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Miller v. State Compensation Insurance Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

November 17, 2000

MICHAEL L. MILLER, Petitioner,
v.
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND, Respondent/Insurer for JACK GALT, Employer.

          Submitted: October 25, 2000

          ORDER GOVERNING FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          Mike McCarter JUDGE

         Summary of Facts: Claimant brought a prior action to reopen a 1988 full and final settlement. At trial he argued mistake of fact as to his back condition. The Court found his contention barred by the statute of limitations and the Supreme Court affirmed. Claimant then brought this second action seeking to reopen but on grounds not argued in the first case, specifically mistake of law and mistake as to wages from concurrent employment. He argues that his arguments are not barred by the doctrine of res judicata because the Clerk of Court told him in the first action he could not litigate claims other than the alleged mistake concerning his back condition.

         Held: Claimant's attempt to reopen on account of mistake of fact as to his back condition is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. However, if claimant was in fact told by Court personnel he could not litigate his other theories for reopening, then he did not have an opportunity to litigate them and is not now barred from litigating them. Since it would be inappropriate for the Court to make a factual determination as to what Court personnel told him, a district judge will be called in to make that determination. Irrespective of the district judge's finding, claimant will be allowed to present his evidence in support of his other theories so that a complete record is made and all facts determined, thus avoiding the possibility of multiple appeals and further litigation.

         Topics:

Judgments: Res Judicata. Claims and theories a party actually litigated in prior action are barred by the judgment in the prior action.
Judgments: Res Judicata. Claims and theories a party had an opportunity to litigate in a prior action are barred by the judgment in the prior action.
Judgments: Res Judicata. Claims and theories that a party did not have an opportunity to litigate in a prior action because of advice or actions of Court personnel which are not of record are not barred by the judgment in the prior action.
Pleading: Statement of a Claim. An allegation that a settlement was based on a mistake of law as to discounting may state a claim to reopen the settlement; at least it entitles the claimant to be heard as to whether or not it does.
Settlements: Reopening/Mistake of Law. Mutual mistake of law is a recognized ground for reopening a settlement.
Settlements: Reopening/Mistake of Law. Unilateral mistake of law is arguably a ground for reopening a settlement where the other party was aware fo the mistake and did not correct it.
Settlements: Reopening/Mistake of Fact. Allegation that insurer did not consider wages from concurrent employment in entering into a settlement may state a ground for reopening the settlement; at least it entitles the claimant to be heard as to whether or not it does.
Guardians and Conservators: Conservators. Claimant cannot seek to reopen a prior full and final compromise settlement based on his own incompetency where at the time of the settlement he had a court appointed conservator.
Guardians and Conservators: Conservators. Claimant cannot seek to reopen a prior full and final compromise settlement based on alleged incompetency of his conservator where that conservator was appointed by a district court.

         Introduction and Background

         ¶1 The present action is the second one brought by petitioner, Michael L. Miller (Miller). Miller has represented himself in both actions.

         ¶2 In the first action, Miller sought to set aside and reopen a 1988 Full and Final Compromise Settlement with the State Compensation Insurance Fund. At trial he attempted to prove mutual mistake as to his back condition. I found that his claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The decision was affirmed on appeal. Miller v. State Compensation Insurance Fund, 2000 MT 19N.

         ¶3 Miller then brought the second, present petition, in requesting the following relief:

1)Settle my Medical Benefits.
2)Get a decision from the Court on the Reduction to Present value that was done on my Settlement in error.
3)Have the Court look at how State Fund has treated me.

         (PETITION FOR HEARING at 2.) While the petition is not as clear as it could be, the Court construes it as asking that Miller's entitlement to future medical benefits be converted to a lump sum and that the 1988 settlement be set aside and reopened because the lump sum paid pursuant to that settlement was computed by discounting future benefits.

         ¶4 Following the filing of the second petition, Miller issued 42 written discovery requests. The State Fund moved for a protective order. On July 17, 2000, I issued an order limiting discovery. In that Order I held that the decision in the prior proceeding was res judicata as to all issues which were raised or which could have been raised. Thus, I determined that claimant could not again seek to reopen the 1988 settlement and that the only matters he may litigate are his request to settle his medical benefits and the reasonableness of the State Fund's refusal to lump sum his future medical benefits.[1]

         ¶5 On July 26, 2000, Miller wrote a letter to the Court responding to the Order. The letter was received and filed August 1, 2000. In it, Miller claimed that he had "been misled, misdirected, and just plain ignored by State Fund for years." In addition, he alleged that in the first proceeding he had been limited in his proof. He wrote, in relevant part:

I would like [to] bring it to your attention that I was directed not to bring up anything in the court last time except my back problems (by Pat Kessner).

         In an attached narrative to that letter, he wrote further,

In July of 1998, I had a mediation with Work Comp to try to settle the Medical portion of my case. It was suggested to me at that time that I should try to re-open my settlement. I filed to re-open in August of 1998.
I was told by Pat Kessner at work comp court not to bring up anything in the court except the material I needed to prove my back problems and some material that Tom Martello told me to bring about the financial status of a business that I wanted to buy. Then when we did get to court they would not even admit the paperwork on the business. [Emphasis in original.]

         He made the statements to excuse his failure to bring up other issues, apparently the discount issue, in the prior proceeding.

         ¶6 Patricia J. Kessner is the Clerk of this Court and I therefore viewed Miller's accusations with concern. However, his accusations did not provide me with the specifics of any conversation.

         ¶7 On August 7, 2000, I requested the State Fund to reply to Miller's letter. (August 7, 2000 MINUTE ENTRY OF JAY DUFRECHOU, HEARING EXAMINER.) The State Fund replied on August 17, 2000. (STATE FUND'S RESPONSE TO JULY 26, 2000 LETTER OF MICHEAL [SIC] L. MILLER AND ITS JULY21, 2000 ATTACHMENT.) Thereafter, Miller ...


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