Gruba v. Tradesman Int’l, Inc. et. al.

Gruba v. Tradesman Int’l, Inc. et. al., No. WC15-5896 (April 5, 2016)

The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals found there was no subject-matter jurisdiction for a claim for the recovery of benefits paid under North Dakota compensation system for which North Dakota sought repayment.

The employee injured his left hand and wrist in North Dakota, reporting the accident to North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI). After admitting liability, WSI paid economic and medical benefits. The employee thereafter filed a Claim Petition in Minnesota for temporary total disability and for medical benefits. After receiving notice, WSI failed to intervene. The Court focused on whether there was subject matter jurisdiction in Minnesota to address the employee’s claims under the MWCA and his injury under Minnesota law. The Court found that while the injury was compensable under Minnesota Law and the employee would receive TTD and wage loss benefits, no statutory authority existed to allow reimbursement of WSI for benefits paid to, or on behalf of, the employee pursuant to North Dakota law.

On appeal, the employee asserted that the compensation judge committed an error of law in finding the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to address the employee’s alternative claims for either direct payment to himself or for reimbursement to North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance for treatment expenses previously paid by WSI. The employer and insurer contended that the workers’ compensation court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to order the employer and insurer to reimburse WSI workers’ compensation benefits paid on behalf of the employee under North Dakota law.

The employee cited Adams v. DSR Sales, Inc., likening his situation to one where the Court held that when an employee seeks medical (and other) benefits in conjunction with intervenors who failed to preserve their rights, the employee’s direct claim for payment should not be denied. The judge found the employer and insurer were obligated to pay reasonable and necessary outstanding medical bills, while the unpaid medical expenses would remain the obligation of the employee.

However, the Court found that here, unlike in Adams, the relevant medical expenses had been paid and none of the North Dakota medical providers had requested payment from the employee, the employer, or its insurer.  Given these key facts, the remedy the employee sought requires a determination by a Minnesota workers’ compensation court regarding the rights of the parties under North Dakota Law. Thus, there is no authority under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act to reverse and grant the compensation judge jurisdiction to order reimbursement to an out-of-state agency for compensation benefits previously paid under the laws of that state.  There is no basis in statute or case law to apply or enforce the laws of the State of North Dakota.