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DA 19-0523 - SUSAN HENSLEY, Petitioner and Appellant, v. MONTANA STATE FUND, Respondent and Appellee. AUDIO FILE
Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, July 8, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
From 1987 until 2011, an injured worker who received a whole person impairment rating had the right to an impairment award, even if the worker could return to regular employment and did not suffer a wage loss as a result of the injury. In 2011, the Legislature amended the statute authorizing impairment awards, eliminating impairment awards for injured workers who received an impairment rating that qualified as a “Class One” impairment rating, and who could return to regular employment and did not suffer a wage loss as a result of the injury.
In 2012, Susan Hensley injured her shoulder at work. She was given an impairment rating which fell in the “Class One” category. Because she did not suffer a wage loss as a result of her injury, her employer’s workers’ compensation insurer, Montana State Fund, did not pay her an impairment award.
Hensley petitioned the Workers’ Compensation Court, arguing that the 2011 statute unconstitutionally denied her the right to an impairment award. She argued she was denied equal protection of the law because a worker with a Class One impairment is similarly situated to a worker with a Class Two impairment, and only workers with Class One impairments are denied their impairment awards if they do not have a wage loss. The Workers’ Compensation Court concluded that a rational basis exists for the law to treat these categories of workers differently.
On appeal, Hensley argues that the court erred by failing to properly compare the categories of workers, and that it misunderstood how Class is determined for an impairment rating, which caused it to underappreciated the significance of Class One impairments. She argues the statute is unconstitutional because the only basis for denying impairment awards to workers such as herself is cost savings, which cannot serve as the sole basis to deny benefits.
DA 19-0484 - CLARK FORK COALITION, ROCK CREEK ALLIANCE, EARTHWORKS, and MONTANA ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION CENTER, Petitioners and Appellees, v. MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND CONSERVATION and RC RESOURCES, INC., Respondents and Appellants.
Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the Montana Supreme Court, Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building, Helena, Montana.
RC Resources filed an application for beneficial water use permit with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC). Clark Fork Coalition, Rock Creek Alliance, Earthworks, and Montana Environmental Information Center (Objectors) objected to the permit, arguing that RC Resources’ proposed water use violates the legal demands governing surface waters by dewatering, and thus degrading, outstanding resource waters.
DNRC granted the permit over the objection because it concluded that the objection fell under a statute that only the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) or a local water quality district could use to make a formal objection.
On a petition for judicial review of DNRC’s decision, the District Court concluded that Objectors were not barred from raising this objection under § 85-2-311(1)(a)(ii), MCA. It therefore reversed DNRC’s grant of the petition and remanded the matter to DNRC for further consideration.
On appeal, RC Resources argues that the substance of the objection places it under § 85-2-311(1)(g), MCA, and that Objectors cannot “reframe” their objection solely to avoid the application of the statute. It argues that both § 85-2-311(1)(g), MCA, and § 85-2-311(2), MCA, hold that only DEQ or a local water quality district can file this objection. DNRC argues that its hearing examiner correctly rejected Objectors’ arguments and that the District Court erred in reversing and remanding the matter to DNRC. Montana Water Resources Association, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, and Montana Stockgrowers Association have filed an amicus brief in support of RC Resources’ and DNRC’s position on appeal.
Objectors argue that the District Court’s decision should be upheld on appeal because DNRC has misinterpreted the Water Use Act. Montana Trout Unlimited has filed an amicus brief in support of Objectors’ position on appeal.