Jurisdiction: Workers' Compensation Court: Generally

MONTANA SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

Pinnow v. Montana State Fund, 2007 MT 332, 340 Mont. 217, 172 P.3d 1273 No provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act, nor any other provision of the Code provides for a district court judge to substitute for the Workers’ Compensation Court’s judge upon recusal.

Thompson v. State, 2007 MT 185, 338 Mont. 511, 167 P.2d 867 If claimants have “a dispute concerning benefits” under the WCA, and if they wish, within the context of that dispute, to challenge “the applicability of any statutory provision or of any rule or order of that agency” on constitutional grounds, they may do so in the WCC. However, to challenge the constitutionality of a statutory provision, rule, or order outside the context of a dispute concerning benefits, claimants must do so in district court.

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.
Noonkester v. Montana State Fund, 2006 MT 169, 332 Mont. 528, 140 P.3d 466 Section 39-71-2905(1), MCA, does not encompass a dispute between an employee and his employer concerning the merits of the employer’s exclusive remedy defense in a separate tort action. If the claimant had sought workers’ compensation benefits and the insurer or employer had denied that he had been injured in the course and scope of his employment, the Workers’ Compensation Court would have had jurisdiction to adjudicate the course and scope issue. However, a separate dispute relating to a tort action does not concern workers’ compensation benefits.
Noonkester v. Montana State Fund, 2006 MT 169, 332 Mont. 528, 140 P.3d 466 The Workers’ Compensation Court’s jurisdiction may not be employed for the sole purpose of obtaining a ruling that the prevailing party then can seek to import into a separate tort action.
Oberson v. Federated Mut. Ins. Co., 2005 MT 329, 330 Mont. 1, 126 P.3d 459 Montana’s Workers’ Compensation Court maintains limited jurisdiction over benefits flowing from Montana’s Workers’ Compensation Act. The claimant in this case did not file for workers’ compensation benefits in Montana. The monetary recovery implemented in this action flows exclusively from tort damages suffered in Montana, adjudicated in federal civil court, and directed by Montana’s tort law. Therefore, the Workers’ Compensation Court has no jurisdiction over the subrogation issue.
 
 
WORKERS' COMPENSATION COURT DECISIONS

Newlon v. Teck American Inc. (Formerly Cominco) [05/08/14] 2014 MTWCC 12 The Court rejected Respondent’s argument that it lacks the jurisdiction to use equitable estoppel as a remedy, noting that the Montana Supreme Court endorsed the use of this remedy in this Court in several decisions, including Mellem v. Kalispell Laundry & Dry Cleaners, 237 Mont. 439, 443, 774, P.2d 390, 392 (1989), Beery v. Grace Drilling, 260 Mont. 157, 165-66, 859 P.2d 429, 434-35 (1993), and Selley v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp., 2000 MT 76, ¶¶ 14-30, 299 Mont. 127, 998 P.2d 156.

McCoy v. Travelers Casualty & Surety [02/06/14] 2014 MTWCC 3 Since no Montana employment existed at the time Petitioner suffered an industrial injury in North Dakota, the Court concluded Petitioner did not temporarily leave Montana “incidental to” Montana employment.  While Petitioner may have had the subjective intention to return to Montana at some point in the future, she did not leave the state “incidental to” an employment which no longer existed.  Therefore, this Court had no jurisdiction over her workers’ compensation claim.

Malcomson v. Liberty Northwest [08/16/13] 2013 MTWCC 21 Although the wording of § 39-71-604(3), MCA, and § 50-16-527(5), MCA, is substantially identical, this Court’s jurisdiction, as set forth in § 39-71-2905, MCA, does not provide the authority to rule on the constitutionality of § 50-16-527(5), MCA.

Jensen v. Uninsured Employers' Fund [08/18/11] 2011 MTWCC 24 An employee cannot bring an action for benefits directly against an uninsured employer in the Workers’ Compensation Court, but must bring his action in District Court pursuant to §§ 39-71-515 and -516, MCA. Therefore Petitioner’s first-party petition against his employer is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction by this Court.
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.
Chapman v. Twin City Fire Ins. Co. [12/30/10] 2010 MWCC 43  Petitioner filed two post-trial motions.  One was deemed submitted when the time for a reply brief had expired, and the other was not yet fully briefed when Petitioner filed a Notice of Appeal asserting that she had appealed this case to the Montana Supreme Court.  Filing this notice caused jurisdiction to pass from this Court to the Montana Supreme Court.  Therefore, this Court no longer has jurisdiction to consider the merits of Petitioner’s pending motions.
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 [12/29/10] 2010 MTWCC 40 Where an insurer disputes a claimant’s entitlement to the benefits he received, and where that dispute has been mediated, this Court has jurisdiction to resolve the dispute under § 39-71-2905, MCA.
Stewart v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [06/04/10] 2010 MTWCC 14 The insurer argued that this Court lacks the jurisdiction to hear a claim in which the claimant contended that the insurer should continue to pay for a prescription it had previously paid. The insurer argued that the claimant's claim could only be based on equitable estoppel, and that this Court does not have jurisdiction to sit in equity. However, §39-71-2905(1), MCA, gives this Court the jurisdiction to hear disputes under the Workers' Compensation Act, and this case involves a dispute concerning the entitlement to a benefit under the WCA. Therefore, the Court has the jurisdiction to resolve the dispute.
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.
Briese v. Ace American Ins. Co. [02/20/09] 2009 MTWCC 5 Sections 39-71-611 and -612, MCA, address the potential liability of an insurer for reasonable attorney fees if the Court determines the actions of the insurer were unreasonable in its payment of benefits. A Lockhart lien, conversely, addresses the payment of attorney fees paid by the claimant “out of his or her medical benefits.” Therefore, Respondent’s reliance on these statutes for the argument that this Court lacks jurisdiction to determine a Lockhart lien is misplaced.
Robinson v. Montana State Fund [12/31/08] 2008 MTWCC 55 Pursuant to Thompson v. State of Montana, 2007 MT 185, 338 Mont. 511, 167 P.3d 867, for this Court to have subject matter jurisdiction to hear a declaratory judgment action, there must be a dispute concerning benefits and the declaratory judgment sought must be within the context of that dispute. In the present case, Petitioner’s disputed benefit has no relation to the declaratory judgment sought and it is therefore insufficient to confer jurisdiction on this Court.
Raymond v. Uninsured Employers' Fund [12/11/08] 2008 MTWCC 52 Section 39-71-506, MCA, provides that the only way the UEF can seek reimbursement from an alleged uninsured employer is by first satisfying the due process requirements of § 39-71-2401(2)-(3), MCA. This requires that the dispute between the UEF and the alleged uninsured employer be brought before the department, after which the department’s order may be appealed to this Court. The UEF cannot bypass the departmental procedure for the sake of judicial economy, and this Court cannot create or enforce a process which, while more judicially economical, contravenes a statute which binds this Court.
Raymond v. Uninsured Employers' Fund [09/19/08] 2008 MTWCC 45 Section 39-71-520, MCA, provides that a dispute concerning UEF benefits must be appealed to mediation within 90 days. Since the uninsured employer is not paying UEF benefits, it follows that a dispute concerning UEF benefits which is brought by an injured worker can only be a dispute between the worker and the UEF. A dispute between the UEF and an alleged uninsured employer follows a different procedure to get to the WCC.
Miller v. Liberty Mutual [04/25/08] 2008 MTWCC 18 In his Petition for Trial Petitioner asked the Court to hold Respondent liable for certain medical benefits, and to hold ARM 24.29.1515(2) unconstitutional. Therefore, Respondent’s reliance on Thompson v. State, 2007 MT 185, 338 Mont. 511, 167 P.3d 867, for the proposition that this Court has no jurisdiction to hear Petitioner’s constitutional challenge to ARM 25.29.1515(2) is misplaced. While Respondent alleges benefits are “only indirectly” at issue, Thompson held only that this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear constitutional challenges when no benefits are at issue. However, Thompson does not control the present case because benefits are directly at issue.
Dildine v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [03/27/08] 2008 MTWCC 14 Where Respondent argues that pursuant to Pinnow v. Montana State Fund, 2007 MT 332, 340 Mont. 217, 172 P.3d 1273, this Court lacks jurisdiction to decide a dispute concerning an attorney’s Lockhart lien because Justice Rice’s concurrence in that opinion questions the validity of the Kelleher rule upon which Lockhart turned, Respondent ignores a fundamental rule of jurisprudence – when deciding which opinion this Court must follow, the one with the most signatures wins.
Michalak v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [04/24/07] 2007 MTWCC 14A The Court retains jurisdiction to correct clerical errors even after a party files a notice of appeal to the Montana Supreme Court. The language of Rule 60(a) is unambiguous. A clerical error may be corrected at any time.
Horizon Custom Homes v. UEF [02/14/07] 2007 MTWCC 8 On its face, § 39-71-520, MCA, precludes mediation unless requested within the 90-day time limit. Since the uninsured employer failed to do so and since mediation is in turn a jurisdictional prerequisite to this Court’s jurisdiction, James v. UEF, 2002 MTWCC 51, ¶ 4, failure to request mediation within 90 days prevents this Court from reviewing a UEF determination.
Thompson v. State of Montana and Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. and Montana State Fund [04/28/06] 2006 MTWCC 19 The WCC has the full power, authority, and jurisdiction to perform all things necessary in the exercise of any power, authority, or jurisdiction conferred upon it under Title 39, chapter 71. The constitutionality of a statute found within Title 39, chapter 71, must be part of the power, authority, and jurisdiction granted to the WCC under this statute.

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.