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Martin v. State Compensation Insurance Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

May 11, 1995



          Mike McCarter Judge

         Summary: Insurer moved for summary judgment, arguing that Workers' Compensation Court lacked jurisdiction to set aside final settlement more than four years after agreement was made.

         Held: The four year limitation for reopening final settlement agreements set out in section 92-848(4), R.C.M. 1947 (1975) acts as a statute of limitations on the jurisdiction of the Workers' Compensation Court to set aside a 1980 final settlement agreement, relating to a 1977 injury, more than four years after the agreement was made. Case law relating to full and final compromise agreements is distinguished.

         Petitioner, Kenneth Martin (claimant), filed a Petition for Hearing seeking to set aside a final settlement agreement approved by the Division of Workers' Compensation on January 31, 1980. Respondent, State Compensation Insurance Fund (State Fund), has moved to dismiss the petition or in the alternative, for summary judgment. The motion has been briefed and is ready for decision.

         Standard of Review

         The rules of the Workers' Compensation Court do not specifically provide for motions for summary judgment. They do, however, refer to motions "to dismiss, to quash or for summary ruling," ARM 24.5.316(1). The Supreme Court has approved the practice of borrowing from the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure when this Court's rules do not specifically regulate a procedural matter. Murer v. State Fund, 257 Mont. 434, 436, 849 P.2d 1036 (1993). In recent decisions this Court has applied Rule 56, Mont.R.Civ.P., to summary judgment motions. E.g., Taylor v. State Fund, WCC No. 9406-7066 (10/21/94); Steve Wood v. Montana School Groups Ins. Authority, WCC 9401-6986, Order Granting Partial Summary Judgment (August 12, 1994); State Compensation Ins. Fund v. Frank Richter, WCC. No. 9308-6367, Order Denying Summary Judgment (March 4, 1994). It will continue to do so.

         Rule 56(c) provides that "[summary] judgment . . . shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Summary judgment is appropriate where the facts, viewed most favorably to the opposing party, nonetheless entitle the moving party to judgment as a matter of law. Kaseta v. Northwestern Agency of Great Falls, 252 Mont. 135, 138, 827 P.2d 804 (1992).


         The State Fund's motion for summary judgment is based on the petition and an Affidavit of Linda Robbins. Robbins is a claims adjuster for the State Fund and is familiar with the claim file for the claimant in this case. Attached to her affidavit are copies of the claimant's Petition for Final Settlement, dated January 29, 1980, and the Division of Workers' Compensation Order Approving Final Settlement, dated January 31, 1980. Robbins certifies that the two copies are true and correct copies of the originals which are contained in the claim file. Claimant does not dispute the authenticity of the documents.

         The following facts are taken from the paragraphs of the petition which are admitted in the State Fund's response and from the settlement documents. They are therefore deemed to be uncontroverted.

         On January 3, 1977, claimant was injured in an industrial accident arising out of and in the course and scope of his employment. At the time he was employed by Glen Rindal, who was insured by the State Fund.

         Three years later, on January 29, 1980, the claimant and State Fund entered into a Petition for Final Settlement. The amount of the settlement was $2, 025, representing twenty-five (25) weeks of benefits. The final paragraph of the petition reads:

The claimant hereby petitions the Division of Workers' Compensation with the concurrence of the above named insurer for approval of the proposed final settlement and that the case be finally settled on the basis stated above. It is understood by the claimant and the insurer that under the Workers' Compensation Act an order approving this petition for final settlement may for good cause, be rescinded, altered, or amended by the Division within (4) years from the date this petition is approved.

         The petition was then submitted to the Division of Workers' Compensation. On January 31, 1980, the Division issued its Order Approving Final Settlement. The final paragraph of that order reads:

IT IS ORDERED that the petition for final settlement be approved, and that upon payment of the amount specified in the petition, the claim shall be closed as finally settled. Under the Workers' Compensation Act, the Division may, for good cause, rescind, alter or amend this final settlement within four (4) years from the date of the settlement.

         In his petition to this Court, claimant requests that the final settlement be reopened and that he be awarded additional benefits. He sets forth the following allegations as supporting his request:

A dispute exists between the parties. Despite the fact that Claimant suffered a severe injury which required a laminectomy of L4-5 and L5-S1, and despite the fact that this injury had a very substantial effect on the earning capacity of Claimant, whose work history was strictly manual labor, the State Fund settled with the Claimant on a final settlement basis for only 25 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. The State Fund entered into this settlement with Claimant when Claimant was not represented by an attorney. The settlement, which was for no more than his undisputed impairment rating, was made despite the written memorandum of the State Fund Bureau Chief which noted that "we would never settle the case for this amount if he had the proper ...

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