Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Petitioner Wanda Gottus appealed a district court judgment that affirmed a decision of Job Service North Dakota denying her unemployment benefits and concluding she was discharged for actions constituting misconduct. In January 2008, Petitioner began working as a cashier for Service Oil Inc. d/b/a Stamart. In addition to acting as a cashier, Petitioner's job duties included attending to the store's shelves, light cleaning, and other similar tasks. Petitioner's employment with Stamart ended in August 2010 when she was discharged for poor job performance. Petitioner subsequently filed for unemployment insurance benefits. Job Service initially approved Petitioner for unemployment benefits indicating she was not discharged for misconduct. Stamart appealed this decision, and a telephone hearing was held before an appeals referee. Testimony and evidence presented during the hearing revealed there were at least sixteen instances when Petitioner's job performance fell below the level expected of Stamart employees. The Job Service reviewed the record and affirmed the referee's decision. Petitioner argued on appeal her job performance was merely unsatisfactory but did not constitute misconduct. The district court rejected her argument and affirmed Job Service's decision. The Supreme Court concluded Job Service's findings of fact were supported by a preponderance of the evidence, and its conclusion that Petitioner's actions constituted disqualifying misconduct was supported by the findings.

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Claimant Claud Sloan appealed a district court judgment that affirmed a Workforce Safety & Insurance (WSI) order awarding him additional permanent impairment benefits. In December 1985, Sloan sustained a compensable work-related injury while employed at a coal gasification plant in Beulah, North Dakota. WSI awarded Sloan permanent impairment benefits for his injury and has issued several permanent partial impairment orders since his original injury. Effective April 1, 2009, WSI promulgated N.D. Admin. Code 92-01-02-25(4) to address pain impairment ratings. Based on the newly adopted rule, WSI reviewed Sloan's pain rating and determined he had sustained an eight percent impairment for pain which, when combined with his prior impairment ratings, totaled a whole body impairment rating of 38 percent. On June 11, 2009, WSI issued an order awarding Sloan additional permanent impairment benefits, based on his combined whole body impairment of 38 percent for his cervical spine, depression, dysphagia, and chronic pain. Sloan requested a rehearing. At a November 2009, hearing before an administrative law judge, a staff attorney for WSI appeared as the only witness and testified regarding the WSI's promulgation of N.D. Admin. Code 92-01-02-25. The ALJ subsequently issued an order affirming WSI's June 2009 order awarding Sloan additional permanent impairment benefits. Sloan appealed to the district court, which affirmed the order. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded WSI's promulgation of administrative rules for assessing pain impairment did not conflict with its statutory authority and was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.

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Petitioner Toni Weeks appealed a district court judgment that affirmed a decision by Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) that reduced her disability benefits. Petitioner was injured at work after being exposed to anhydrous ammonia while employed by Dakota Gasification Company, in Beulah, North Dakota. In 2009, WSI received confirmation that on November 1, 2009, Weeks' social security disability benefits would convert to social security retirement benefits. WSI issued a notice of intention to discontinue or reduce benefits, in which Petitioner was informed that her permanent total disability benefits would end on October 31, 2009, and she would receive an "additional benefit payable" beginning November 1, 2009. Petitioner requested reconsideration. In November 2009, WSI issued an order denying Petitioner further disability benefits after October 31, 2009. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that because Petitioner failed to adequately brief her argument that WSI's reduction of her wage loss benefits violated equal protection under the federal and state constitutions, the Supreme Court declined to address her argument and otherwise affirmed the judgment.

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In 1996 the State sued Defendant Troy Wolff, seeking to establish his paternity and obtain a child support order after the mother and child began receiving public assistance. The court also established a child support obligation for Defendant. The mother was given custody of the child. In 1999 Defendant and the mother stipulated to a reduction of Defendant's child support obligation, and an amended judgment was entered incorporating the stipulation. The State was a party to the action and signed the 1999 stipulation. In January 2009, Defendant and the mother entered into another stipulation pertaining to custody and visitation, and they agreed to modify the child support obligation. The parties agreed that Defendant would no longer have a support obligation to the mother, and that Defendant would not seek support from the mother. The court entered a second amended judgment incorporating the new stipulation. In October 2009, the State moved to vacate the second amended judgment, arguing that it was a party to the action and did not agree to the new stipulation. Defendant argued on appeal that the judicial referee did not have jurisdiction to issue the order to vacate the second amended judgment. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the State was a real party in interest and had standing, the second amended judgment contains unenforceable provisions, and the court did not err in vacating the second amended judgment.

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Petitioner Maria Willits appealed the decision of the Job Service North Dakota ("Job Service") that denied her application for unemployment benefits after Job Service found she voluntarily left her employment without showing good cause attributable to her employer. In October 2003, Petitioner began working full time as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) for Circle of Nations School, a boarding school for Native American children located on federal property in Wahpeton. According to Petitioner, she became concerned that one staff member she had trained was not proficient in English. After a different staff member committed a medications error in late October 2009, Petitioner met with the dean of students of the school and expressed concerns about training the two staff members to administer medications because she did not believe they were qualified and would pose a risk to the student population. Petitioner told the dean that she would not re-certify the two staff members but would train others. Petitioner subsequently contacted the State Board of Nursing and inquired whether she could conduct medication administration training as an LPN. She was informed that she was not authorized to train staff to administer medications and that she needed to be supervised by a registered nurse or licensed practitioner. According to Petitioner, she concluded her work at the school was outside the scope of her nursing license. Petitioner's concerns were discussed with the school's administrators. In November 2009, Petitioner informed the school through a phone message that she quit her employment. By then, the school had obtained the services of a doctor to oversee nursing activities. The Supreme Court affirmed Job Service's decision, concluding "a reasoning mind reasonably could have determined that [Petitioner] did not make a reasonable effort to preserve her employment relationship and, consequently, that she left her employment without good cause attributable to her employer."

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The Department of Human Services appealed a judgment reversing the Department's calculations of Appellees David and Sarah Kaspari's monthly recipient liabilities for their nursing home costs. In 1996, the Kasparis conveyed approximately 561 acres of farmland to their son and daughter-in-law. The Kasparis retained a life estate in the farmland and leased their interest in the land to a third-party tenant. The Kasparis exercised their water rights and constructed irrigation equipment on the land, which was paid for with a series of loans secured by mortgages on the land. The new loans were combined with an existing mortgage on the land. After the irrigation equipment was placed on the land, the Kasparis received increased rental payments for the irrigated land. In April 2009, the Kasparis entered a nursing home and thereafter applied to Social Services for Medicaid for their nursing home care. After an initial determination by Social Services and a subsequent administrative hearing, the Department decided the Kasparis were eligible for benefits and calculated their respective recipient liabilities without allowing deductions for their payments for interest on the mortgage. The district court reversed and remanded the case for recalculation of the Kasparis' respective monthly recipient liabilities, concluding deductions for their payments of mortgage interest and real estate taxes should be considered. The Department argued to the Supreme Court that the district court erred in construing Medicaid regulations to allow the Kasparis to reduce their monthly recipient liabilities for nursing home care by their payments for mortgage interest and for real estate taxes relating to their life estate interest in the farmland. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the district court erred in construing the Medicaid regulations. The Court reversed the judgment and remanded the case to reinstate the Department's decision.