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Derrick Goble Petitioner v. Montana State Fund Respondent/Insurer.

March 28, 2013

DERRICK GOBLE PETITIONER
v.
MONTANA STATE FUND RESPONDENT/INSURER.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Jeremiah Shea Judge

ORDER DENYING PETITIONER'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING RESPONDENT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary: Petitioner moves for summary judgment, alleging that since Respondent accepted liability for his injury, he was entitled to additional benefits under § 39-71-703, MCA, notwithstanding his incarceration for more than 30 days. Petitioner further alleges that Respondent's interpretation of § 39-71-744, MCA, in denying him additional permanent partial disability benefits is in error and if not, then the statute is unconstitutional for violating his equal protection and due process rights. Respondent's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment counters that § 39-71-744, MCA, is plain and unambiguous and is intended to deny disability benefits to an injured worker who is incarcerated for more than 30 days, and that the statute has been previously found to be rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose.

Held: Section 39-71-744, MCA, is plain and unambiguous and is clearly intended to deny disability benefits, including permanent partial disability benefits, to an injured worker during the period of the worker's incarceration of more than 30 days. This Court found previously in Wimberley and McCuin that § 39-71-744, MCA, was constitutional, and the statute is also rationally related to the legislated objectives of the Workers' Compensation Act. Petitioner fails to make a compelling argument that this Court's earlier decisions were wrong and should be revisited.

¶ 1 Petitioner Derrick Goble filed a petition with this Court, alleging that Respondent Montana State Fund (State Fund) wrongfully withheld his permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits under § 39-71-703, MCA, on the grounds that, pursuant to § 39-71-744, MCA, he was incarcerated for more than 30 days and therefore is not eligible to receive disability benefits during the period of his incarceration.

¶ 2 Goble moves for summary judgment in his favor based on a joint statement of Stipulated Facts.

¶ 3 State Fund opposes Goble's motion and files its own Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment based on the parties' Stipulated Facts.

¶ 4 For the reasons set forth below, Goble's motion is denied and State Fund's motion is granted.

STIPULATED FACTS*fn1

¶ 5 On July 8, 2004, Goble injured his right shoulder while in the course and scope of his employment with ECC Controls, Inc., in Missoula County, Montana.*fn2

¶ 6 State Fund accepted liability for Goble's claim and has paid indemnity and medical benefits.

¶ 7 By letter dated June 22, 2006, State Fund notified Goble's wife that it was going to terminate payment of temporary benefits beyond May 29, 2006, because of Goble's incarceration, pursuant to § 39-71-744, MCA. It also notified Goble's wife that there was an overpayment of benefits in the amount of $1,016.76.*fn3

¶ 8 By letter dated March 25, 2009, State Fund notified Goble that he would have been entitled to 120 weeks of PPD benefits beginning May 1, 2006, at the rate of $252 per week for a lump sum of $30,240 pursuant to § 39-71-703, MCA, but that he was not entitled to receive those benefits while he was incarcerated pursuant to § 39-71-744, MCA.*fn4

¶ 9 On November 6, 2006, in State v. Goble, Cause No. DC-06-294, Montana Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, Goble pled guilty to three felonies and one misdemeanor. On December 18, 2006, Goble was sentenced to a term of incarceration of greater than 30 days in that case, with all counts to run concurrently but consecutively with Cause Nos. DC-06-103 and DC-04-520, plus financial assessments, fees, and fines.

¶ 10 On November 6, 2006, Goble pled guilty to three felonies and two misdemeanors in State v. Goble, Cause No. DC-06-103, Montana Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County. On December 18, 2006, Goble was sentenced to incarceration for 5 years on each of the felonies and to 6 months incarceration for each of the misdemeanors, together with financial assessments, fees, and fines.

¶ 11 On December 18, 2006, Goble admitted he had violated the terms and conditions of his probation in State v. Goble, Cause No. DC-04-520, Montana Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County. On December 18, 2006, Goble's prior deferred sentence was revoked and he was ordered incarcerated for five years on the two felonies and one misdemeanor in that case, his sentence to run consecutively with the sentence in DC-06-294, together with financial assessments, fees, and fines.

¶ 12 On July 24, 2007, Goble pled guilty to the offense of being a felon in possession of a stolen firearm in United States of America v. Derrick Goble, Cause No. CR-07-31- M-DWM, United States District Court for the District of Montana, Missoula Division. On November 21, 2007, Goble was sentenced to 84 months of incarceration, plus an assessment fee. His sentence was to run consecutively with the sentence in Cause No. DC-04-520 and concurrently with the sentences in Cause No. DC-06-294 and DC- 06-103.

¶ 13 Goble was not advised by the federal or state district courts that his workers' compensation indemnity benefits would be impacted by § 39-71-744, MCA.

ANALYSIS AND DECISION

¶ 14 Summary judgment is appropriate "when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."*fn5 The material facts necessary for disposition of this case are not in dispute. Therefore, this case is appropriate for summary disposition.

¶ 15 This case is governed by the 2003 version of the Montana Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) since that was the law in effect at the time of Goble's injury.*fn6

¶ 16 Goble maintains that he is entitled to his unpaid PPD benefits, $30,240, representing 120 weeks at $252 per week. State Fund counters that Goble was incarcerated for more than 30 days and in accordance with § 39-71-744, MCA, he is ineligible to receive disability benefits while imprisoned. Since Goble was incarcerated during the full 120 days of his PPD period, he was ineligible to receive those benefits.*fn7

¶ 17 Permanent partial disability is defined in § 39-71-116(23), MCA: (23) "Permanent partial disability" means a physical condition in which a worker, after reaching maximum medical healing:

(a) has a permanent impairment established by objective medical findings;

(b) is able to return to work in some capacity but the permanent impairment impairs the ...


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