Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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This case arose out of the termination of Ryan and Lanie Berrett (“the Berretts”) from their jobs with Clark County School District No. 161 (the “School District”), and raised issues regarding the “law of the case” doctrine, the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act (“Whistleblower Act”), and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The Berretts sued the School District, alleging that both of their terminations were in retaliation for Ryan Berrett reporting a building code violation to the School District’s board of trustees (the “board”). The district court granted the School District’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Ryan Berrett did not engage in a protected activity under the Whistleblower Act, and that Idaho’s public policy did not extend to protect Lanie Berrett in a termination in violation of public policy claim. The district court also denied the Berretts’ motion for reconsideration. The Berretts timely appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court concluded after review the law of the case doctrine did not preclude the district court from considering the School District’s motion for summary judgment, however, the Court erred in granting summary judgment on Ryan Berrett’s Whistleblower Act claim; the Court found genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Ryan Berrett engaged in a protected activity and causation. The trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on Lanie Berrett’s termination in violation of public policy claim. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Berrett v. Clark County School District" on Justia Law

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Dale Johnson maintained roller coasters for Silverwood, Inc. Among rising contentions and a dispute with Silverwood’s new director of construction and maintenance, Johnson resigned his position on June 8, 2015. He subsequently applied for unemployment benefits, but his claim was denied. Johnson challenged the denial with the Appeals Bureau of the Idaho Department of Labor, and a hearing was held on August 5, 2015. When denied again, Johnson appealed to the Industrial Commission. While the appeal was pending, Johnson learned that his hearing’s recording was lost. The Industrial Commission remanded the case to the Appeals Bureau for a new hearing. Ultimately, after two additional hearings and a second appeal to the Industrial Commission, Johnson won his claim for benefits with the Commission finding that Johnson was eligible for benefits. Johnson subsequently filed suit against the Department of Labor for unnecessary delays and other alleged improprieties in the handling of his claim. The district court dismissed the case for failure to file a notice of tort claim pursuant to the Idaho Tort Claims Act and then denied Johnson’s post-judgment motions. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Johnson v. Idaho Dept of Labor" on Justia Law

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Mario Ayala was injured while driving a company truck in 2009, and was injured again in 2013 after falling from a ladder. After the hearing, but before the referee issued “recommended findings and determination” in accordance with Idaho Code section 72-717, the Industrial Commission reassigned the case to itself over Ayala’s objection. Citing the referee’s backlog of cases and a need for efficiency, the Industrial Commission issued an order finding that Ayala’s low-back condition was not causally related to his 2009 truck wreck, that he was not totally and permanently disabled under the odd-lot worker doctrine, and that he suffered disability of 40% of the whole person inclusive of impairment of his 2009 and 2013 industrial accidents. The Idaho Supreme Court set aside the Commission’s findings of fact, conclusions of law and order because Ayala was denied due process when the Industrial Commission reviewed Ayala’s claims and issued a decision without the referee’s recommended findings and determination. The Court also set aside the Industrial Commission’s post-hearing order on motion for reconsideration and order on motion for reconsideration, modification and consolidation, and remanded this matter for a new hearing. View "Ayala v. Meyers Farms" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether Brent Austin filed a timely complaint for additional worker's compensation benefits with the Idaho Industrial Commission when it was filed more than a year after his employer, Bio Tech Nutrients, and its surety, Employers Compensation Insurance Company, (collectively “Defendants”) stopped paying worker’s compensation benefits. The Commission held that the one-year statute of limitations to file a complaint was tolled because the Defendants did not send a Notice of Claim Status (“NOCS”) when they submitted Austin’s final payment; as such, the Commission concluded Austin’s complaint was timely filed. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the Commission was correct in tolling the statute of limitations, and affirmed. View "Austin v. Bio Tech Nutrients" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute over how the Idaho Public Employee Retirement Board calculated the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retirees who participated in the Firemen’s Retirement Fund (FRF). The Idaho Industrial Commission held that the definition of “paid firefighter” included part-time firefighters. The effect of the Commission’s decision resulted in a smaller annual COLA for retired firefighters. On appeal, the Idaho Retired Firefighters Association, and Sharon Koelling and John Anderson alleged the Board’s inclusion of part-time firefighters violated statutory and constitutional provisions. The Association and the Individual Claimants sought a ruling from the Idaho Supreme Court reversing the Commission’s decision, and a ruling that would exclude part-time firefighters from the Board’s annual COLA calculations, the effect of which would be an increase in the annual COLA applicable to retired firefighters. The Supreme Court vacated the Commission’s decision because it lacked the necessary jurisdiction to decide the question presented to it. View "Idaho Retired Firefighters v. Public Employy Retirement Bd" on Justia Law

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This case involved an appeal brought by Aerocet, Inc., and its surety, the State Insurance Fund, in which they appealed an Idaho Industrial Commission decision involving two worker’s compensation claims brought by George McGivney. The Commission awarded McGivney benefits for injuries he sustained to his left knee while working for both Aerocet and Quest Aircraft (Quest). The Referee consolidated the two cases and issued a recommendation that attributed the vast majority of liability to Quest. The Commission rejected the bulk of the Referee’s recommendations and apportioned liability equally between Aerocet and Quest. Aerocet appealed, alleging the Commission inappropriately consolidated McGivney’s two injury claims. Aerocet also argued the Commission failed to determine McGivney’s disability in excess of impairment from his 2011 accident at Aerocet prior to his 2014 accident at Quest, and that the Commission erred in its application of Brown v. Home Depot, 272 P.3d 577 (2012). Aerocet also contended the Commission’s decision was not supported by substantial and competent evidence. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decisions. The matter was remanded back to the Commission to enable it to calculate the amount due Quest’s surety from Aerocet’s surety for any amounts overpaid by Quest’s surety. View "McGivney v. Aerocet, Inc" on Justia Law

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Kevin Smith appealed an Idaho Industrial Commission order that concluded the Idaho Industrial Special Indemnity Fund (ISIF) was not liable to him for worker’s compensation benefits. The Commission determined that Smith failed to prove he was totally and permanently disabled under both the 100% method and the odd-lot worker method. He also appealed a denied motion for reconsideration that was denied by the Commission, where he alleged that the Commission determined disability at a future date rather than the date of the hearing, that it improperly interpreted a report, and that it improperly considered an excluded exhibit. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s order. View "Smith v. Idaho, Industrial Special Indemnity Fund" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a retaliation action under the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act (the “Whistleblower Act”) and a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against the Idaho State Police. Plaintiff Brandon Eller alleged the Idaho State Police (ISP) retaliated against him in two ways: (1) after he testified against another officer in a preliminary hearing; and (2) when he voiced objections to a new ISP policy requiring members of the Crash Reconstruction Unit to destroy draft and peer review reports. A jury awarded Eller $30,528.97 in economic damages under the Whistleblower Act and $1.5 million in non-economic damages for his negligent infliction of emotional distress claim. The district court then entered a memorandum decision and order reducing the award for Eller’s negligent infliction of emotional distress claim to $1,000,000 because Idaho Code section 6-926 capped the State’s liability for actions brought under the Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA) at $500,000 per occurrence. Both Eller and ISP timely appealed on several grounds, and their appeals were consolidated. After its review, the Idaho Supreme Court held the district court incorrectly applied the ITCA to Eller’s claim because the Whistleblower Act supplanted it. The district court’s rulings that the Whistleblower Act bars non-economic damage awards and that the ITCA caps Eller’s damages were vacated, and the matter remanded for a partial new trial regarding non-economic damages solely under the Whistleblower Act. View "Eller v. Idaho State Police" on Justia Law

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Miranda Moser dislocated her right shoulder when she lifted a 24-pack of soda while working as a cashier for Rosauers Supermarkets, Inc. (“Rosauers”). Rosauers accepted the claim even though Moser had a pre-existing history of recurrent instability of her right shoulder. Moser underwent shoulder surgery. Afterward, she continued to suffer from “pseudosubluxation” and her surgeon, Dr. Adam Jelenek, recommended she receive a second opinion from a physician in Seattle. Rather than authorizing the request for referral, Rosauers arranged for Moser to be evaluated by Dr. Michael Ludwig who opined that Moser’s shoulder dislocation likely resulted from her pre-existing condition. Dr. Ludwig concluded that Moser had returned to her pre-injury baseline and that she did not require any further medical care. Rosauers filed a notice of medical exam to be performed by Dr. Joseph Lynch on February 5, 2018. Moser responded with a letter conveying she would not be attending the medical exam. Moser filed a Judicial Rule of Practice and Procedure (“J.R.P.”) 15 petition for a declaratory ruling, seeking an order on whether an employer could compel a claimant to attend an Idaho Code section 72-433 examination without first establishing the claimant was within her “period of disability,” which she argued was limited to a period when she was actually receiving benefits. Thereafter, Moser filed a notice that she would not attend the medical examination Rosauers had scheduled for April 2, 2018. The Commission held that following the claim of an accident, injury, or occupational disease, an employer may require a claimant’s attendance at such a medical examination. Moser appeals the Commission’s order. Finding no reversible error in the Commission’s judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Moser v. Rosauers" on Justia Law

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Denise M. Ehrlich appealed an Idaho Industrial Commission (the Commission) order that determined she was ineligible for unemployment benefits. The Commission affirmed the determination of the Idaho Department of Labor and the Appeals Examiner that Ehrlich willfully underreported her weekly earnings. On appeal, Ehrlich contended the Commission’s finding that she willfully misrepresented her wages was clearly erroneous. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. View "Ehrlich v. IDOL" on Justia Law