MacMillan v. State Compensation Ins. Fund, No. 96-645

Docket NºNo. 96-645
Citation947 P.2d 75, 285 Mont. 202
Case DateOctober 28, 1997
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

Page 75

947 P.2d 75
285 Mont. 202, 13 IER Cases 1655
Don MacMILLAN, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND, et al., Defendants and Respondents.
No. 96-645.
Supreme Court of Montana.
Submitted on Briefs June 26, 1997.
Decided Oct. 28, 1997.

Page 76

[285 Mont. 203] Tom L. Lewis and Andrew D. Huppert, Lewis, Huppert & Slovak, Great Falls, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Jacqueline T. Lenmark and P. Keith Keller, Keller, Reynolds, Drake, Johnson & Gillespie, Helena, for Defendants and Respondents.

GRAY, Justice.

Don MacMillan (MacMillan) appeals from the judgment entered by the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County, on its order granting the motion for summary judgment filed by the State Compensation Insurance Fund, the State of Montana and Carl Swanson (collectively, the State Fund). We reverse and remand.

The dispositive issue on appeal is whether the District Court erred in concluding that MacMillan does not have a cause of action under the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act and, on that basis, in granting summary judgment to the State Fund.

BACKGROUND

In 1989, the Montana legislature created the State Compensation Mutual Insurance Fund, a nonprofit, independent public corporation and domestic mutual insurer statutorily required to provide workers' compensation insurance coverage to any Montana employer requesting such coverage. Patrick J. Sweeney (Sweeney) was appointed [285 Mont. 204] executive director of the new State Fund. Sweeney hired MacMillan to serve as vice president of the benefits department and MacMillan assumed that position on December 18, 1989. Carl Swanson (Swanson) replaced Sweeney as executive director in 1993. In April of 1994, Swanson terminated MacMillan from his position as vice president of benefits.

MacMillan subsequently filed a complaint in District Court alleging causes of action under the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (§ 1983). The State Fund moved for summary judgment on several bases and the District Court granted the motion, concluding that MacMillan does not have a cause of action under either the WDEA or § 1983. Judgment was entered accordingly and MacMillan appeals only that part of the District Court's order which concluded that he could not bring a cause of action under the WDEA.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Our standard in reviewing a district court's summary judgment ruling is de novo; we use the same Rule 56, M.R.Civ.P., criteria as the district court. Clark v. Eagle Systems, Inc. (1996), 279 Mont. 279, 283, 927 P.2d 995, 997 (citations omitted). The party seeking summary judgment must establish both the absence of any genuine issue of material fact which would allow the nonmoving party to recover and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56(c), M.R.Civ.P.; Clark, 927 P.2d at 997-98 (citations omitted).

In this case, MacMillan does not argue that there are genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment, but only that the District Court erred in concluding that the State Fund was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. We review a district court's conclusions of law to determine whether those conclusions are correct. Albright v. State, by and Through State (1997), 281 Mont. 196, ----, 933 P.2d 815, 821 (citation omitted).

DISCUSSION

Did the District Court err in concluding that MacMillan does not have a cause of action under the WDEA and, on that basis, in granting summary judgment to the State Fund?

The WDEA is set forth in Title 39, Chapter 2, Part 9 of the Montana Code Annotated (MCA). It generally provides the exclusive remedy for an employee's claim of wrongful discharge from employment. Section 39-2-902, MCA. With the exception of express exemptions[285 Mont. 205] , the WDEA applies by its terms to all wrongful discharges from employment in Montana, including discharges from so-called "at will" employment which otherwise could be terminated for any reason. Section 39-2-902, MCA; Jarvenpaa v. Glacier Elec. Co-op., Inc. (1995), 271 Mont. 477, 480, 898 P.2d 690, 692. The two statutory

Page 77

exemptions from application of the WDEA are for discharges subject to any other state or federal statute providing a remedy or procedure for contesting the dispute and discharges of employees covered by collective bargaining agreements or written employment contracts for a specific term. Section 39-2-912, MCA. It is undisputed that the exemptions do not apply in this case and, therefore, that nothing in the WDEA itself precludes MacMillan from bringing a wrongful discharge claim against the State Fund under the WDEA.

The State Fund...

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10 practice notes
  • State v. McGowan, No. 05-254.
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • July 19, 2006
    ...McKirdy v. Vielleux, 2000 MT 264, ¶ 22, 302 Mont. 18, ¶ 22, 19 P.3d 207, ¶ 22 (citing MacMillan v. State Compensation Ins. Fund (1997), 285 Mont. 202, 208, 947 P.2d 75, 78). "If no ambiguity exists in a statute, the letter of the law will not be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its......
  • Stop over Spending Montana v. State, No. DA 06-0437.
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • August 7, 2006
    ...McKirdy v. Vielleux, 2000 MT 264, ¶ 22, 302 Mont. 18, ¶ 22, 19 P.3d 207, ¶ 22 (citing MacMillan v. State Compensation Ins. Fund (1997), 285 Mont. 202, 208, 947 P.2d 75, 78), absent there being an ambiguity in the statute. "If no ambiguity exists in a statute, the letter of the law will not ......
  • Ritchie v. Town of Ennis, No. 03-187.
    • United States
    • March 2, 2004
    ...cover all employees in the State of Montana with exceptions listed in § 39-2-912, MCA. MacMillan v. State Compensation Ins. Fund (1997), 285 Mont. 202, 205, 947 P.2d 75, 76-77; § 39-2-902, ¶ 11 By contrast, under Title 7, Local Government, Chapter 32, Law Enforcement, Part 41, Municipal Pol......
  • Hunter v. City of Great Falls, No. 01-263.
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • December 20, 2002
    ...maximum probationary period for firefighters, it would have done so expressly. See MacMillan v. State Compensation Ins. Fund (1997), 285 Mont. 202, 207, 947 P.2d 75, 78 (citation omitted). Moreover, in construing a statute, our job "is simply to ascertain and decide what is in terms or in s......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • State v. McGowan, No. 05-254.
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • July 19, 2006
    ...McKirdy v. Vielleux, 2000 MT 264, ¶ 22, 302 Mont. 18, ¶ 22, 19 P.3d 207, ¶ 22 (citing MacMillan v. State Compensation Ins. Fund (1997), 285 Mont. 202, 208, 947 P.2d 75, 78). "If no ambiguity exists in a statute, the letter of the law will not be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its......
  • Stop over Spending Montana v. State, No. DA 06-0437.
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • August 7, 2006
    ...McKirdy v. Vielleux, 2000 MT 264, ¶ 22, 302 Mont. 18, ¶ 22, 19 P.3d 207, ¶ 22 (citing MacMillan v. State Compensation Ins. Fund (1997), 285 Mont. 202, 208, 947 P.2d 75, 78), absent there being an ambiguity in the statute. "If no ambiguity exists in a statute, the letter of the law will not ......
  • Ritchie v. Town of Ennis, No. 03-187.
    • United States
    • March 2, 2004
    ...cover all employees in the State of Montana with exceptions listed in § 39-2-912, MCA. MacMillan v. State Compensation Ins. Fund (1997), 285 Mont. 202, 205, 947 P.2d 75, 76-77; § 39-2-902, ¶ 11 By contrast, under Title 7, Local Government, Chapter 32, Law Enforcement, Part 41, Municipal Pol......
  • Hunter v. City of Great Falls, No. 01-263.
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • December 20, 2002
    ...maximum probationary period for firefighters, it would have done so expressly. See MacMillan v. State Compensation Ins. Fund (1997), 285 Mont. 202, 207, 947 P.2d 75, 78 (citation omitted). Moreover, in construing a statute, our job "is simply to ascertain and decide what is in terms or in s......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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