GARY D. MOTICHKA Petitioner
PLUM CREEK TIMBER COMPANY Respondent.
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Motichka (claimant) seeks a determination that he is disabled
on account of a January 1, 1980 low-back injury he suffered
while employed by the respondent, Plum Creek Timber Company
(Plum Creek), which is self-insured. In a companion matter,
this Court recently affirmed a decision of the Montana
Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) determining that
claimant suffers from an occupational disease related to his
low-back condition and apportioning his current disability 30
percent to occupational factors and 70 percent to
non-occupational factors. The disability at issue in both
cases is one and the same, stemming from claimant's low
back. Citing the DLI decision, and invoking the doctrine of
collateral estoppel, Plum Creek has moved for summary
this Court has not adopted a specific rule governing motions
for summary judgment, it will look to the Montana Rules of
Civil procedure for guidance. Murer v. Montana State
Compensation Mutual Insurance Fund, 257 Mont. 434, 849
P.2d 1036 (1993). Under Rule 56(c) summary judgment may be
granted when the record discloses that there are no genuine
issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Cate v. Hargrave, 209
Mont. 265, 269, 689 P.2d 952, 954 (1984).
factual basis of Plum Creek's collateral estoppel
argument is the record of the DLI proceeding. We must
determine if the decision in that proceeding precludes
claimant from litigating his claim that his present
disability is the result of his 1980 injury.
quit working at Plum Creek on January 2, 1991. On April 12,
1991 he filed an emergency petition with this Court, alleging
that his inability to work was due to his 1980 back injury.
Motichka v. Plum Creek Timber Co., WCC No.
9104-6129. Plum Creek denied that his disability was due to
his injury. In September 1991, the focus of the claim was
redirected in the direction of an occupational disease. The
DLI was involved and on September 26, 1991, it referred
claimant to Dr. James Burton for a determination of whether
claimant suffered from an occupational disease. Meanwhile,
September 20, 1991, at the request of claimant, the emergency
petition for workers' compensation benefits was dismissed
procedural history of the DLI proceeding is set forth in this
Court's Order affirming a DLI decision. Motichka v.
Plum Creek Timber Co., WCC No. 9301-6685 (February 14,
1994). Briefly revisiting that history, Dr. Burton initially
found that claimant was suffering from an occupational
disease relating to his lower back and apportioned his
disability 100 percent to the occupational disease. Based on
that evaluation, the DLI issued an initial determination
finding that claimant was suffering from an occupational
disease. Plum Creek then requested a hearing pursuant to
section 39-72-611, MCA. While that request was pending both
Plum Creek and the claimant requested that Dr. Burton
reevaluate the matter based on additional information. Dr.
Burton ultimately concluded that claimant was suffering from
an occupational disease but apportioned disability 30 percent
to the occupational factors and 70 percent to
non-occupational factors. After hearing, a DLI hearing
examiner adopted Dr. Burton's conclusions and on appeal
this Court affirmed. The DLI hearing examiner found that
claimant did not suffer any job-related injuries after 1980.
the appeal of the DLI decision was pending, claimant filed a
new petition seeking a determination that his disability is
the result of his 1980 injury. Plum Creek does not dispute
claimant's contention that he suffered a low-back injury
in 1980. A claim was filed and liability accepted. However,
Plum Creek disputes claimant's contention that his
current disability is caused by the 1980 injury and argues
that he is collaterally stopped from pursuing his present
collateral estoppel doctrine applies in workers'
compensation cases. See Martelli v. Anaconda-Deer Lodge
Co., 258 Mont. 166, 852 P.2d 579. The doctrine precludes
relitigation of issues already litigated in a prior suit,
provided the following three elements are met:
1. The issue has been decided in a prior adjudication and is
identical to the one presented.
2. A final judgment on the merits was issued.
3. The party against whom the plea is asserted was either a
party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication.
Id. at 168. It applies to litigation conducted in
the administrative forum, including contested matters
determined by the DLI. Id.
case the second and third criteria are clearly met. A final
decision was issued by the DLI and later affirmed by this
Court. Motichka v. Plum Creek Timber Co., WCC No.
9301-6685 (February 14, 1994). The parties are the same.
Thus, the focus of the parties' arguments is on the first
Creek strenuously urges that the issue decided in the DLI
hearing is identical to the one presented by Motichka's
present petition, to wit: "What is the cause of
Petitioner's disability." Respondent's Reply
Brief. Plum Creek argues that the DLI determined that
Motichka's disability is caused by his occupational