[T] Gropengieser v. Life Safety Systems

No. 2-245 / 01-1132

666 N.W.2d 619 (2003) | Cited 0 times | Court of Appeals of Iowa | April 30, 2003

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, George W. Bergeson, Judge.

The petitioners appeal from the district court's ruling on judicial review affirming the chief deputy workers' compensation commissioner's decision dismissing the petitioners' workers' compensation claim for benefits. AFFIRMED.

Louis Gropengieser, deceased, and Joseph Gropengieser, personally and as executor of the estate of Louis Gropengieser, appeal from the district court's ruling on judicial review affirming the chief deputy workers' compensation commissioner's decision that Louis Gropengieser was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits under Iowa law. They contend (1) the district court's ruling is based upon an erroneous interpretation of what constitutes the payment of benefits under Iowa Code section 86.13 (1999) for the purpose of determining the applicability of the three-year statute of limitations in section 85.26(1), and (2) the workers' compensation commissioner erroneously determined that she does not have jurisdiction to impose the doctrine of equitable estoppel to bar application of the statute of limitations. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS.

Louis Gropengieser was injured on June 29, 1995, during the course of his employment for Life Safety Systems. Life Safety Systems is headquartered in Colorado. Gropengieser's residence was in Cincinnati, Ohio at the time. When injured, he was working on the Veterans' Administration Hospital in Knoxville, Iowa.

Gropengieser alerted Life Safety Systems in Colorado of his injury. Life Safety Systems filed an Employer's First Report of Injury in Colorado. Life Safety Systems and its insurance carrier, Business Insurance Company (BICO), admitted Gropengieser sustained a compensable injury, and he was provided benefits pursuant to Colorado law.

After his benefits were terminated in Colorado, Gropengieser filed a petition to reopen his claim with the Colorado Division of Workers' Compensation on February 23, 1998. Gropengieser subsequently filed a petition for workers' compensation benefits in Iowa on August 31, 1998, after Life Safety Systems and BICO filed a motion to add the issue of subject matter jurisdiction to the Colorado proceeding. A Colorado administrative law judge dismissed Gropengieser's petition to reopen his claim, based on its determination that Colorado lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

In the Iowa proceeding, Life Safety Systems and BICO filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging Gropengieser's claim was barred by the two-year state of limitation contained in Iowa Code section 85.26. A deputy workers' compensation commissioner sustained the motion for summary judgment and dismissed Gropengieser's petition. The deputy determined (1) Gropengieser's claim in Iowa could not be maintained pursuant to sections 85.26 and 86.13, and (2) equitable relief is beyond the power of the agency as it does not have equitable powers.

Gropengieser pursued an intra-agency appeal. The commissioner delegated authority to issue a final agency decision to the chief deputy workers' compensation commissioner. First, the chief deputy concluded that benefits paid under the law of another state do not qualify as benefits paid "under section 86.13," and thus the tolling provision of section 85.26(1) did not apply. She determined Gropengieser was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits under Iowa law. Second, the chief deputy agreed that the agency does not have common law equitable power, and thus Gropengieser could not be granted equitable relief.

Gropengieser appealed. Between the filing of the chief deputy's decision and the filing of the petition for judicial review, Gropengieser died of gunshot wounds in Ohio. On judicial review, the district court determined the workers' compensation commissioner correctly applied the statute of limitations pursuant to sections 85.26 and 86.13. It concluded the payment of Colorado benefits did not extend the statute of limitations. It noted that no weekly benefits were paid under section 86.13; thus, the two-year statute of limitations found in section 85.26(1) applies, and Gropengieser's claim is barred. Gropengieser appeals.

II. SCOPE OF REVIEW.

The district court reviews decisions of the workers' compensation commissioner pursuant to chapter 17A. Iowa Code § 86.26 (1999). The district court acts in an appellate capacity to correct errors of law on the part of the agency. Sawyer v. Nat'l Transp. Co., 448 N.W.2d 306, 307 (Iowa 1989). Our review is limited to determining whether the district court correctly applied the law. Hy-Vee Food Stores, Inc. v. Iowa Civil Rights Comm'n, 453 N.W.2d 512, 515 (Iowa 1990). If we conclude the court did correctly apply the law, we affirm. Id. Otherwise, we reverse. Id.

III. STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS.

Gropengieser contends that the district court's ruling is based on an erroneous interpretation of what constitutes the payment of benefits under section 86.13 for the purpose of determining the three-year statute of limitations in section 85.26, and should be reversed. He argues that BICO's designation of weekly benefits paid as Colorado benefits should not control whether such payments constitute "weekly compensation benefits" under section 86.13. He maintains the petition was timely filed as it was filed within three years of the last payment of weekly compensation. He argues the phrase "if weekly benefits are paid under section 86.13," contained in section 85.26(1), is ambiguous and should be liberally construed in his favor.

Section 85.26(1) provides as follows:

An original proceeding for benefits under this chapter . . . shall not be maintained in any contested case unless the proceeding is commenced within two years from the date of the occurrence of the injury for which benefits are claimed or, if weekly compensation benefits are paid under section 86.13, within three years from the date of the last payment of weekly compensation benefits.

Section 86.13 states that "[i]f an employer or insurance carrier pays weekly compensation benefits to an employee, the employer or insurance carrier shall file . . . a notice of the commencement of the payments." It further provides that "[i]f an employer or insurance carrier fails to file the notice required by this section, the failure stops the running of the time periods in section 85.26 as of the date of the first payment."

Workers' compensation is statutory. Downs v. A & H Constr. Ltd., 481 N.W.2d 520, 527 (Iowa 1992). The statute must not be artificially expanded by reading something into it that is not within the scope of the language used. Id. The clear words and phrases found in the statute must be given their plain meaning. Peterson v. Schwertley, 460 N.W.2d 469, 471 (Iowa 1990). On the other hand, workers' compensation law exists to benefit workers and their dependents. Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Shook, 313 N.W.2d 503, 506 (Iowa 1981). When the statute is unclear and ambiguous, it will be interpreted liberally in furtherance of its humanitarian objective. Hartman v. Clarke County Homemakers, 520 N.W.2d 323, 327 (Iowa Ct. App. 1994).

We conclude that the statute of limitations issue is controlled by Sawyer v. National Transportation Co., 448 N.W.2d 306 (Iowa 1989). In that case, the supreme court determined that the payment of Iowa benefits was necessary to toll the statute of limitations as provided in section 86.13. Sawyer, 448 N.W.2d at 307. Since Sawyer, the legislature has amended section 86.13. However, that amendment is not material to the issue presented in this case. Thus, because Gropengieser did not receive the payment of Iowa benefits, the statute of limitations in section 85.26(1) was not tolled. Gropengieser did not file his petition within two years of his injury, as required by section 85.26(1). Thus, his claim is barred.

We additionally find that section 85.26(1) is not ambiguous. The language "if weekly benefits are paid under section 86.13" plainly requires the agency or district court to determine whether benefits have been paid under section 86.13 in order to apply the three-year statute of limitations under section 85.26(1). As noted above, our supreme court has previously determined that the weekly benefits in section 86.13 are those paid under Iowa law. Sawyer, 448 N.W.2d at 307.

We note that Life Safety Systems and BICO chose the state and state law under which to pay Gropengieser benefits, and that they chose a wrong state. Gropengieser argues that the fact a Colorado administrative law judge has determined Colorado does not have jurisdiction over his claim means the benefits he was paid cannot be Colorado benefits. He reasons the benefits should therefore be considered to have been paid pursuant to the law of the State with jurisdiction over his claim, Iowa. For two reasons we cannot reach that result. First, the record does not show that Iowa is the only state with jurisdiction over Gropengieser's claim. For all the record shows Ohio, the state of his residence at the time of his injury, may have also been a state with jurisdiction over his claim. Even if Gropengieser's benefits should be deemed paid pursuant to the law of a state other than Colorado, we therefore cannot state under the existing record that Iowa is the state under whose laws they should be deemed to have been paid. Second, and more importantly, no such claim or issue was addressed by the district court in its ruling on judicial review and Gropengieser did not file an Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2) motion seeking enlargement to address such an issue. Under the authorities cited in the next section of this opinion Gropengieser therefore did not preserve such an issue for our review and we do not further address it.

IV. EQUITABLE ESTOPPEL.

Gropengieser argues the workers' compensation commissioner erroneously determined that she does not have jurisdiction to apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel to award benefits. Gropengieser agrees that the commissioner's power and jurisdiction are limited to that provided by statute, but does not agree that the agency has no jurisdiction to impose the doctrine of equitable estoppel to bar application of the statute of limitations.

The district court did not rule upon this issue, and Gropengieser did not to file an Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2) motion. If Gropengieser raised the issue of equitable estoppel before the district court, he needed to file a rule 1.904(2) motion requesting the court to enlarge its findings of fact and conclusions of law if he wished the issue preserved for appellate review. Meier v. Senecaut III, 641 N.W.2d 532, 540 (Iowa 2002) (stating that our error preservation rule requires a party seeking to appeal an issue presented to, but not considered by, the district court to call to the attention of the district court its failure to decide the issue); Cripps v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 613 N.W.2d 210, 212-13 (Iowa 2000) (applying rule 1.904(2) in a judicial review proceeding); Office of Consumer Advocate v. State Commerce Comm'n, 395 N.W.2d 1, 6-7 (Iowa 1986) (holding that rule 1.904(2) motion is permitted after a judicial review decision in a contested case). As this issue has not been preserved for our review we decline to address it.

V. GROPENGIESER'S DEATH.

All parties acknowledge that Gropengieser's death was wholly unrelated to his claim in this case, with his death occurring between the final agency decision and the filing of the petition for judicial review. Life Safety Systems and BICO contend that under such circumstances this case should be dismissed pursuant to Iowa Code section 85.31(4). Based on our resolution of the other issues, we find it unnecessary to address this contention.

VI. CONCLUSION.

We conclude the district court did not err in affirming the agency's decision that Gropengieser's claim for workers' compensation benefits is barred pursuant to section 85.26(1). We find Gropengieser has not preserved error on his claim equitable estoppel should bar application of the statute of limitations. We find it unnecessary to address the contention that his case should be dismissed because of Gropengieser's death.

AFFIRMED.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, George W. Bergeson, Judge.

The petitioners appeal from the district court's ruling on judicial review affirming the chief deputy workers' compensation commissioner's decision dismissing the petitioners' workers' compensation claim for benefits. AFFIRMED.

Louis Gropengieser, deceased, and Joseph Gropengieser, personally and as executor of the estate of Louis Gropengieser, appeal from the district court's ruling on judicial review affirming the chief deputy workers' compensation commissioner's decision that Louis Gropengieser was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits under Iowa law. They contend (1) the district court's ruling is based upon an erroneous interpretation of what constitutes the payment of benefits under Iowa Code section 86.13 (1999) for the purpose of determining the applicability of the three-year statute of limitations in section 85.26(1), and (2) the workers' compensation commissioner erroneously determined that she does not have jurisdiction to impose the doctrine of equitable estoppel to bar application of the statute of limitations. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS.

Louis Gropengieser was injured on June 29, 1995, during the course of his employment for Life Safety Systems. Life Safety Systems is headquartered in Colorado. Gropengieser's residence was in Cincinnati, Ohio at the time. When injured, he was working on the Veterans' Administration Hospital in Knoxville, Iowa.

Gropengieser alerted Life Safety Systems in Colorado of his injury. Life Safety Systems filed an Employer's First Report of Injury in Colorado. Life Safety Systems and its insurance carrier, Business Insurance Company (BICO), admitted Gropengieser sustained a compensable injury, and he was provided benefits pursuant to Colorado law.

After his benefits were terminated in Colorado, Gropengieser filed a petition to reopen his claim with the Colorado Division of Workers' Compensation on February 23, 1998. Gropengieser subsequently filed a petition for workers' compensation benefits in Iowa on August 31, 1998, after Life Safety Systems and BICO filed a motion to add the issue of subject matter jurisdiction to the Colorado proceeding. A Colorado administrative law judge dismissed Gropengieser's petition to reopen his claim, based on its determination that Colorado lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

In the Iowa proceeding, Life Safety Systems and BICO filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging Gropengieser's claim was barred by the two-year state of limitation contained in Iowa Code section 85.26. A deputy workers' compensation commissioner sustained the motion for summary judgment and dismissed Gropengieser's petition. The deputy determined (1) Gropengieser's claim in Iowa could not be maintained pursuant to sections 85.26 and 86.13, and (2) equitable relief is beyond the power of the agency as it does not have equitable powers.

Gropengieser pursued an intra-agency appeal. The commissioner delegated authority to issue a final agency decision to the chief deputy workers' compensation commissioner. First, the chief deputy concluded that benefits paid under the law of another state do not qualify as benefits paid "under section 86.13," and thus the tolling provision of section 85.26(1) did not apply. She determined Gropengieser was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits under Iowa law. Second, the chief deputy agreed that the agency does not have common law equitable power, and thus Gropengieser could not be granted equitable relief.

Gropengieser appealed. Between the filing of the chief deputy's decision and the filing of the petition for judicial review, Gropengieser died of gunshot wounds in Ohio. On judicial review, the district court determined the workers' compensation commissioner correctly applied the statute of limitations pursuant to sections 85.26 and 86.13. It concluded the payment of Colorado benefits did not extend the statute of limitations. It noted that no weekly benefits were paid under section 86.13; thus, the two-year statute of limitations found in section 85.26(1) applies, and Gropengieser's claim is barred. Gropengieser appeals.

II. SCOPE OF REVIEW.

The district court reviews decisions of the workers' compensation commissioner pursuant to chapter 17A. Iowa Code § 86.26 (1999). The district court acts in an appellate capacity to correct errors of law on the part of the agency. Sawyer v. Nat'l Transp. Co., 448 N.W.2d 306, 307 (Iowa 1989). Our review is limited to determining whether the district court correctly applied the law. Hy-Vee Food Stores, Inc. v. Iowa Civil Rights Comm'n, 453 N.W.2d 512, 515 (Iowa 1990). If we conclude the court did correctly apply the law, we affirm. Id. Otherwise, we reverse. Id.

III. STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS.

Gropengieser contends that the district court's ruling is based on an erroneous interpretation of what constitutes the payment of benefits under section 86.13 for the purpose of determining the three-year statute of limitations in section 85.26, and should be reversed. He argues that BICO's designation of weekly benefits paid as Colorado benefits should not control whether such payments constitute "weekly compensation benefits" under section 86.13. He maintains the petition was timely filed as it was filed within three years of the last payment of weekly compensation. He argues the phrase "if weekly benefits are paid under section 86.13," contained in section 85.26(1), is ambiguous and should be liberally construed in his favor.

Section 85.26(1) provides as follows:

An original proceeding for benefits under this chapter . . . shall not be maintained in any contested case unless the proceeding is commenced within two years from the date of the occurrence of the injury for which benefits are claimed or, if weekly compensation benefits are paid under section 86.13, within three years from the date of the last payment of weekly compensation benefits.

Section 86.13 states that "[i]f an employer or insurance carrier pays weekly compensation benefits to an employee, the employer or insurance carrier shall file . . . a notice of the commencement of the payments." It further provides that "[i]f an employer or insurance carrier fails to file the notice required by this section, the failure stops the running of the time periods in section 85.26 as of the date of the first payment."

Workers' compensation is statutory. Downs v. A & H Constr. Ltd., 481 N.W.2d 520, 527 (Iowa 1992). The statute must not be artificially expanded by reading something into it that is not within the scope of the language used. Id. The clear words and phrases found in the statute must be given their plain meaning. Peterson v. Schwertley, 460 N.W.2d 469, 471 (Iowa 1990). On the other hand, workers' compensation law exists to benefit workers and their dependents. Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Shook, 313 N.W.2d 503, 506 (Iowa 1981). When the statute is unclear and ambiguous, it will be interpreted liberally in furtherance of its humanitarian objective. Hartman v. Clarke County Homemakers, 520 N.W.2d 323, 327 (Iowa Ct. App. 1994).

We conclude that the statute of limitations issue is controlled by Sawyer v. National Transportation Co., 448 N.W.2d 306 (Iowa 1989). In that case, the supreme court determined that the payment of Iowa benefits was necessary to toll the statute of limitations as provided in section 86.13. Sawyer, 448 N.W.2d at 307. Since Sawyer, the legislature has amended section 86.13. However, that amendment is not material to the issue presented in this case. Thus, because Gropengieser did not receive the payment of Iowa benefits, the statute of limitations in section 85.26(1) was not tolled. Gropengieser did not file his petition within two years of his injury, as required by section 85.26(1). Thus, his claim is barred.

We additionally find that section 85.26(1) is not ambiguous. The language "if weekly benefits are paid under section 86.13" plainly requires the agency or district court to determine whether benefits have been paid under section 86.13 in order to apply the three-year statute of limitations under section 85.26(1). As noted above, our supreme court has previously determined that the weekly benefits in section 86.13 are those paid under Iowa law. Sawyer, 448 N.W.2d at 307.

We note that Life Safety Systems and BICO chose the state and state law under which to pay Gropengieser benefits, and that they chose a wrong state. Gropengieser argues that the fact a Colorado administrative law judge has determined Colorado does not have jurisdiction over his claim means the benefits he was paid cannot be Colorado benefits. He reasons the benefits should therefore be considered to have been paid pursuant to the law of the State with jurisdiction over his claim, Iowa. For two reasons we cannot reach that result. First, the record does not show that Iowa is the only state with jurisdiction over Gropengieser's claim. For all the record shows Ohio, the state of his residence at the time of his injury, may have also been a state with jurisdiction over his claim. Even if Gropengieser's benefits should be deemed paid pursuant to the law of a state other than Colorado, we therefore cannot state under the existing record that Iowa is the state under whose laws they should be deemed to have been paid. Second, and more importantly, no such claim or issue was addressed by the district court in its ruling on judicial review and Gropengieser did not file an Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2) motion seeking enlargement to address such an issue. Under the authorities cited in the next section of this opinion Gropengieser therefore did not preserve such an issue for our review and we do not further address it.

IV. EQUITABLE ESTOPPEL.

Gropengieser argues the workers' compensation commissioner erroneously determined that she does not have jurisdiction to apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel to award benefits. Gropengieser agrees that the commissioner's power and jurisdiction are limited to that provided by statute, but does not agree that the agency has no jurisdiction to impose the doctrine of equitable estoppel to bar application of the statute of limitations.

The district court did not rule upon this issue, and Gropengieser did not to file an Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2) motion. If Gropengieser raised the issue of equitable estoppel before the district court, he needed to file a rule 1.904(2) motion requesting the court to enlarge its findings of fact and conclusions of law if he wished the issue preserved for appellate review. Meier v. Senecaut III, 641 N.W.2d 532, 540 (Iowa 2002) (stating that our error preservation rule requires a party seeking to appeal an issue presented to, but not considered by, the district court to call to the attention of the district court its failure to decide the issue); Cripps v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 613 N.W.2d 210, 212-13 (Iowa 2000) (applying rule 1.904(2) in a judicial review proceeding); Office of Consumer Advocate v. State Commerce Comm'n, 395 N.W.2d 1, 6-7 (Iowa 1986) (holding that rule 1.904(2) motion is permitted after a judicial review decision in a contested case). As this issue has not been preserved for our review we decline to address it.

V. GROPENGIESER'S DEATH.

All parties acknowledge that Gropengieser's death was wholly unrelated to his claim in this case, with his death occurring between the final agency decision and the filing of the petition for judicial review. Life Safety Systems and BICO contend that under such circumstances this case should be dismissed pursuant to Iowa Code section 85.31(4). Based on our resolution of the other issues, we find it unnecessary to address this contention.

VI. CONCLUSION.

We conclude the district court did not err in affirming the agency's decision that Gropengieser's claim for workers' compensation benefits is barred pursuant to section 85.26(1). We find Gropengieser has not preserved error on his claim equitable estoppel should bar application of the statute of limitations. We find it unnecessary to address the contention that his case should be dismissed because of Gropengieser's death.

AFFIRMED.

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