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Kastens v. State Compensation Insurance Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

May 13, 1998

DEBRA KASTENS Petitioner
v.
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND Respondent/Insurer for RANDALL JOHNSON, D.D.S. Employer.,

          Submitted: March 6, 1998

          PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          MIKE McCARTER, JUDGE

         Summary: Petitioner asks the WCC to find that the statute of limitations in effect at the time she was diagnosed with an occupational disease applies to her filing of a claim. She agrees that if a later-enacted statute applies, her claim was not timely. Respondent argues that the WCC does not have jurisdiction to resolve the issue because (1) the Department of Labor earlier refused to extend the deadline for claimant's claim and (2) the DOL in any event has original jurisdiction over the timeliness issue. Respondent also argues the later-enacted statute applies.

Held: The WCC has jurisdiction to resolve the issue. The DOL's earlier refusal to extend the deadline for filing a claim was not a ruling on the question of which statute applies. While the DOL has jurisdiction over disputes as to whether a claimant suffers from a compensable occupational disease, the WCC has original jurisdiction over other disputes arising in the occupational disease context such as this issue. As a general proposition, if the controversy is a legal one not involving any factual determination as to whether claimant has an OD, then the Court, not the DOL, has original jurisdiction. Finally, the earlier statute applies where the Supreme Court has previously held that any statute shortening the time for filing a civil action is not applicable to causes arising prior to the enactment unless expressly so indicated by the legislature. See, Penrod v. Hoskinson, 170 Mont. 277, 552 P.2d 325 (1976).

         Topics:

Jurisdiction: Original Jurisdiction. While the DOL has jurisdiction under the 1991 or 1995 OD Act to determine whether a claimant suffers from a compensable occupational disease, the WCC has original jurisdiction over other disputes arising in the occupational disease context. As a general proposition, if the controversy is a legal one not involving any factual determination as to whether claimant has an OD, then the Court, not the DOL, has original jurisdiction. Issue of whether 1991 or 1995 statute of limitations for OD claim should apply is within original jurisdiction of WCC.

Limitations Periods: Claim Filing: Generally. 1991 statute applies to claim for occupational disease benefits where that was statute in effect when claimant was diagnosed with an occupational disease. The Supreme Court has previously held that any statute shortening the time for filing a civil action is not applicable to causes arising prior to the enactment unless expressly so indicated by the legislature. See, Penrod v. Hoskinson, 170 Mont. 277, 552 P.2d 325 (1976).

         ¶1 The petitioner (claimant) in this case seeks a determination that the statute of limitations in effect at the time she was diagnosed with an occupational disease applies to the filing of her claim. Her petition arises because, subsequent to the diagnosis of her occupational disease, the Montana legislature amended the statute of limitations. The amendment, if applicable, would cut off her claim.

         Factual Background

         ¶2 This matter is submitted to the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. The non-controverted material facts for purposes of the motions are either set forth in the admitted allegations of the petition or in the facts set forth by claimant in her initial brief and admitted by respondent in its answer brief. While the uncontested facts are not as neatly set out and supported as they should be under the rules governing summary judgment, the essential facts are as follows:

1. On July 16, 1992, the claimant was diagnosed as suffering from work-related carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS).
2. The respondent, State Compensation Insurance Fund (respondent), insured claimant's employer at the time of the diagnosis.
3. Based on her CTS, the claimant filed an occupational disease (OD) claim for compensation on August 18, 1997.
4. The respondent denied the OD claim on the ground that claimant failed to file her claim within one year as required by section 39-72-403(1), MCA, as amended in 1995.
5. Pursuant to section 39-72-403(2), MCA, claimant requested the Department of Labor and Industry (Department) to waive the one-year filing requirement. The Department denied the request and no appeal was taken from that decision.

         Discussion

         ¶3 Despite the simplicity of the facts, the present petition ...


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