Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment 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

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After Christine Nelson quit her job at Franklin Building Supply in Pocatello, Idaho, due to what she described as a hostile and demeaning work environment, she filed for unemployment benefits with the Department of Labor. The Department denied Nelson’s request for benefits, concluding that she quit her job without good cause because “reasonable alternatives were not exhausted prior to quitting.” Nelson mailed her protest via the U.S. Postal Service (“USPS”) from Pocatello, Idaho. Her letter arrived at the Department’s offices in Boise on March 7, one day past the deadline. Because the postmark did not indicate the date of mailing, Nelson’s protest was dismissed by the Department for being untimely. After a hearing, an appeals examiner concluded that although there was a USPS postmark stamped on the envelope, the red ink “blend[ed] with the red stamps,” obscuring the date. Thus, while the distribution center could be discerned from the postmark, “the remainder of the postmark [was] illegible.” Because the envelope lacked a date on the postmark, the appeals examiner concluded that the envelope should be treated as if it had no postmark at all, thereby making the date of filing the date received, which was March 7, 2019 - one day too late. Nelson timely appealed the decision of the appeals examiner to the Industrial Commission, arguing that the letter was mailed by March 1 and that she had no control over its late arrival or the absence of a legible postmark. The Commission concurred with the appeal's examiner. The Department of Labor nor the Industrial Commission considered Nelson's reason for appealing in the first place: that she lacked good cause to leave her employment. Focusing instead on the timeliness of her appeal, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the Department and Commission were mistaken in holding Nelson's filing was too late: "since once a letter is deposited for mailing it is entirely within the control of the USPS, the obscured date on the postmark stamp could only have been a result of USPS error. Thus, by the application of reason and common sense, the delivery of this letter on March 7—even with an illegible date on the postmark—conclusively proves that Nelson must have deposited her appeals letter into USPS custody on or before the March 6 filing deadline." The decision in this matter was reversed and remanded for consideration of the merits of Nelson's case. View "Nelson v. IDOL and Franklin Group" on Justia Law

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Joanie Smith was employed by the Glenns Ferry Highway District (the District) when she witnessed the District’s office manager overpaying herself on several occasions. Smith reported the overpayments to the District’s superintendent. Sometime after Smith reported these overpayments, the District terminated Smith’s employment. Smith filed suit, alleging adverse employment action in the form of discharge. At trial, the trial court ruled it would use the jury in an advisory capacity concerning any front pay damages. The jury returned a special verdict for Smith, awarding her both back pay and front pay. Following the jury’s verdict, the trial court rejected the jury’s verdict awarding front pay, and entered a reduced award. The trial court reasoned that: (1) the jury’s verdict with respect to front pay was advisory because front pay was an equitable remedy when awarded in lieu of reinstatement; (2) Smith had not properly pleaded “failure to promote” as an adverse action in addition to discharge; and (3) the jury had incorrectly used an erroneous full-time employment status in calculating front pay. The trial court also reduced Smith’s requested attorney fees to an amount less than she had contracted to pay. Smith unsuccessfully moved for post-judgment relief. Smith appealed, and the District cross-appealed, arguing that the issue of back pay also sounded in equity, and that the trial court should have reduced the jury award of back pay. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the trial court erred: (1) when it ruled that there was no right to a jury trial on the issue of front pay; (2) by refusing to include the adverse action of “failure to hire” in the jury instructions and special verdict form; (3) by failing to instruct the jury on the “risk of uncertainty” to be borne by the District in its determination of damages; and (4) by denying Smith post-judgment interest. The Court determined the "failure to hire" instruction and "risk of uncertainty" errors were not prejudicial, and the jury award of front pay should have been reinstated. Smith’s request for entry of judgment nunc pro tunc was declined; however, on remand the trial court was asked to determine whether judgment nunc pro tunc should be entered as of the date of the jury’s verdict. Furthermore, the trial court abused its discretion in reducing the award of attorney fees from the amount Smith requested. The matter was remanded for further proceeedings. View "Smith v. Glenns Ferry Hwy Dist" on Justia Law

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Brett Woolley appealed an Idaho Industrial Commission (“Commission”) decision that found him ineligible for unemployment benefits. The Commission determined that Woolley was ineligible for benefits because he was a corporate officer whose claim for benefits was based on wages from a corporation in which he had an ownership interest. The Commission also determined Woolley willfully made a false statement by saying he had not received wages or performed services as a corporate officer. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s determination that Woolley was ineligible for benefits due to his status as a corporate officer because it was supported by substantial and competent evidence. However, the Court found Woolley did not willfully misrepresent his status as a corporate officer, "The statute makes no mention of a claimant’s performance of services as a corporate officer. To compound the confusion, IDOL provides no information in the unemployment handbook or on its website to explain why it is necessary for claimants to report their corporate officer status when filing a claim for benefits. To serve as the basis for a willful failure to report a material fact, the question to be answered by a claimant must be accurately grounded in the legal requirements of the statute." View "Woolley v. Idaho Dept. of Labor" on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the Idaho Supreme Court's review centered on whether Sky Down Skydiving, LLC, improperly designated its tandem skydiving instructors and parachute packers as independent contractors, rather than as employees, thereby eliminating the need for worker’s compensation insurance. After notifying the company that it was in violation of Idaho Code section 72-301, the Industrial Commission filed a civil law suit against Sky Down for penalties and injunctive relief. Following a bench trial, the magistrate court concluded that the instructors and parachute packers were independent contractors. The magistrate court then dismissed the Commission’s complaint with prejudice. After the case was dismissed, a witness contacted the Industrial Commission’s counsel to recant his earlier testimony. The Commission then filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the magistrate court. The Commission filed an intermediate appeal with the district court, which affirmed the magistrate court’s decision. The Commission then timely appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded because both lower courts erred by failing to apply the proper test, and the district court erred in concluding there was substantial and competent evidence to support the magistrate court’s findings. View "Idaho ex rel. Industrial Commission v. Sky Down Sky Diving" on Justia Law

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Michael Richardson was injured while working, and attempted to recover personal injury damages outside of the worker’s compensation system. Hayden Homes subcontracted with Z&H Construction, LLC, Plumbing Unlimited, LLC, and Alignment Construction, LLC for various aspects of a new construction project. Richardson was employed by Alignment, and worked on Hayden’s construction project. He was injured when he fell through a crawl space cover at the construction site. He received a worker’s compensation award from the worker’s compensation insurer for his direct employer, Alignment. After Richardson received his worker’s compensation award, he sued Z&H, Hernandez Framing, LLC (a subcontractor of Z&H), and Plumbing Unlimited (collectively, “Respondent LLCs”), alleging negligence in the construction of the crawl space cover. The district court granted the Respondent LLCs’ motion for summary judgment, determining that the Respondent LLCs were Richardson’s statutory co-employees and immune from suit pursuant to Idaho Code section 72- 209(3). Finding no reversible error in that reasoning, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment. View "Richardson v. Z&H Construction, LLC" on Justia Law

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Siranoush Hiatt appealed an Idaho Industrial Commission decision that affirmed the Idaho Department of Labor’s denial of her request for unemployment benefits. The Commission determined that Hiatt was ineligible for benefits because she was terminated from Health Care Idaho Credit Union (“HCICU”) for workplace-related misconduct. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed based on the substantial evidence in the record which supported the Commission’s decision. View "Hiatt v. Health Care ID Credit Union" on Justia Law

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Francisca Gomez died as the result of a horrific industrial accident that occurred while she was cleaning a seed sorting machine as part of her employment with the Crookham Company (“Crookham”). Her family (the Gomezes) received worker’s compensation benefits and also brought a wrongful death action. The Gomezes appealed a district court’s grant of summary judgment to Crookham on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez’s death. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker’s compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) did not apply, and that the Gomezes’ product liability claims fail as a matter of law because Crookham is not a “manufacturer.” The Idaho Supreme Court determined that given the totality of the evidence in this case, which included prior OSHA violations for similar safety issues, the district court erred by failing to consider whether Crookham consciously disregarded information suggesting a significant risk to its employees working at or under the picking tables, which were neither locked nor tagged out, as they existed on the date of the accident. On this basis, the decision of the district court granting summary judgment to Crookham was reversed and the matter remanded for the trial court to apply the proper standard for proving an act of unprovoked physical aggression, and to determine whether there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Crookham consciously disregarded knowledge of a serious risk to Mrs. Gomez. View "Gomez v. Crookham" on Justia Law

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Primera Beef, LLC appealed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Allan Ward. Primera Beef alleged Ward breached the confidentiality provision of a settlement agreement between him and Primera Beef when Ward’s attorney disclosed the terms of the agreement to a prosecutor in a related criminal action. Ward moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was not liable for his attorney’s actions because his attorney was not acting within the scope of his authority when he disclosed the terms. The district court agreed. The Idaho Supreme Court concurred and affirmed the district court. View "Primera Beef v. Ward" on Justia Law

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Francisca Gomez died as the result of a horrific industrial accident while she was cleaning a seed sorting machine as part of her employment with the Crookham Company (“Crookham”). Her family (the Gomezes) received worker’s compensation benefits and also brought a wrongful death action. The Gomezes appealed the district court's decision to grant Crookham’s motion for summary judgment on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez’s death. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker’s compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) did not apply, and that the Gomezes’ product liability claims failed as a matter of law because Crookham was not a “manufacturer.” In affirming in part and reversing in part, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it failed to consider whether Crookham committed an act of unprovoked physical aggression upon Mrs. Gomez by consciously disregarding knowledge that an injury would result. As such, the matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Gomez v. Crookham" on Justia Law