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Rausch v. Montana State Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

February 22, 2005

ALEXIS RAUSCH, et al. Petitioners
v.
MONTANA STATE FUND Respondent/Insurer and JEREMY RUHD Petitioner
v.
LIBERTY NORTHWEST INSURANCE CORPORATION Respondent/Insurer.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO QUASH SUMMONS AND OBJECTIONS, JOINING PARTIES, AND RETAINING CAPTION

          MIKE McCARTER JUDGE.

         Summary: Upon remand from the Montana Supreme Court decision in Ruhd v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp., 2004 MT 236, 322 Mont. 478, 97 P.3d 561, and pursuant to that decision, the Workers' Compensation Court issued summonses to all Montana workers' compensation insurers and self-insurers who have paid permanent total disability benefits to claimants injured since June 30, 1991, requiring them to file responses identifying permanently totally disabled claimants. Some insurers responded by objecting to the summonses and moving to quash them.

         Held: The objections are denied and the motions to quash overruled. The summonses make the insurers party respondents. The common fund doctrine obligates the insurers to identify and pay benefitted claimants and gives the Court jurisdiction and authority to make them parties and enforce the common fund doctrine and lien.

         Topics:

Common Fund Litigation: Parties. Where a common fund has been established, the Workers' Compensation Court has jurisdiction and authority to join insurers to enforce payment of benefits to benefitted claimants and also enforce the common fund attorney fee lien.
Common Fund: Jurisdiction. Where a common fund has been established, the Workers' Compensation Court has jurisdiction and authority to join insurers to enforce payment of benefits to benefitted claimants and also enforce the common fund attorney fee lien.
Procedure: Summons. A summons hales the summoned party into court and makes the summoned party a party respondent to the action.
Procedure: Parties. A summons hales the summoned party into court and makes the summoned party a party respondent to the action.
Common Fund Litigation: Insurers. Where a decision creates a common fund, insurers have a duty to identify and pay the benefitted claimants the benefits to which they are entitled.

         ¶1 The Court has before it responses filed by Crawford and Company and Continental Casualty Company; Plum Creek Timber Company, L.P.; F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company; Benefis; ASARCO, Incorporated; Golden Sunlight Mines; and Northwest Healthcare Corporation. In those responses, the named respondents set out numerous objections to the summonses with which they were served and move to quash the summonses. The objections and motion to quash are without merit.

         Discussion

         ¶2 This case is on remand from the Montana Supreme Court with specific instructions to enforce the entitlements of claimants which arose as a result of the Supreme Court's prior decision in Rausch v. State Compensation Ins. Fund, 2002 MT 203, 311 Mont. 210, 54 P.3d 25, as well as to enforce the Rausch attorneys' common fund attorney lien. Ruhd v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp., 2004 MT 236, 322 Mont. 478, 97 P.3d 561. In Ruhd, the Supreme Court held that the Rausch attorneys, "via active litigation, are directly responsible for securing the right of all permanently totally disabled claimants to receive an impairment award, regardless of their insurer," and said, "[t]he Workers' Compensation Court shall supervise enforcement of the common fund pursuant to Rausch, and all court-approved agreements stemming from it, from all insurers involved." Ruhd, ¶¶ 19, 25. To that end, this Court caused summonses to be served on all Montana workers' compensation insurers and self-insurers who have paid permanent total disability benefits to claimants injured since June 30, 1991. The summonses require them to file responses identifying all permanently totally disabled claimants and to provide information concerning impairment ratings and impairment awards for those claimants.

         ¶3 Respondents initially argue that they are not parties to this case and that this Court therefore has no jurisdiction to issue a summons to them. They are wrong. The intent of the summons is to join each of them as parties. If that is not clear from the summons, then this order makes that clear.

         ¶4 Second, respondents argue that the Court lacks jurisdiction because no dispute exists. Again, they are wrong. The Supreme Court's decision in Murer v. State Compensation Mut. Ins. Fund,283 Mont. 210, 223, 942 P.2d 69, 77 (1997), expressly held that in common fund cases, claimants have a vested right to benefits which flow from the decision-in-chief. The Court said, "[a]dditionally, claimants established a vested right on behalf of the absent claimants to directly receive immediate monetary payments of past due benefits underpayments; and based on the establishment of those vested rights, the State Fund became legally obligated to make the increased benefits payments." Murer at 223, 942 P.2d at 77. As noted in paragraph 2 of this order, the Supreme Court in this case held that the Rausch decision secured "the right of all permanently totally disabled claimants to receive an impairment award." Ruhd, ΒΆ19. Since this Court is charged with enforcing the rights of the common fund claimants, individual claimants are not required to file individual complaints against respondents. Claimants benefitted in a common fund case have a right to benefits; insurers have a ...


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