Hinkle v. Ruan Transportation

Hinkle v. Ruan Transportation, No. WC17-6083 (W.C.C.A. January 5, 2018).

The employee was hired by Ruan Transportation in 2008 as an over-the-road truck driver. He lived in Georgia, was hired in Georgia, and was assigned to an account with a home terminal in Georgia. He was then assigned to a different account in 2014 with a home terminal in Minnesota. Thereafter, he received his assignments from a supervisor/dispatcher in Minnesota and attended mandatory training and safety meetings in Minnesota. He made pick-ups and deliveries in several states.

In October of 2014, the employee and his employer reached an agreement that he would resign from his job so he could make a withdrawal from a retirement account and the employer would then rehire him after 30 days. 45 days later, he was flown to Minnesota by the employer to complete his paperwork and he was rehired. He also attended a safety meeting and picked up a load of products in Minnesota. Between December 2014 and the time of his injury in October 2015, he picked up/delivered products in 20 states with pick-ups and deliveries in Minnesota 19 times, which was more than any other state. He attended classes and picked up paperwork in Minnesota and also traveled through Minnesota 8 times per month.

He sustained an injury on October 27, 2015 while adjusting the load on his truck in Georgia. Liability was accepted and the employer and insurer initially started paying benefits under Minnesota law but later began paying benefits under Georgia workers’ compensation law. The employee then filed a Claim Petition requesting Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits and, after a hearing, the workers’ compensation judge in Minnesota determined that Minnesota jurisdiction was appropriate.

The employer and insurer appealed and the W.C.C.A. affirmed the judge’s determination that Minnesota jurisdiction is appropriate in this situation under Minn. Stat. §176.041. Subpart 2 of that statute states:

“If an employee who regularly performs the primary duties of employment within this state receives an injury while outside of this state in the employ of the same employer, the provisions of this chapter shall apply to such injury. If a resident of this state is transferred outside the territorial limits of the United States as an employee of a Minnesota employer, the resident shall be presumed to be temporarily employed outside of this state while so employed.”

The W.C.C.A. clarified that to be found to “regularly perform” duties in the state of Minnesota, you are not required to perform the majority of your duties in this state, only the primary duties of employment. The Court focused on the fact that the employee’s home terminal was in Minnesota, he received his assignments from Minnesota, he made 19 trips to and from Minnesota before his injury, and made several pick-ups and deliveries in Minnesota. That was enough for the Court to find §176.041 subpart 2 satisfied and Minnesota jurisdiction appropriate.

The employer and insurer argued that the compensation judge also found that the employee was temporarily employed outside Minnesota and that finding was not supported by substantial evidence. This argument refers to subpart 3 of §176.041, which states:

“If an employee hired in this state by a Minnesota employer receives an injury while temporarily employed outside of this state, such injury shall be subject to the provisions of this chapter.”

The 3 requirements of this subpart are 1. The employee must be hired in Minnesota, 2. The employer must be a Minnesota employer, and 3. The injury occurs while the employee was temporarily employed outside of Minnesota. The W.C.C.A. agreed with the compensation judge that all 3 requirements are met. An employer does not need to be incorporated or have its home office in Minnesota to qualify as a “Minnesota employer” and the fact that this employer has terminals in Minnesota and employees who perform work in Minnesota is enough.

The Court also found that the employee was hired in Minnesota in 2014 despite the fact that the parties appeared to not intend for the initial resignation to be permanent because the employer was under no legal obligation to rehire the employee after his resignation but did so by flying him to Minnesota to complete his paperwork.

Finally, the Court agreed that the employee’s employment remained centered in Minnesota from 2014 to 2015 and thus, he did qualify as being “temporarily employed outside the state” when he was injured in Georgia. The Court acknowledged that there are employees who can be considered to always be working in temporary locations but also that “transient or traveling employees whose employment relationships were created in a state do not lose that status as long as their employment remains transitory.” Vaughn v. Nelson Bros. Constr., 520 N.W.2d 395, 51 W.C.D. 159 at 161 (Minn. 1994) (citing 4 Arthur Larson, The Law of Workmen’s Compensation, § 87.41, at 16-114 (1994)).