Jurisdiction: Subject Matter Jurisdiction

MONTANA SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

Pinnow v. Montana State Fund, 2007 MT 332, 340 Mont. 217, 172 P.3d 1273 Nothing in § 39-71-613, MCA, confers jurisdiction on the Department of Labor and Industry to resolve attorney’s fees disputes. Therefore, the WCC has jurisdiction over the dispute.

Pinnow v. Montana State Fund, 2007 MT 332, 340 Mont. 217, 172 P.3d 1273 An administrative agency does not have the power to create or divest a court of subject matter jurisdiction, and the Legislature has provided that the Department of Labor and Industry shall not make rules or otherwise control the Workers’ Compensation Court. Thus, to the extent that ARM 24.29.3802(9) attempts of its own accord to divest the Workers’ Compensation Court of jurisdiction over a dispute between any claimant and an attorney relative to attorney’s fees in a workers’ compensation claim, the provision is ineffective.

Pinnow v. Montana State Fund, 2007 MT 332, 340 Mont. 217, 172 P.3d 1273 Where a district court judge heard a Workers’ Compensation Court matter from which the Workers’ Compensation Court judge had recused himself, the proceedings and orders issued by the district court judge had no legal effect since no statutory authority allowed the district court judge to hear the case.
Pinnow v. Montana State Fund, 2007 MT 332, 340 Mont. 217, 172 P.3d 1273 Jurisdictional issues transcend procedural considerations, and the court has an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party.

Thompson v. State, 2007 MT 185, 338 Mont. 511, 167 P.2d 867 Jurisdiction involves the fundamental power and authority of a court to determine and hear an issue. Accordingly, subject matter jurisdiction can never be forfeited or waived. Subject matter jurisdiction cannot be conferred by the consent of a party. Therefore, the issue of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised by a party, or by the court itself, at any state of a judicial proceeding.

Thompson v. State, 2007 MT 185, 338 Mont. 511, 167 P.2d 867 Where no benefits are at issue, the WCC does not have jurisdiction to issue a declaratory judgment holding §§ 39-71-604(3), 50-16-527(5), MCA, unconstitutional.
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.
Noonkester v. Montana State Fund, 2006 MT 169, 332 Mont. 528, 140 P.3d 466 The Workers’ Compensation Court’s jurisdiction over a pre-repudiation dispute between a claimant and an insurer does not extend jurisdiction to a post-repudiation dispute between the claimant and his employer.
Noonkester v. Montana State Fund, 2006 MT 169, 332 Mont. 528, 140 P.3d 466 The Workers’ Compensation Court did not act improperly when it raised the issue of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte and gave the claimant 30 days to consider whether he wished to repudiate or ratify his claim for benefits.
Liberty Northwest Insurance Corporation (Brand S Lumber) v. State Fund, 1998 MT 169. When deciding a motion to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a trial court must determine whether the complaint states facts that, if true, would vest the court with subject matter jurisdiction.
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
Montana State Fund v. Simms [12/29/10] 2010 MTWCC 40 This Court applies contract law to determine whether a settlement agreement is valid and enforceable.  Section 28-2-401, MCA, states that an apparent consent to contract is not real or free when obtained through duress, menace, fraud, undue influence, or mistake.  This Court has frequently entertained cases involving allegations of mutual mistake of fact, and the Montana Supreme Court has never challenged this Court’s jurisdiction to do so.  It stands to reason that if this Court has the jurisdiction to review the validity of a settlement under one of the enumerated bases of § 28-2-401, MCA, it therefore must have the jurisdiction to review settlements under the others.
Montana State Fund v. Simms [03/09/09] 2009 MTWCC 9 The Montana Supreme Court’s holding in Pinnow v. Montana State Fund, 2007 MT 332, made it clear that the Workers’ Compensation Court has the powers enumerated in § 39-71-2901(2), MCA, and elsewhere in Title 39, Chapter 71, of the Montana Code Annotated, but does not automatically have the powers granted to other courts without express authority. No statutory authority within Title 39, Chapter 71, supports a grant of immunity as being within the power of this Court, and therefore the Court lacks the jurisdiction to grant the immunity Respondent seeks.
Raymond v. Uninsured Employers' Fund [12/11/08] 2008 MTWCC 52 ARM 24.5.307A was promulgated by this Court to foster judicial economy. Although it serves a practical purpose, it contravenes a statutory scheme. Conjectured savings in judicial economy cannot be a source of subject matter jurisdiction.
Montana Municipal Insurance Authority v. Roche [11/14/07] 2007 MTWCC 47 While Respondent argues that the Court has no authority to order him to repay any TTD benefits he received to which he may not have been entitled, in Reil v. State Comp. Mut. Ins. Fund, 254 Mont. 274, 837 P.2d 1334 (1992), the Montana Supreme Court concluded that restitution is within the remedies available in this Court, and that the exclusivity of the Workers’ Compensation Act does not preclude restitution of benefits to which a worker was not entitled. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to order restitution in the present case.
Thompson v. State of Montana and Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. and Montana State Fund [04/28/06] 2006 MTWCC 19 Respondent argues that the WCC lacks jurisdiction to determine a constitutional issue because the WCC is a court of limited jurisdiction and specifically lacks jurisdiction to decide tort cases. Respondent, however, mischaracterizes Petitioners’ declaratory judgment action as a “constitutional invasion of privacy tort action.” No tortious conduct has been alleged. An action to declare a statute unconstitutional is a declaratory judgment action – not a tort action. Therefore, Respondent’s argument that the WCC does not have jurisdiction in a tort action, while apparently true, is nonetheless irrelevant.
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.)
Kimery v. State Compensation Ins. Fund [12/11/95] 1995 MTWCC 104 Where the WCC has jurisdiction to determine entitlement to benefits, it has jurisdiction to determine whether the annulment of widow’s remarriage revives State Fund’s obligation to pay death benefits. 
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.
Hansen v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. of Pittsburgh [10/17/95] 1995 MTWCC 79 Although insurer requested contested case hearing before the DOL regarding claimant’s refusal to attend an out-of-state independent medical examination, Workers’ Compensation Court had jurisdiction over petition alleging controversy over medical benefits.

Montgomery v. Department of Labor and Industry [06/15/95] 1995 MTWCC 47Appeal from order of Department of Labor and Industry dismissed where appellant raised no issue of benefits under the Workers’ Compensation or Occupational Disease Acts before the Department, but rather requested reclassification as a regular and not temporary employee of state agency, evidently for use in pursuing other claims.