Plung v. TAG Aviation, WCCA August 14, 2018, No. WC18-6159
The parties reached an agreement regarding a 2007 work injury on September 25, 2017. Minn. R. 1420.2050, Subp. 2 provides that a Stipulation must be filed within 45 days of the date the parties reached an agreement. A stipulation status conference was scheduled for November 30, 2017. The Employer and Insurer’s attorney provided the Employee’s attorney the stipulation on November 29, 2017. At the stipulation status conference, the defense counsel could not provide an explanation for the delay. An Order to Show Cause was filed on December 1, 2017. An evidentiary hearing was scheduled “to determine whether sanctions should be imposed against defense counsel in connection with the finalization of the Stipulation.”
At the hearing on January 8, 2018, defense counsel indicated that he did not finalize the stipulation for settlement until November 29, 2017 because he was busy with other matters. Defense counsel was ordered to pay $250.00 to the Employee’s attorney for fees related to attending the stipulation status conference.
The Employer and Insurer appealed.
The Appellants argued that the compensation judge abused her discretion in ordering sanctions because sanctions can only be imposed for a “willful failure to comply with the applicable provisions of Chapter 176.” They argued that willful requires “deliberate, intentional decision to violate Rule 1420.2050.”
The WCCA notes that the rule states the stipulation for settlement must be filed within 45 days unless good cause is shown. They also noted that deciding on how to prioritize tasks is part of the practice of law. The defense counsel’s decision to prioritize other tasks over the timely completion of the stipulation was an intentional decision, which in turn was willful. Being too busy does not satisfy a showing of good cause.
Appellants argued that it was a joint obligation of the parties and no explicit agreement as to who would draft the stipulation. The WCCA pointed out that it is customary for the defense counsel to prepare the stipulation. Additionally, no evidence was presented that the Employee’s attorney contributed to the delay and no evidence was submitted that there was any question as to which party would draft the stip. The WCCA rejected the argument by the defense counsel that he did not circulate the stipulation until November 29, 2017 because he was waiting for the Employee’s attorney to draft the stipulation.
The WCCA affirmed the Order for Sanctions.