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Goble v. Montana State Fund

Supreme Court of Montana

April 15, 2014

DERRICK GOBLE and LYNN GERBER, Petitioners and Appellants,
v.
MONTANA STATE FUND, Respondent and Appellee.

Submitted on Briefs: February 5, 2014

Montana Workers' Compensation Court, Cause Nos. WCC 2010-2615, WCC 2012-2904 Honorable James Jeremiah Shea, Presiding Judge

For Appellants: Thomas C. Bulman, Eric Rasmusson, Bulman Law Associates, PLLC, Missoula, Montana

For Appellee: Thomas E. Martello, Daniel B. McGregor, Special Assistants Attorney General, Montana State Fund, Helena, Montana

OPINION

Laurie McKinnon Justice

¶1 Appellants Derrick Goble (Goble) and Lynn Gerber (Gerber) appeal from the Montana Workers' Compensation Court's (WCC) March 28, 2013 orders denying their motions for summary judgment and granting Montana State Fund's (MSF) motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

¶2 We consider the following issues on appeal:[1]

¶3 1. Whether the WCC properly determined that § 39-71-744, MCA, rendered incarcerated claimants ineligible for disability or rehabilitation compensation benefits.

¶4 2. Whether § 39-71-744, MCA, violates appellants' constitutional rights to equal protection.

¶5 3. Whether § 39-71-744, MCA, violates appellants' constitutional rights to substantive due process.

¶6 4. Whether § 39-71-744, MCA, violates appellants' constitutional rights to procedural due process.

¶7 5. Whether § 39-71-744, MCA violates appellants' constitutional rights to be free from excessive fines.

BACKGROUND

¶8 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. At the time of Goble's injury, ECC Controls, Inc. was insured by MSF. MSF accepted liability for his claim, and paid Goble indemnity and medical benefits.

¶9 Two years later, Goble was charged with the commission of numerous criminal offenses. Goble and MSF stipulated before the WCC to the following history of Goble's incarceration:[2]

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.
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.
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.
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.

Goble, 2013 MTWCC 8, ¶¶ 9-12. Goble owed back child support at the time of his incarceration.

¶10 The parties further stipulate that Goble was not advised in any of his state or federal criminal matters that his incarceration would impact his receipt of workers' compensation benefits.

¶11 On June 22, 2006, MSF notified Goble that, pursuant to § 39-71-744, MCA, MSF was going to terminate payment of temporary benefits beyond May 29, 2006, as a result of Goble's incarceration. Thereafter, on March 25, 2009, MSF notified Goble that he would have been entitled to 120 weeks of permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits beginning May 1, 2006, at a rate of $252 per week (for a total of $30, 240), but that he was not entitled to receive those benefits while he was incarcerated. The parties do not dispute that Goble was incarcerated for the entire 120-week period during which he was eligible to receive PPD benefits.

¶12 In August 2008, while in the course and scope of his employment with Vann's, Inc. in Missoula County, claimant Gerber sustained an injury to his right shoulder. MSF also accepted liability for Gerber's claim and paid him indemnity and medical benefits. MSF notified Gerber that he was eligible to receive PPD benefits for 48.75 weeks, at a rate of $287.16 per week, as of May 12, 2010. MSF also notified Gerber that he had the option to receive these benefits in a lump sum, which Gerber declined. In December 2010 Gerber was sentenced to a period of incarceration in excess of 30 days. Gerber was not advised that his incarceration would affect his workers' compensation benefits. In January 2011 MSF sent Gerber a letter notifying him that he was ineligible to receive the approximately 16 remaining weeks of his PPD benefits, amounting to $4, 381.02, due to his incarceration.

¶13 Goble and Gerber each appealed to the WCC their ineligibility to receive PPD benefits under § 39-71-744, MCA. Gerber sought certification as a class action and joinder with Goble's earlier petition. The WCC denied both motions and the claims of Goble and Gerber went forward individually. At the November 27, 2012 hearing, Goble/Gerber argued the same issues which they now raise on the appeal. On March 28, 2013, the WCC granted MSF's motions for summary judgment as to both Goble and Gerber and denied claimants' cross-motions for summary judgment. Goble and Gerber filed a joint notice of appeal.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶14 We review a grant of summary judgment de novo. Wiard v. Liberty N.W. Ins. Corp., 2003 MT 295, ¶ 13, 318 Mont. 132, 79 P.3d 281. In reviewing the WCC's grant or denial of summary judgment, this Court uses the same standard in ruling on a motion for summary judgment; "we determine whether there is an absence of genuine issues of material fact and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Satterlee v. Lumberman's Mut. Cas. Co., 2009 MT 368, ¶ 9, 353 Mont. 265, 222 P.3d 566. We review the WCC's legal conclusions for correctness. Lund v. State Compen. Mut. Ins. Fund, 263 Mont. 346, 348, 868 P.2d 611, 612 (1994).

¶15 The constitutionality of a statute is a question of law, and we review a lower court's legal conclusions for correctness. Henry v. State Compen. Ins. Fund, 1999 MT 126, ¶ 10, 294 Mont. 449, 982 P.2d 456. The constitutionality of a statute is presumed, "unless it conflicts with the constitution, in the judgment of the court, beyond a reasonable doubt." Powell v. State Compen. Ins. Fund, 2000 MT 321, ¶ 13, 302 Mont. 518, 15 P.3d 877. The party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears the burden of proving the statute ...


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