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Carlson v. GMR Transp., Inc.

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 27, 2015

Merwin R. Carlson and Denise E. Carlson, Plaintiffs and Appellants
v.
GMR Transportation, Inc., a North Dakota Corporation, Defendant and Appellee

Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Wickham Corwin, Judge.

Bruce A. Schoenwald, Moorhead, Minn., for plaintiffs and appellants.

Ronald H. McLean (argued), Joseph A. Wetch, Jr. (appeared), and Ian McLean (on brief), Fargo, N.D., for defendant and appellee.

Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom.

OPINION

Page 515

VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

[¶1] Merwin and Denise Carlson appealed from a summary judgment dismissing their personal injury and loss of consortium action against GMR Transportation, Inc. Because we conclude the district court did not err in ruling as a matter of law that GMR had not lost its employer immunity under the workers' compensation laws, we affirm.

I

[¶2] On July 8, 2005, Merwin Carlson was injured in a traffic accident while hauling freight as a trucker under a contract with GMR. On July 5, 2006, Carlson filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits with Workforce Safety and Insurance (" WSI" ), stating GMR was his employer. In response, GMR submitted a WSI form with employer information claiming Carlson was not its employee, but was an independent contractor. On October 3, 2006, WSI issued a notice of decision finding Carlson was an employee of GMR at the time of the accident and awarded him benefits. On October 26, 2006, GMR, through out-of-state attorneys who were neither licensed to practice law in North Dakota nor admitted pro hac vice at the time, requested reconsideration of WSI's October 3, 2006, decision and argued Carlson was an independent contractor. Based on the additional information submitted, WSI issued a notice of decision on January 4, 2007, reversing its October 3, 2006, decision and denying Carlson benefits because it concluded he was an independent contractor rather than an employee of GMR. After Carlson requested reconsideration, WSI issued an order on February 20, 2007, finding Carlson was an independent contractor and requiring him to repay disability and medical benefits previously awarded. Carlson requested a rehearing before an administrative law judge (" ALJ" ). After a September 2007 evidentiary hearing, the ALJ recommended finding Carlson was an independent contractor and was not entitled to benefits. WSI adopted the ALJ's recommendation and the district court affirmed

Page 516

WSI's decision. Carlson appealed to this Court.

[¶3] In the meantime, Merwin Carlson commenced a federal court action against GMR, its owners, and its out-of-state attorneys alleging numerous claims for relief, including that GMR unlawfully failed to secure WSI coverage for him, and therefore GMR was liable for his work-related injuries under N.D.C.C. § 65-09-02. The federal district court granted summary judgment dismissing the action, concluding Carlson had failed to plead or prove sufficient facts to maintain a civil action under N.D.C.C. § 65-09-02:

[T]he Court concludes that Carlson has neither pleaded nor proved sufficient facts to support a tort claim for personal injuries under N.D.C.C. § 65-09-02. Therefore, summary judgment in favor of GMR Transportation on this claim is appropriate. However, the Court also notes that Carlson is only entitled to bring a separate tort action against GMR Transportation under § 65-09-02 if he is an employee, not an independent contractor. Because the independent contractor issue is currently on appeal in the state court proceedings, the Court finds it appropriate to dismiss this claim without prejudice. If Carlson wins on appeal in state court and is ultimately found to be an employee, he may then file a tort action against GMR Transportation under § 65-09-02 to recover personal injury damages.

Carlson v. Roetzel & Andress, 2008 WL 873647 *16 (D. N.D., March 27, 2008), aff'd on other grounds 552 F.3d 648 (8th Cir. 2008).

[¶4] In Carlson v. Workforce Safety & Ins., 2009 ND 87, ¶ ¶ 34-35, 765 N.W.2d 691 (" Carlson I" ), this Court held that because GMR's nonresident attorneys failed to timely comply with pro hac vice admission requirements, GMR's reconsideration request by its non-attorney agents was void, and therefore WSI's October 3, 2006, notice of decision awarding Carlson benefits could not be reheard or appealed. We remanded " for further proceedings for calculation of Carlson's average weekly wage," an issue WSI had not addressed because it determined Carlson was an independent contractor. Id. at ¶ 36.

[¶5] On remand, WSI issued an order concluding it had continuing jurisdiction to review an award of benefits under N.D.C.C. § 65-05-04 and it had erroneously accepted and paid Carlson's claim, once again determining that he was an independent contractor rather than an employee of GMR. Following a hearing, the ALJ affirmed WSI's decision that Carlson was an independent contractor who was not entitled to benefits, and also concluded Carlson's average weekly wage was $722 if he were later determined to be GMR's employee. The district court affirmed and Carlson again appealed to this Court. In Carlson v. Workforce Safety and Ins., 2012 ND 203, ¶ 19, 821 N.W.2d 760 (" Carlson II" ), we held that WSI's exercise of its continuing jurisdiction was beyond the scope of our remand in Carlson I, and the law of the case doctrine precluded WSI from using its continuing jurisdiction to re-adjudicate whether Carlson was GMR's employee. We affirmed the ALJ's decision that Carlson's average weekly wage was $722 and reversed and remanded for WSI to award Carlson benefits based on the ALJ's calculation. Id. at ¶ ¶ 22, 27.

[¶6] On February 14, 2013, Merwin and Denise Carlson commenced this action against GMR alleging it was liable for tort-based personal injury damages under N.D.C.C. § 65-09-02 because it failed to comply with North Dakota's workers' compensation requirements. The Carlsons also sought an ...


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