State ex rel. Wyoming Workers' Compensation Div. v. Halstead, 89-130

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Citation795 P.2d 760
PartiesSTATE of Wyoming, ex rel. WYOMING WORKERS' COMPENSATION DIVISION, Petitioner (Objector-Defendant), v. Jordan Jody HALSTEAD, a minor dependent child of Jody Glenn Dodgion, employee, Respondent (Claimant).
Docket NumberNo. 89-130,89-130
Decision Date17 July 1990

Joseph B. Meyer, Atty. Gen., Ron Arnold, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., and Larry M. Donovan, Asst. Atty. Gen., for petitioner.

Michael J. Finn of Kaumo, Piaia and Tyler, Rock Springs, for respondent.

Before CARDINE, C.J., * THOMAS, URBIGKIT and GOLDEN, JJ., and ROONEY, Retired J.

URBIGKIT, Justice.

The Wyoming Workers' Compensation Division (State Fund) appeals from a summary judgment 1 in favor of Jordon Jody Halstead by an administrative hearing examiner who granted benefits to the child who had been born out of wedlock after his young father was killed in a work related accident. The State Fund contested the benefits granted to Jordon Jody Halstead on grounds that paternity had not been established and the statute of limitations for filing a claim had expired by the time paternity was established.

Because summary judgment was not available in this case, we reverse and remand.


In 1985, sixteen year old Jody Glenn Dodgion became intimately associated with Alice Ione Colley, who became pregnant from the relationship. 2 Jody suffered a critical head wound at his first day of work on September 24, 1985, was declared disabled in early November and died December 4, 1985. On May 1, 1986, Jody's son, Jordan Jody Halstead, was born and his young mother, Alice Ione Colley, was appointed guardian on December 11, 1986. Chronologically thereafter, as a proceeding relating to the small child, a petition was filed on February 5, 1987 to establish paternity and, on May 9, 1988, a claim for death benefits for the dependent child under worker's compensation was filed 3 to which the State Fund objected. On June 2, 1988, the district court entered an order establishing Jody Glenn Dodgion as the father of Jordan Jody Halstead. 4


The State Fund questions whether:

I. * * * [t]he administrative hearing officer err[ed] when she granted summary judgment to the appellee.

II. * * * [t]he order issued by the administrative hearing officer [was] arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion or unsupported by substantial evidence in her findings that:

A. The Clerk of District Court is a party to a Workers' Compensation case, is an agent of the State, and the State is therefore bound by representations made by the Clerk's Office in reference to Workers' Compensation claims.

B. The statute of limitations found at § 27-14-503, W.S.1977, is tolled pending the establishment of paternity.

C. Appellee did not have standing to claim dependent child benefits until paternity in the deceased worker was established.

III. * * * [t]he administrative hearing officer err[ed] in ruling that the claim for benefits was not barred by § 27-14-503, W.S.1977, and in not granting summary judgment for appellant.


In the first issue, the State Fund argued there was a genuine issue of material fact rendering summary judgment inappropriate. Then it its third issue, the State Fund argued summary judgment was appropriate for it because there was no genuine issue of material fact presented. Both issues are resolved by reference to Jackson v. State ex rel. Wyoming Worker's Comp. Div., 786 P.2d 874 (Wyo.1990). 5

Summary judgment is not available in contested worker's compensation cases under Jackson unless it falls within the one exception in which the "agency's sole task is to determine questions of law or public policy." Jackson, 786 P.2d at 879. See Walker v. Karpan, 726 P.2d 82 (Wyo.1986). That exception, in what is essentially a dismissal on the pleading similar to W.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), is not available to either party here because the pleadings do not establish either litigant to be entitled to relief as a matter of law. Jackson, 786 P.2d 874; Herring v. Welltech, Inc., 715 P.2d 553 (Wyo.1986); Federal Power Commission v. Texaco, Inc., 377 U.S. 33, 84 S.Ct. 1105, 12 L.Ed.2d 112, reh'g denied 377 U.S. 974, 377 U.S. 984, 84 S.Ct. 1881, 12 L.Ed.2d 745, 12 L.Ed.2d 753 (1964); Massachusetts Outdoor Advertising Council v. Outdoor Advertising Bd., 9 Mass.App. 775, 405 N.E.2d 151 (1980).


With remand required, this court is still faced with three issues: (1) whether the State is bound under the doctrine of estoppel by representations allegedly made by the clerk of the district court; (2) whether the statute of limitations under W.S. 27-14-503 bars this claim; and (3) whether respondent was required to file a claim for benefits before paternity could be established.

For the reasons which follow, we hold the statute of limitations did not bar this claim because the statute was tolled until parentage was determined--an indispensable requirement for eligibility in this case. This holding negates the need to discuss the issue of estoppel. 6

The State Fund's issues essentially question the effect of W.S. 27-14-503 and 27-14-505 in this case.

Those statutes provide in relevant part: 7

(a) An award for compensation involving an injury which is the result of a single brief occurrence rather than occurring over a substantial period of time shall not be made unless in addition to the proper and timely filing of the reports of the accident, an application or claim for award is filed within one (1) year after the date the accident occurred or for injuries not readily apparent, within one (1) year after discovery of the injury by the employee. The report of accident is not a claim for compensation.

W.S. 27-14-503.

If an injured employee is mentally incompetent or a minor, or where death results from the injury and any of his dependents are mentally incompetent or minors, at the time when any right or privilege accrues under this act, no limitation of time provided for in this act shall run so long as the mentally incompetent or minor has no guardian.

W.S. 27-14-505 (emphasis added).

We interpret the clause "at the time when any right or privilege accrues under this act" in W.S. 27-14-505 to mean Jordan Jody Halstead's right accrued on June 2, 1988 when the order of the district court determined Jordon Jody Halstead, within his status of illegitimacy, was the child of the deceased worker. The district court determination then made the child a valid claimant. Consequently, we find that the date of determination of parentage was the date the right to claim benefits accrued. Under the statute, the right to claim benefits would not have expired at the one year period after the guardian had been appointed because the child's familial rights to be a claimant came to exist with his determination by a decree of parentage that the decedent worker was his father. The good cause case, Hawkins v. Safety Casualty Co., 146 Tex. 381, 207 S.W.2d 370 (1948) is compatible in result. We consequently hold that the statute of limitation began to run on June 2, 1988 with the entry of the parentage decree.

In the similar context of Bauer v. State ex rel. Wyoming Worker's Compensation Div., 695 P.2d 1048 (Wyo.1985), this court determined the limitation period was no bar under estoppel. The same reasoning can be applied to an expiration of a right to claim before that right to claim comes to exist under the statute. Mominee v. Scherbarth, 28 Ohio St.3d 270, 503 N.E.2d 717 (1986). A principal responsibility in statutory interpretation is to apply the legislative intent demonstrable from the language utilized in order to sustain its constitutionality. Our decision that here the limitation period for Jordan Jody Halstead started when his paternity had been established, finds support from criteria in two different areas of constitutional law development.

In first concept, as a principle logically rejective of petitioner's argument, are the cases which address statutes of limitation limiting the time available for the parentage of the minor child to be determined, which issue evokes consideration of discrimination between legitimate and illegitimate children violative of equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Criteria addressing unjustified burdens upon the illegitimate child as a constitutional deprivation are addressed in three decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Pickett v. Brown, 462 U.S. 1, 103 S.Ct. 2199, 76 L.Ed.2d 372 (1983); Mills v. Habluetzel, 456 U.S. 91, 102 S.Ct. 1549, 71 L.Ed.2d 770 (1982); Gomez v. Perez, 409 U.S. 535, 93 S.Ct. 872, 35 L.Ed.2d 56 (1973). Any unduly restrictive time limitations for proof of parentage is unconstitutional. Enforcement of a parental support obligation within the illegitimacy status is, dependent upon determination of the parentage of the father and a time limitation that imposes a burden on the illegitimate child, significantly different from the status of the legitimate child which was determined to be unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pickett, 462 U.S. at 18, 103 S.Ct. at 2209. The Pickett- Mills cases resulted in substantial state court decisions also voiding unduly restrictive statutory limitations for illegitimate children to prove a parentage relationship with the father based normally on a Fourteenth Amendment concept of due process and equal protection. State, Dept. of Health and Rehabilitative Services, on Behalf of Gillespie v. West, 378 So.2d 1220 (Fla.1979), four year statute of limitation unconstitutional; Dornfeld v. Julian, 104 Ill.2d 261, 84 Ill.Dec. 471, 472 N.E.2d 431 (1984), two year statute of limitation unconstitutional; State ex rel. Rake v. Ohden, 346 N.W.2d 826 (Iowa 1984), two year statute of limitation unconstitutional; Alexander v. Com. ex rel. Mills, 708 S.W.2d 102 (Ky.App.1986), four year statute of limitation...

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