Hawley v. City of Blaine & League of Minn. Cities

Hawley v. City of Blaine & League of Minn. Cities, No. WC19-6274 (WCCA July 31, 2019)

The WCCA affirmed Compensation Judge Pearson’s holding that subject matter jurisdiction was lacking and denied the employer and insurer’s motion to compel discovery.

Hawley is a Blaine police officer. On October 25, 2018 she filed a FROI alleging an August 29, 2018 work injury of PTSD. Six days later, a NOIPLD was filed denying liability. No pleadings were filed by the employee. On January 24, 2019, the employer and insurer filed a motion to compel Employee’s attendance at an IPE and requested that any entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits be forfeited while the employee refused to comply with their request.

The employee filed a Response to the motion arguing the compensation judge did not have subject matter jurisdiction to compel the employee to attend the IPE because no claim had been brought yet, the request was not reasonable under Minn. Stat.§176.155 (Examinations), and an order to compel attendance of an IPE before the employee decides to pursue litigation, would be inconsistent with the legislative intent of the statute and contrary to public policy. The employer and insurer filed a reply to the Employee’s objection, asserting the compensation judge did have SMJ, the requested evaluation was reasonable under the statute, and that the public policy arguments were without merit.

The compensation judge determined that subject matter jurisdiction was lacking and denied the employer and insurer’s motion to compel. The employer and insurer appeal on the basis that the compensation judge’s determination does not conform to the Workers’ Compensation Act and the judge committed an error of law.

The employer and insurer argue that the judge’s order “functionally ends litigation…leaving the Employer and Insurer without recourse,” and “the order is a final order, in that is it dispositive of their “fundamental right to litigate a matter in order to fairly and effectively resolve a dispute.” They relied upon Vaynberg v. The KcKight Foundation, that held “…an order to compel attendance at an independent medical examination may be appropriate means by which to enforce compliance.” However, the compensation judge in this current matter distinguished Vaynberg from Hawley because the injured worker had received benefits in the past, either by adjudication or by admission. Hawley never sought or received workers’ compensation benefits. The employee simply reported the injury, the employer and insurer denied liability, and there was no claim petition filed. No proceeding was pending when the motion to compel was made. The order does not prevent the employer and insurer from seeking additional discovery after a claim or proceeding is initiated.

An employee is required to provide notice of a work-related injury in order to preserve their right to compensation, however, unless a written petition is submitted, there is no legal proceeding under which a compensation judge has subject matter jurisdiction.