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Morris v. Hap Taylor & Sons, Inc.

Supreme Court of Idaho

May 23, 2013

BENJAMIN MORRIS, Claimant-Appellant,
v.
HAP TAYLOR & SONS, INC., Employer, and LIBERTY INSURANCE CORPORATION, Surety, Defendants-Respondents.

2013 Opinion No. 63

Appeal from the Industrial Commission of the State of Idaho.

The order of the Industrial Commission is affirmed.

Starr Kelso Law Office, Chtd., Coeur d'Alene, for appellant. Starr Kelso argued.

Law Offices of Harmon & Day, Boise, for respondents. Kent W. Day argued.

J. JONES, Justice.

Benjamin Morris, a workers' compensation claimant, appeals an order of the Idaho Industrial Commission denying his motion to set aside a lump sum settlement agreement he made with his employer's surety, Liberty Northwest Insurance. Morris initiated his workers' compensation action after he suffered injuries while working construction for his employer, Hap Taylor & Sons, Inc. We affirm the Industrial Commission's order.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Morris sustained a serious head injury on October 18, 2006, when a twenty-five pound rock thrown by a piece of heavy machinery struck him in the head. Morris filed a workers' compensation complaint on November 19, 2007, seeking medical and disability benefits. At that time he was represented by attorney James Hannon. Several months later, Hannon withdrew and attorney Michael Walker substituted as his counsel in the proceeding.

Morris filed a request for calendaring on May 15, 2009, seeking a hearing before the Commission to address his benefits claim. The request stated that settlement negotiations were "being undertaken but have not been successful to date." On June 1, 2009, the Commission granted Morris' request, and set a hearing for January 5, 2010. However, prior to the hearing, the parties settled and the Commission vacated the hearing.

Morris initiated settlement discussions in a fax to Liberty on December 17, 2009, indicating he was willing to "settle the indemnity side of this case for $68, 000 in new money." The following day, Liberty responded with a counter-offer—a single lump sum payment of $54, 381, which Morris accepted "with the clear understanding this is a partial settlement and does not resolve the medical side." On January 4, 2010, the parties executed a Stipulation and Agreement of Partial Lump Sum Discharge (LSSA) and submitted it to the Commission for approval. Finding that the LSSA was in the best interests of the parties, the Commission approved it by an order dated January 19, 2010.

Approximately eighteen months later, on July 8, 2011, a Notice of Appearance was filed with the Commission whereby Morris substituted Walker with his present counsel, attorney Starr Kelso.[1] On the same9 day, Morris filed a motion to review the LSSA, accompanied by an affidavit signed by Kelso. Kelso's affidavit expressed concern that Morris may not be "competent to testify" due to his injury—however, no credible evidence of incompetence was ever offered.[2] Kelso went on to recount the substance of conversations Morris claimed to have had with Walker. Kelso affied that Morris recalled Walker advising him "that he wouldn't get any more money from [Liberty] than the amount of the settlement offer" and that there was a good chance Morris would end up owing a lot of money to expert witnesses if they proceeded to hearing. Kelso conceded in a subsequently filed second affidavit that, "I do not, and never have, professed to state that any or all of the statements of Benjamin Morris to me as set forth in my [first] affidavit are completely true."

On July 22, 2011, Respondents filed an objection to Morris' motion to review. Ultimately, the Commission denied Morris' motion to review the LSSA. Following the Commission's refusal to review the LSSA, Morris filed a Motion to Set Aside Lump Sum Settlement Agreement, seeking to void the LSSA on grounds of illegality and constructive fraud. With regard to the first ground, Morris contended the LSSA was invalid for failing to include his current medical and employment status, as required by a Commission rule. With regard to the second ground, Morris contended that Walker had induced him to sign the agreement based on fraudulent representations. Morris requested that the Commission grant a hearing on his motion.

While Morris' motion to set aside the LSSA was pending, Morris also moved the Commission to provide him with all of the documents that it considered when approving the LSSA. The Commission granted the motion and provided Morris with his entire "benefits file."

The Commission issued an order denying Morris' motion to set the LSSA aside on February 7, 2012. The order found that: (1) the LSSA was not critically flawed because the Commission was adequately informed of Morris' current medical and employment status prior to its approval; (2) Morris had not shown the type of fraud that would allow setting aside the LSSA; and (3) there was no need for a hearing. Morris filed a timely appeal to this Court.

II.

ISSUES ON REVIEW

I. Was the LSSA void for its failure to set out Morris' current medical ...


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