Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Nathan Smith appealed a district court order granting summary judgment in favor of his former employer, Kount, Inc., and denying his cross motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the compensation agreement he signed unambiguously required Smith to remain employed until a specified date to earn the bonus compensation, and Smith resigned before that date. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Smith v. Kount Inc." on Justia Law

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Douglas Waite appealed an Idaho Industrial Commission (“Commission”) decision requiring him to repay unemployment benefits he received, along with interest and penalties. Waite claimed the Commission’s determination that he willfully misstated a material fact for the purpose of obtaining unemployment benefits was not supported by substantial and competent evidence and was incorrect as a matter of law. Additionally, Waite argued the Commission erred when it concluded that Idaho Code section 72-1366(12) required him to repay the unemployment benefits he received. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decision and order. View "Waite v. Moto One KTM, LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a years-long dispute between Robert Elgee and the Retirement Board of the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (“PERSI”) regarding the payment of retirement benefits accrued during Elgee’s service as a magistrate judge. Elgee became eligible for PERSI benefits in 2010, but operating under an erroneous interpretation of the statutes it administers, PERSI maintained Elgee was not then entitled to receive benefits. Eleven years, numerous administrative determinations, and two judicial review actions later, the parties continued to disagree on issues relating to the calculation of benefits, the interest due on benefits, and whether Elgee was entitled to damages for the tax consequences of receiving a lump sum payment of retroactive benefits. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court as to the applicable rate of interest, reversed as to the remaining issues, and remanded for entry of judgment. On remand the district court was directed to enter judgment that reflected: (1) the PERSI Board’s determination that Elgee was due interest at the regular rate of interest under the PERSI statutes was affirmed; (2) the PERSI Board’s determination that Elgee was due interest from 2013, rather than 2010, was set aside; (3) the PERSI Board’s determination that Elgee was due benefits under the contingent annuitant option, rather than the regular retirement option was affirmed; (4) the PERSI Board’s determination that Elgee failed to prove his tax loss claim in 2018 was set aside; and (5) the PERSI Board’s determination that tax loss damages were not available under the PERSI statutes was affirmed. View "Elgee v. Retirement Brd. of the Public Employee (PERSI)" on Justia Law

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TRC Fabrication, LLC, (TRC) purchased steel tubing from Brown Strauss Steel Co. (Brown Strauss), a company located in Fontana, California. Under the sales contract, Brown Strauss sold the tubing “free on board” to TRC. Brown Strauss contracted with Jay Transport, a trucking company based in Rigby, Idaho, which in turn engaged Dale Kelly, an independent owner-operator of a semi-truck to transport the tubing. Kelly hauled the tubing to Idaho Falls and delivered the load to TRC. When employees of TRC began to unload the tubing from the trailer, a forklift operator dropped the steel tubing, which then slid across the pavement and struck Kelly, seriously injuring his right leg, ankle, and foot. Kelly and his wife Nancy filed a complaint against TRC, seeking to recover damages for negligence and loss of consortium. After TRC filed a motion seeking summary judgment, the district court granted the motion and dismissed the Kellys’ complaint. The district court concluded that Idaho’s worker’s compensation law extended statutory immunity to TRC and limited the Kellys’ recovery to workers’ compensation benefits. The question this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court's review was whether the immunity afforded a statutory employer applied to TRC to bar the Kellys' complaint for damages. The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order granting summary judgment, vacated the judgment entered, and remanded the case for further proceedings: the district court erred in concluding that TRC was Kelly’s category one statutory employer. View "Kelly v. TRC Fabrication LLC" on Justia Law

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J.R. Simplot Company (“Simplot”) hired Erik Knudsen for a position as a packaging engineer. Early on in his employment, Knudsen was told that he would be the startup manager on a Simplot project in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Knudsen was unfamiliar with the startup manager position and questioned whether those job duties were fairly within the scope of his employment as a packaging engineer. Simplot and Knudsen disagreed as to the nature of his job, leading to the eventual termination of Knudsen’s employment. After his dismissal, Knudsen filed this action, alleging fraud, promissory estoppel, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted Simplot’s motion for summary judgment as to all of Knudsen’s claims and denied Simplot’s subsequent motion for attorney’s fees. The Idaho Supreme Court determined Knudsen's fraud claim was cognizable notwithstanding the at-will employment doctrine. However, the Supreme Court concluded summary judgment on all of Knudsen's claims was appropriate. View "Knudsen v. J.R. Simplot Company" on Justia Law

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This case arose from an Idaho Industrial Commission determination denying an application for unemployment benefits. William Wittkopf appealed pro se the Commission’s determination that he was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he voluntarily quit his job without good cause and he willfully made a false statement or willfully failed to report a material fact in his unemployment application. On appeal, Wittkopf challenged the factual findings made by the Commission and argued it violated his right to due process by taking into consideration the fact that he voluntarily terminated his employment approximately two and a half years prior to applying for unemployment benefits. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded: (1) Wittkopf failed to provide a cogent argument on appeal regarding whether his right to due process was violated; (2) the Commission’s determination that Wittkopf voluntarily terminated his employment at Stewart’s Firefighter without good cause and without exhausting all reasonable alternatives was supported by substantial and competent evidence; and (3) the Commission’s determination that Wittkopf willfully made a false statement or willfully failed to report a material fact in order to obtain benefits was supported by substantial and competent evidence. Accordingly, the Commission’s decision and order denying Wittkopf’s application for unemployment benefits was affirmed. View "Wittkopf v. Stewart's Firefighter Food Catering, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was whether claimant Curtis Stanley filed a timely complaint against the Industrial Special Indemnity Fund ("ISIF") when Stanley filed his complaint more than five years after his industrial accident and more than one year after receiving his last payment of income benefits. The Idaho Industrial Commission (“Commission”) held it did not have continuing jurisdiction to entertain Stanley’s complaint against ISIF for non-medical benefits. The Commission found Idaho Code section 72-706 barred Stanley’s complaint and dismissed it. Stanley appealed, arguing continuing jurisdiction over medical benefits alone was sufficient to confer jurisdiction over complaints against ISIF and that the Commission erred in determining section 72-706 barred his complaint. Finding the Commission erred in determining section 72-706 barred Stanley's complaint, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the Commission’s decision. View "Stanley v. Idaho Industrial Special Indemnity Fund" on Justia Law

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Originally, Western Pacific Timber, LLC (WPT) was solely owned by Timothy Blixseth (Blixseth). Andrew Hawes contended Blixseth hired him to be general counsel for WPT in 2005, and that when he was hired, Blixseth agreed on behalf of WPT to provide him with a severance package based on the length of his employment. After 2012, Blixseth no longer retained any ownership interest or management responsibility in WPT. When WPT terminated Hawes’ employment in 2017, Hawes asserted that he had a severance agreement in place that had been negotiated with Blixseth on behalf of WPT, by which he would receive $100,000 for each year of employment, capped at five years, for a total of $500,000. However, Hawes could not produce a signed copy of any agreement. WPT refused to pay the claimed severance pay, and instead offered a significantly smaller severance package. Hawes rejected WPT’s offer. Hawes then sued WPT for breach of contract. The case proceeded to trial on Hawes’ claim of an oral contract. Ultimately, the jury returned a special verdict finding that WPT was liable to Hawes for $500,000 in severance pay, an award which was later trebled by the district court. The district court also awarded Hawes the full amount of his requested attorney fees which constituted 35% of Hawes’ gross recovery. WPT unsuccessfully moved for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Hawes v. Western Pacific Timber LLC" on Justia Law

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Connie Schoeffel worked for Thorne Research, Inc. (“Thorne”) as a kitchen manager. In 2016, Thorne announced that it would be moving its operations from Idaho to South Carolina. For those employees who would not be relocating to South Carolina, Thorne offered an employee retention program to encourage them to continue working at the Idaho facility until the South Carolina facility was ready. As part of this program, Thorne prepared a “Release of Claims Agreement” (“the Agreement”) providing that Thorne would pay participating employees “bargained-for compensation” in exchange for giving up certain rights, including the right to quit before their positions were eliminated. Schoeffel signed this Agreement approximately six weeks before her last day of work. After her separation, Schoeffel filed for unemployment benefits without reporting the retention payments as income. Around the time Schoeffel received her fourth benefit payment, the Department learned of the payments that Thorne owed Schoeffel under the Agreement. The Department determined that those payments constituted reportable “severance pay” under Idaho Code section 72-1367(4). Consequently, the Department determined that Schoeffel was receiving severance pay and was required to repay the unemployment benefits she had received. Schoeffel appealed to the Department’s Appeals Bureau, which initially ruled in her favor but affirmed the Department’s decision on reconsideration. Schoeffel then appealed to the Industrial Commission which affirmed the Appeals Bureau’s decision. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the payments were reportable severance pay, applying Parker v. Underwriters Labs, Inc., 96 P.3d 618 (2004). "[B]ecause the primary purpose of the Agreement was to secure the relinquishment of Schoeffel’s right to quit, rather than to compensate her for her past service to Thorne, they were not made 'as a result of' severance under Idaho Code section 72-1367(4). Therefore, the retention payments do not constitute reportable severance pay." The Commission's decision was reversed. View "Schoeffel v. Idaho Dept. of Labor" on Justia Law

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Travelers Insurance Co. appealed a district court decision to affirm a final order of the Idaho Department of Insurance in favor of Ultimate Logistics, LLC (“Ultimate”). The Department of Insurance’s final order upheld a hearing officer’s determination that two mechanics working for Ultimate were improperly included in a premium-rate calculation made by Travelers. In its petition for review, Travelers argued the Department of Insurance acted outside the scope of its statutory authority in determining that the mechanics could not be included in the premium-rate calculation. The district court rejected this argument. Finding no reversible error in the district court's order, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Travelers Insurance v. Ultimate Logistics, LLC" on Justia Law