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JULIA DARLENE HEGG vs. MONTANA STATE FUND

Workers' Compensation Court of the State of Montana

Ambiguity in minimum weekly compensation benefit

IN THE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA 2016 MTWCC 14
WCC No. 2016-3730. JULIA DARLENE HEGG vs. MONTANA STATE FUND.

Summary: Petitioner became a beneficiary when her husband died from an occupational disease. Her husband worked sporadically and, during the year prior to his death, his average weekly wage was $79.71. Thus, Respondent moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it correctly calculated Petitioner’s benefit rate to be $79.71 under § 39- 71-721(2), MCA, which states, in relevant part, “The minimum weekly compensation benefit is 50% of the state’s average weekly wage, but in no event may it exceed the decedent’s actual wages at the time of death.” Petitioner argues that this statute is ambiguous and that her benefit rate is $354, which was 50% of the state’s average weekly wage for her husband’s date of death. Alternatively, Petitioner argues that if her rate is $79.71, then § 39-71-721(2), MCA, violates her right to substantive due process under Article II, § 17 of the Montana Constitution, and is therefore insufficient to uphold the quid pro quo on which the Workers’ Compensation Act is based. She argues that the remedy for this alleged constitutional violation is for this Court to increase her benefit rate to $354, an amount she argues is sufficient to uphold the quid pro quo.

Held: This Court granted Respondent’s motion, and denied in part Petitioner’s cross- motion for summary judgment because Respondent correctly calculated Petitioner’s rate under the plain language of § 39-71-721(2), MCA. This Court declined to rule on Petitioner’s constitutional challenge, and denied that part of Petitioner’s cross-motion for summary judgment, because this Court cannot grant her the relief she seeks.

Judgement: Respondent’s motion for summary judgment is granted. Petitioner’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.

*Appealed to Supreme Court Oct 10, 2016

READ FULL DOCUMENT AT ORIGNAL SOURCE: http://wcc.dli.mt.gov/h/Hegg_2016MTWCC14.pdf