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Johnson v. Idaho Department of Labor

Supreme Court of Idaho

October 28, 2019

DALE JOHNSON, an individual, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, AMY HOHNSTEIN, Appeals Bureau Director; MARK RICHMOND, Appeals Hearing Examiner; JANET HARDY, Appeals Hearing Examiner; GEORGIA SMITH, Records Custodian; and JOHN and JANE DOES I-V, in their individual and official capacities as employees of the State of Idaho, Defendants-Respondents.

          Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bonner County. Barbara A. Buchanan, District Judge.

         District court's order is affirmed.

          James McMillan, Wallace, for appellant. James McMillan argued.

          Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondents. Douglas A. Werth argued.

          BRODY, JUSTICE

         This appeal involves a negligence action brought against the Department of Labor for the alleged improper handling of an unemployment claim. Dale Johnson filed a claim for unemployment benefits which was denied. Johnson appealed the determination to the Appeals Bureau of the Idaho Department of Labor, but the appeal was denied after a hearing. Johnson again appealed the determination to the Industrial Commission, but, while the appeal was pending, Johnson learned that his hearing's recording was lost. The Industrial Commission remanded the case to the Appeals Bureau for a new hearing. Ultimately, after two additional hearings and a second appeal to the Industrial Commission, Johnson won his claim for benefits with the Commission finding that Johnson was eligible for benefits. Johnson subsequently filed suit against the Department of Labor for unnecessary delays and other alleged improprieties in the handling of his claim. The district court dismissed the case for failure to file a notice of tort claim pursuant to the Idaho Tort Claims Act and then denied Johnson's post-judgment motions. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Dale Johnson maintained roller coasters for Silverwood, Inc. Among rising contentions and a dispute with Silverwood's new director of construction and maintenance, Johnson resigned his position on June 8, 2015. He subsequently applied for unemployment benefits, but his claim was denied. Johnson challenged the denial with the Appeals Bureau of the Idaho Department of Labor, and a hearing was held on August 5, 2015.

         The hearing examiner denied Johnson's appeal, determining that Johnson was not entitled to benefits. Johnson appealed to the Idaho Industrial Commission. While the appeal was pending, Johnson was notified that the recording of his hearing was lost. While Johnson claims he submitted his own recording and transcript of the hearing (as recorded by his wife), that copy was rejected because it was not official. Because of the lost recording, the Commission remanded the case back to the Department of Labor for another hearing. After two additional hearings, both before the Appeals Bureau, Johnson lost his claim again and appealed for a second time to the Idaho Industrial Commission. On this second appeal the Commission reversed the Department of Labor's determination on April 29, 2016, finding that Johnson was eligible for unemployment benefits because he had good cause to quit his employment. Four months later, on August 25, 2016, Johnson filed a notice of tort claim with the Idaho Secretary of State.

         On March 20, 2017, several months after filing his notice of tort claim, Johnson filed a complaint against the Department of Labor, alleging negligence and requesting damages exceeding $10, 000 for the unnecessary delay of his unemployment benefits. The Department of Labor subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because Johnson failed to timely file a notice of tort claim as required by the Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA). The district court granted the Department of Labor's motion pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) motion and dismissed Johnson's claim with prejudice on September 14, 2017.

         Johnson filed a motion for reconsideration and a motion to allow additional discovery, both of which were denied on November 15, 2017. Johnson then filed a motion for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 52(b) and a motion to aside the judgment pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). In his supporting memorandum, Johnson also asked for the judgment to be altered or amended pursuant to Rule 59(e). The district court denied these motions on February 13, 2018, explaining that the Rule 52(b) and 59(e) motions were untimely and "that the Rule 60(b)(6) motion is improper to the extent that the plaintiff is trying to re-litigate the substance of his negligence claim and challenge the findings of fact and conclusions of law made by this Court in its original" decision. The district court also awarded attorney fees to the Department of Labor after finding that Johnson's second set of post-judgment motions were untimely and without merit.

         Johnson then appealed the district court's September 14, 2017 order, November 15, 2017 order, and February 13, 2018 order in a single notice of appeal. Prior to oral argument, this Court dismissed the portions of Johnson's appeal related to the 2017 orders because they were not timely appealed. The only issues addressed here are related to the order dated February 13, 2018, because it was the only decision Johnson timely appealed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The district court's decision to grant or deny motions under both Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure 60(b) and 59(e) is within the discretion of the trial court. Pandrea v. Barrett, 160 Idaho 165, 171, 369 P.3d 943, 949 (2016); Eby v. State, 148 Idaho 731, 734, 228 P.3d 998, 1001 (2010). Thus, we review the district court's determinations for an abuse of discretion. Pandrea, 160 Idaho at ...


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