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Edith Johnson v. North Dakota Workforce Safety and

February 17, 2012

EDITH JOHNSON,
APPELLANT
v.
NORTH DAKOTA WORKFORCE SAFETY AND INSURANCE, A/K/A W.S.I.,
APPELLEE



Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Sonja Clapp, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

N.D. Supreme CourtJohnson v. N.D. Workforce Safety and Insurance,

This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing. [Go to Documents]

[Download as WordPerfect] Concurrence filed.

2012 ND 27

AFFIRMED. Opinion of the Court by VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

[¶1] Edith Johnson appealed from a district court judgment affirming an administrative law judge's ("ALJ") order dismissing her claim for benefits from Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI"). Johnson argues the ALJ improperly set aside the parties' stipulated specification of issues and abused its discretion by dismissing her claim for benefits as a sanction for failing to comply with discovery. We affirm.

I

[¶2] In 2009, Johnson's employer, Bremer Bank, filed a first report of injury with WSI for Johnson, claiming Johnson suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") after the bank was robbed while she was working as a bank teller. WSI denied Johnson's claim for benefits, ruling she did not have a physical injury and a compensable injury as defined by N.D.C.C. § 65-01-02(10) does not include a mental injury arising from mental stimulus. Johnson requested WSI reconsider its decision. WSI denied the claim, ruling Johnson's injury was not compensable because it was a mental injury arising out of a mental stimulus, Johnson failed to prove she sustained a compensable injury and was entitled to benefits, and, as an alternative conclusion, ruled Johnson's injury was not a compensable injury under N.D.C.C. § 65-01-02(10)(a)(6) because the injury was a mental or psychological condition pre-existing the alleged work injury.

[¶3] Johnson appealed WSI's decision. Before a hearing was held on Johnson's appeal, the ALJ filed the specification of issues, advising the parties of the issues that would be considered and decided at the hearing. The parties filed a stipulation to amend the specification of issues to state that the issue was, "[w]hether Workforce Safety and Insurance correctly applied N.D.C.C. § 65-01-02(10)(b)(10) in determining that Edith Johnson's PTSD is a mental injury arising from a mental stimulus and thus is not a compensable injury." The ALJ ordered the specification of issues be amended as the parties requested.

[¶4] WSI requested discovery, including production of Johnson's medical records and information about pre-existing conditions. Johnson objected and refused to provide some of the requested information because she claimed the information was not relevant to the issue before the ALJ and was unlikely to lead to relevant discovery. WSI moved to compel discovery. After a hearing, the ALJ granted WSI's motion to compel and set aside the parties' stipulated specification of issues, ruling it was confusing and did not "provide clarity, focus attention, or simplify proof." The ALJ stated the issue to be heard and decided at the hearing was, "whether [Johnson's] PTSD is a compensable work injury." The ALJ said this phrasing of the issue was "broad enough to allow [Johnson] to argue for benefits under all available statutory theories and also encompasses WSI's position that [Johnson's] PTSD is not a compensable injury under §65-01-02(10)(b)(10) and §65-01-02(10)(a)(6)."

[¶5] Johnson petitioned the district court for a writ of mandamus vacating the ALJ's order granting WSI's motion to compel and requiring the parties abide by the stipulated specification of issues through the remainder of the proceedings. After a hearing, the district court denied Johnson's petition, ruling she had not exhausted her administrative remedies.

[¶6] Johnson continued to refuse to provide the requested discovery. WSI moved for sanctions for Johnson's failure to comply with the discovery order and requested an order dismissing Johnson's claim. Johnson did not respond to WSI's motion but filed a motion to reconsider, requesting the ALJ reconsider its order granting WSI's motion to compel. Johnson attached two proposed orders to her motion to reconsider, one granting her motion and vacating the order to compel, and one denying the motion to reconsider and granting WSI's motion to dismiss. The ALJ denied Johnson's motion to reconsider and granted WSI's motion to dismiss.

[ΒΆ7] Johnson appealed the ALJ's decision to the district court, arguing the ALJ erred in setting aside the parties' stipulated specification of ...


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