When an intervenor files their motion and they are otherwise claiming a right to reimbursement, do they need to also be physically present at the hearing in order to protect their claim? The Minnesota Supreme Court waded into the discussion and resolved the question in the affirmative in its recent decision Sumner v. Jim Lupient Infiniti, ___ N.W.2d ___, A14-0726, (Minn. July 8, 2015). The Court addressed a dispute that may change a common practice at workers’ compensation hearings in Minnesota. In essence, the Court has highlighted the text of Minn. Stat. §176.361, subd. 4 and called all intervenors to abide by the plain meaning.
In Sumner, the Court has taken an opportunity to provide clarity on the meaning of Minn. Stat. §176.361, subd. 4, a provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act mandating that all intervenors “shall attend all settlement or pretrial conferences, administrative conferences, and the hearing.” The corresponding penalty is laid out as follows: “[f]ailure [of an intervenor] to appear shall result in the denial of the claim for reimbursement.” The Court took time to clarify that there are two clear exceptions to the need for an intervenor to be physically present at the hearing: first, when a stipulation for settlement is filed establishing the intervenor’s right to reimbursement; and second, when an employer/insurer fails to object to the motion to intervene within 30 days. Neither clear exception applied in this matter.
The intervenors in this case filed their motions in a timely manner and objections were filed. They did not however, “attend” or “appear” at the hearing. As a result, the compensation judge denied their claim for reimbursement. The appeal centered on the difference between the two highlighted words “attend” and “appear.” The Court, however, made it clear that the two words, in light of the statute as a whole, were used synonymously. As a result, the failure to be physically present at the hearing cost the intervenors their claims. The intervenors pointed out, however, that this differs from common practice. They emphasized the general impracticality of being present at hearings where they have little to contribute to the overall argument. The Court was unpersuaded.
The general effect of this decision is that intervenors must abide by the letter of the law, which says they “shall attend all settlement or pretrial conferences, administrative conferences, and the hearing” or face the consequences. The Court noted that the fulfillment of this mandate could be done by a variety of means such as electronic appearance or the designation of a “contact person” for purposes of settlement conferences.
If you have any questions about the latest developments regarding the rights of intervenors or any other workers’ compensation matter, please feel free to call or e-mail any one of our many experienced attorneys – www.hansendordell.com / 651-482-8900.