The Minnesota Supreme Court recently issued its decision in Dennis v. The Salvation Army, __ N.W.2d __, No. A15-0715 (Minn. Feb. 3, 2016) in which it clarified and confirmed that when making an appeal to the Supreme Court (hereinafter also referred to as the “Court”) on a workers’ compensation matter, a failure to comply with all of the steps required by Minn. Stat. § 176.471 will result in a discharged writ of certiorari and a dismissed appeal.
On February 8, 2013, Kelly Dennis injured his left knee while in the employ of The Salvation Army. The issue of liability was heard, and benefits were awarded, by Compensation Judge Gary Mesna. The decision was appealed and the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (“WCCA”) affirmed. Its decision and order was served and filed on April 10, 2015. While the underlying facts of Mr. Dennis’ claim are interesting in their own right, the matter before the Court was strictly procedural.
After the WCCA filed its order, The Salvation Army, like all parties in interest, was given 30 days to file a request for a review of the WCCA’s conclusions by the Supreme Court. (See Minn. Stat. § 176.471, subd. 1: “Where the [WCCA] has made an award or disallowance of compensation or other order, a party in interest who acts within 30 days from the date the party was served with notice of the order may have the order reviewed by the Supreme Court on certiorari….”) The Salvation Army, within the 30 days required, filed its petition for review (formally titled a “writ of certiorari”) with the court clerk. In return, the clerk provided a writ, which was then served, with a petition and a statement of the case, on the employee, the intervenors and the WCCA. Missing from The Salvation Army’s filings was a cost bond, which is conditioned by the WCCA to pay for the review, as is required by Minn. Stat. § 176.471, subds. 3 and 5.
The issue before the Supreme Court was whether an “imperfect filing of a cost bond” affected the Court’s authority over the appeal. The Salvation Army, which eventually paid the bond, argued that the Supreme Court could still hear the appeal while the employee argued it could not, as the “plan and unambiguous language” of the statute required the timely service of the cost bond to “effect” review. After examining the statute, which states in subdivision 3 that “to effect a review upon certiorari, the party shall serve a writ of certiorari and a bond upon the administrator of the [WCCA] within the 30-day period referred to in subdivision 1,” the Supreme Court agreed with the employee.
In writing for the Court, Justice Lillehaug focused on the literal meaning of the word “effect” and the series of steps established by the Legislature for judicial review by certiorari. Relying on the dictionary definition, or plain meaning, of “effect”, the Court held that the cause (read: review) “does not come into being – in other words, does not happen – unless and until both the writ of certiorari and the cost bond are timely served.” Therefore, a Relator (read: petitioner) to the Supreme Court “cannot invoke the right of review by certiorari without following each of the steps established by the Legislature,” including the step of filing a cost bond within the time limits prescribed. Justice Lillehaug noted that the wording of the statute created a mandatory duty that could only be overcome by legislative action. Returning to a theme discussed in last year’s Sumner v. Jim Lupient Infiniti, 865 N.W.2d 706 (Minn. 2015), and rebutting the position that the Court had the authority to make an equitable exception as there had been no prejudice to the employee’s claim, Justice Lillehaug reiterated that it is the Legislature’s role, not the Supreme Court’s, to address these public policy type arguments when the statute is clear and unambiguous.
The general effect of this decision does not make any dramatic changes to judicial procedure but it does serve as a lesson and reminder that
- The Supreme Court will strictly construe the language of the statute and that it gives little weight to public policy arguments when the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, and;
- Any statute that creates a mandatory obligation on a party should be complied with, fully
If you have any questions about the latest workers’ compensation developments, Supreme Court appellate procedure 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.
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