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Robinson v. North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 30, 2019

Jack Robinson, Appellant
v.
North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance, Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas J. Schneider, Judge.

          Erich M. Grant, Minot, ND, for appellant.

          Jacqueline S. Anderson, Special Assistant Attorney General, Fargo, ND, for appellee.

          OPINION

          McEvers, Justice.

         [¶1] Jack Robinson appeals from a district court judgment affirming a Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") order finding Robinson personally liable for any unpaid workers' compensation premiums, penalties, interest, and costs owed by Dalton Logistics, Inc. ("Dalton"). Robinson argues WSI failed to properly serve him with the administrative order resulting in a lack of personal jurisdiction and that his due process rights were violated. We reverse the judgment and remand to the agency with directions.

         I

         [¶2] In June 2015, WSI issued a notice of decision finding Robinson, as vice president of Dalton Logistics, Inc., personally liable for all unpaid workers' compensation premiums, penalties, interest, and costs owed by Dalton.

         [¶3] In August 2015, after no response from Robinson, WSI commenced a civil action in district court seeking a judgment against Robinson for unpaid workers' compensation premiums, penalties, and interest. In November 2015, WSI moved for summary judgment. Robinson opposed WSI's motion for summary judgment on the basis that Robinson was not properly served the notice of decision. In December 2016, the district court action was dismissed without prejudice based on the parties' stipulation.

         [¶4] In March 2017, WSI issued an administrative order, again finding Robinson personally liable for amounts owed by Dalton. The administrative order was served by certified mail on the attorney Robinson retained in the district court proceedings. In April 2017, Robinson's attorney requested the matter be dismissed, arguing Robinson had not been properly served "notice of the decision," by regular mail, citing N.D.C.C. § 65-04-32. The request stated that although Robinson's attorney represented Robinson in past actions, "he has not been authorized to accept service on his behalf to commence the present action," and that valid service of process was necessary for WSI to assert personal jurisdiction over Robinson. Robinson requested in the alternative that a hearing be scheduled for presenting evidence to correctly determine the past due premium amounts and whether Robinson was personally liable. The request for a hearing was granted.

         [¶5] At the administrative hearing, Robinson's attorney moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on Robinson's behalf, reiterating his objection to the lack of service as required under N.D.C.C. § 65-04-32(1), arguing failure to properly serve Robinson personally with the notice of decision resulted in a failure to effect personal jurisdiction over him and due process violations. Robinson's attorney further argued WSI was not authorized to serve the administrative order on Robinson's attorney, because he had not represented that he had authority to accept service on behalf of Robinson. WSI argued the administrative proceedings were not commenced following the issuance of a notice of decision governed by N.D.C.C. § 65-04-32(1); rather, the current proceedings were initiated by serving an administrative order, governed by N.D.C.C. § 65-04-32(3), which does not require first serving a notice of decision. WSI argued it served Robinson's attorney with the administrative order because Robinson's attorney was still on the account as the attorney of record. After the hearing, the ALJ issued findings, conclusions of law, and an order affirming WSI's March 2017 administrative order. The hearing officer concluded that the hearing proceeded under N.D.C.C. § 65-04-32(3), not N.D.C.C. § 65-04-32(1), denying Robinson's motion to dismiss as a matter of law. Robinson appealed the ALJ's order to the district court, and the district court affirmed.

         II

         [¶6] "In an appeal from a district court's review of an administrative agency's decision, we review the agency's decision." Haynes v. Dir., Dep't of Transp., 2014 ND 161, ¶ 6, 851 N.W.2d 172. This Court must affirm the agency's decision unless:

1. The order is not in accordance with the law.
2. The order is in violation of the constitutional rights of ...

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