State ex rel. Peters v. Fitzpatrick

Docket NumberWD85719,WD85777
Decision Date29 August 2023
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable Daniel Green, Judge

Before: W. Douglas Thomson, Presiding Judge, Thomas N Chapman, Judge, and Janet Sutton, Judge


Relator Jeff Peters appeals the judgment of the Cole County Circuit Court denying his petition for writ of mandamus against Respondents Scott Fitzpatrick, Treasurer of the State of Missouri, and Colleen Joern Vetter, Director of the Missouri Division of Workers' Compensation, seeking to compel payment of $1,142,169.57 from the Second Injury Fund ("Fund").[1] Respondents cross-appeal from the judgment in favor of Relator John Newman, Peters's attorney issuing a writ of mandamus ordering Respondents to pay Newman $230,332.50 for attorney fees from the Fund. The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the writ of mandamus is quashed.

Factual and Procedural Background

On November 14, 2006, Peters suffered severe injuries in a motor vehicle accident in the course of his employment. Peters filed a workers' compensation claim against both his employer and the Fund. His claim against the Fund was based on allegations that his employer was uninsured and that the Fund was responsible for his medical expenses under section 287.220.5.[2]

An administrative law judge ("ALJ") heard Peters's claim on August 30, 2011.[3] Two of the issues to be determined at the hearing were whether the Fund was liable for unpaid medical expenses due from an uninsured employer and what were the reasonable charges for the unpaid medical bills. At the hearing, Peters presented evidence of medical bills totaling $1,142,169.57. The Fund presented evidence that Loma Linda University Medical Center had agreed to accept $424,773.00 as payment in full for the outstanding amount due of $1,023,699.93.

On December 2, 2011, the ALJ issued her award ("Award") finding Peters's injury compensable, that his employer was uninsured, and that his employer had paid none of the medical bills at issue. The Award found that Peters incurred the following medical bills as a result of the work injury:

Loma Linda Pathology

$ 339.00

Mercy Air Services


California Department of Transportation


Loma Linda Group


Loma Linda Surgical Group


Loma Linda Orthopedic Group


Loma Linda Neurology Group


Loma Linda Physicians Group


Loma Linda Medical Center


Loma Linda Anesthesiology




The Award found that the fair, reasonable, and necessary charges resulting from his medical treatment was $1,142,169.57, which included the full amount originally billed by Loma Linda University Medical Center of $1,023,699.93. The ALJ explained that settlement negotiations between the parties for resolution of outstanding medical bills were not evidence of fair, reasonable, and necessary charges and that no evidence was presented that Peters did not remain responsible for the full amount of his medical bills, which totaled $1,142,169.57, including $1,023,699.93 billed by Loma Linda University Medical Center. The Award further found:

Because the employer was uninsured, I find that the Second Injury Fund is liable for unpaid medical expenses incurred due to the injuries [Peters] sustained in his work-related accident of November 14, 2006. These medical bills total $1,142,169.57, as set forth above. I order the Second Injury Fund to pay these medical bills.

The Award allowed Newton's attorney fees "in the amount of 25% of all payments hereunder" and imposed "a lien on the proceeds until paid." Finally, the Award ordered that interest shall be paid as provided by law. No application for review or appeal was filed, and the Award became final.

After the Award became final, the Attorney General's Office, on behalf of the Fund, advised that the Fund would not be able to pay the Award immediately due to fund constraints. At the suggestion of the Attorney General's Office, Peters filed an application for judgment on the award in the Circuit Court of Greene County under section 287.500. On July 31, 2012, the Greene County Circuit Court entered judgment against the Treasurer of the State of Missouri (custodian of the Fund) in the amount of $1,142,169.57, with interest of 10% per annum from January 12, 2012 ("Greene County Judgment"). The Greene County Judgment was not appealed and became final.

Thereafter, Peters and Newman sought payment of the Greene County Judgment, specifically $1,142,169.57 in past medical expenses, interest of 10%, and the 25% attorney fee lien on the total Award. Respondents did not pay Peters any amount. In September and November 2013, Respondents paid from the Fund nine of his ten medical providers the total of their billed amount less application of Newman's 25% attorney fee. Specifically, they paid $88,852.25 to the medical providers and $29,617.39 directly to Newman. They also paid Loma Linda University Medical Center $102,369.99 and in exchange, the Medical Center executed a Release providing that the amount paid "satisf[ied] all liability of Jeff Peters and the Fund to Loma Linda for medical bills and expenses relating to the award dated December 2, 2011, from the Missouri Division of Workers' Compensation and the work-related injury Jeff Peters sustained on November 14, 2006, in the State of California." Respondents also paid Newman directly 25% of the amount paid to Loma Linda University Medical Center ($25,592.50). In total, Respondents paid $191,222.24 to Peters's medical providers and $55,209.89 to Newman. The payments made by Respondents did not include any amount for interest. Peters and Newman did not consent to the payments to the medical providers, to lower payments than set forth in the Greene County Judgment, or to any alteration of the Award's or Greene County Judgment's award, fees, or liens.

On October 9, 2019, Relators filed the instant action requesting a writ of mandamus ordering Respondents to pay the outstanding judgment entered in their favor against the Fund in the amount of $1,142,169.57 plus interest as required by section 287.220.[4] They alleged that such amount was the due and owing obligation set forth in the Award and Greene County Judgment in favor of Peters, and in favor of Newman for his statutory attorney lien, against the Fund.

The parties submitted a joint stipulation of undisputed facts to the trial court. They filed competing motions for summary judgment and statements of uncontroverted material facts, which incorporated the joint stipulation.

On September 20, 2022, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Respondents on Peters's claim that a writ of mandamus should issue ordering them to pay him $1,142,169.57. It also entered summary judgment in favor of Newman on his claim for attorney fees of 25% of $1,142,169.57. It ordered by Writ of Mandamus that Respondents pay Newman $230,332.50 for attorney fees from the Fund ($285,542.39 (25% of $1,142,169.57) minus $55,209.89 previously paid to Newman).

This appeal by Peters and cross-appeal by Respondents followed.

Standard of Review

Appellate review of the trial court's grant or refusal of a writ of mandamus is for an abuse of discretion. State ex rel. Deckard v. Schmitt, 532 S.W.3d 170, 174 (Mo. App. W.D. 2017). "The trial court necessarily abuses its discretion where its ruling is based on an erroneous interpretation of the law." Id. (internal quotes and citation omitted). The trial court's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. Id.

Appellate review of the trial court's grant of summary judgment is de novo. Green v. Fotoohighiam, 606 S.W.3d 113, 115 (Mo. banc 2020). The appellate court applies the same criteria as the trial court in determining whether summary judgment was proper. Id. Summary judgment is proper if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and no genuine issues of material fact exist. Id. Facts contained in affidavits or otherwise in support a party's summary judgment motion are accepted as true unless contradicted by the non-moving party's response to the motion. Id. "[T]he non-movant must support denials with specific references to discovery, exhibits, or affidavits demonstrating a genuine factual issue for trial." Id. at 116 (internal quotes and citation omitted). The record is reviewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered, and that party is entitled to the benefit of all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence. Id.

Relator Peters's Appeal

In his sole point on appeal, Peters challenges the trial court's denial of his petition for writ of mandamus. He argues that the trial court's ruling impermissibly allowed Respondents to collaterally attack the Green County Judgment and improperly allowed Respondents to pay third-party strangers to the judgment (the medical providers) rather than paying to him the judgment and interest ordered.

Mandamus is an equitable remedy. State ex rel. Vescovo v. Clay Co., 589 S.W.3d 575, 589 n.14 (Mo. App. W.D. 2019). Its purpose is to compel the performance of a ministerial duty that one charged with the duty has refused to perform. BG Olive &Graeser, LLC v. City of Creve Coeur, 658 S.W.3d 44, 47 (Mo. banc 2022); Deckard, 532 S.W.3d at 174. "A ministerial duty is a duty of a clerical nature which a public officer is required to perform upon a given state of facts, or in...

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