary total disability benefits by Child Support Enforcement Division of the Department of Family and Health Services. Not only were the writs of execution on claimant’s benefits were issued by the Montana District Court, not by the WCC, and but the matter of garnishment is not a dispute “concerning benefits” over which the WCC has jurisdiction.