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Tipton v. ARCO (9/6/96), 922 P 2d 910
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal correction before
publication in the Pacific Reporter. Readers are requested to bring
errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 303 K
Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0607, fax (907)
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
PAUL TIPTON, )
) Supreme Court No. S-6813
) Superior Court No.
v. ) 3AN-92-11523 CI
ARCO ALASKA, INC. and CIGNA, ) O P I N I O N
Workers' Compensation )
Insurance Carrier, ) [No. 4398 - September 6, 1996]
Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of
Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage,
Mark C. Rowland, Judge.
Appearances: Douglas C. Perkins, Hartig,
Rhodes, Norman, Mahoney & Edwards, Anchorage,
for Appellant. Timothy A. McKeever and
Suzanne H. Lombardi, Faulkner, Banfield,
Doogan & Holmes, Anchorage, for Appellees.
Before: Compton, Chief Justice, Rabinowitz,
Matthews and Eastaugh, Justices, and Shortell,
Justice pro tem.
COMPTON, Chief Justice.
Paul Tipton appeals the superior court's affirmance of
the decision of the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board (Board)
dismissing his workers' compensation claim. The Board held that AS
23.30.110(c) barred Tipton's claim because he failed to request a
hearing within two years after an earlier hearing had been
cancelled. We reverse.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
On April 23, 1984, Paul Tipton was severely injured while
in the course of his employment with ARCO Alaska, Inc. As a result
of his injury, Tipton received temporary total disability (TTD)
benefits, temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits, and
permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits. In the spring of
1985, ARCO offered a number of employees incentives to resign.
Tipton took advantage of this "special termination plan"and
resigned, effective September 28, 1985.
On May 6, 1987, Tipton filed with the Board an
Application for Adjustment of Claim, claiming entitlement to
additional TTD and PPD benefits. Along with the application,
Tipton filed a Statement of Readiness to Proceed (SRP) in which he
requested a hearing on the matter. On July 16, ARCO filed a Notice
of Controversion. The hearing, scheduled for October 1, 1987, was
continued by stipulation of the parties.
On March 23, 1988, Tipton filed a second SRP. A hearing
was scheduled for September 1, 1988. The Board cancelled the SRP
on September 2, 1988, apparently because the parties had reached a
tentative settlement. ARCO drafted the proposed settlement
agreement and mailed it to Tipton on September 20, 1988. Tipton
refused to sign the agreement because he felt it required him to
release all claims against ARCO.
In November 1988, Tipton filed in superior court a
wrongful discharge suit against ARCO, alleging ARCO terminated him
because of his work-related injuries. In August 1989, the superior
court stayed all proceedings pending final determination by the
Board of Tipton's workers' compensation claim. In January 1991,
Tipton moved to set aside the stay, arguing that ARCO had failed to
pursue the matter before the Board. The court denied the motion.
In September 1991, ARCO filed a petition to dismiss
Tipton's workers' compensation claim. The Board granted the
petition, concluding that Tipton's claim was barred by AS
23.30.110(c), because he had not requested a hearing within two
years after the cancellation of the September 1, 1988 hearing. On
appeal to the superior court, see Alaska Appellate Rule 602, the
court affirmed the Board's decision. Tipton appeals.
At issue is the interpretation (EN1) and application of
former AS 23.30.110(c) (EN2), which provided in part,
If a claim is controverted by the employer and
the employee does not request a hearing for a
period of two years following the date of
controversion, the claim is denied.
Section 110(c) requires an employee to request a hearing within two
years after the employer controverts the employee's claim. ARCO
controverted Tipton's claim on July 16, 1987. Tipton requested a
hearing on March 23, 1988, within two years of the date of
controversion. Tipton's hearing request was cancelled because the
parties were close to settling; however, the proposed settlement
was never ratified by Tipton, and therefore his claim and hearing
request were still before the Board. In this situation, there is
nothing explicit or implicit in the language of section 110(c)
which would require Tipton to request another hearing to avoid
ARCO argues that in order to avoid the time-bar of
section 110(c), an employee must request a hearing every time a
hearing is cancelled. (EN3) We do not read the provision so
broadly. The defense of statute of limitations (EN4) is "generally
disfavored,"Lee Houston & Assocs. v. Racine, 806 P.2d 848, 854
(Alaska 1991), and neither "'the law [n]or the facts should be
strained in aid of it.'" Safeco Ins. Co. v. Honeywell, 639 P.2d
996, 1001 (Alaska 1981) (quoting Guy F. Atkinson Co. v. State, 403
P.2d 880, 882 (Wash. 1965)). ARCO's interpretation does more than
strain the language of section 110(c): it adds a proviso that
simply is not there.
The language of section 110(c) is clear. This clarity
places a "greater burden"on ARCO, "as the party seeking to
dissuade us from giving the statute its apparent meaning, to
demonstrate that the legislative history reveals some hidden
ambiguity in the legislature's usage of terms, and resolves that
ambiguity in that party's favor." State, Dep't of Nat. Resources
v. City of Haines, 627 P.2d 1047, 1049 (Alaska 1981). ARCO
advances certain policy arguments in support of its interpretation
of section 110(c), (EN5) but offers no evidence that the
legislature meant something other than what it said. Absent
evidence of such contrary legislative intent, we will apply the
statute as written. Id. Section 110(c) requires an employee to
request a hearing within two years of the date of controversion,
and that is what Tipton did. Tipton therefore satisfied his
obligations under section 110(c).
The Board's decision and the superior court's judgment
are REVERSED. This case is REMANDED to the Board for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
1. The "independent judgment"standard of review applies to
matters of statutory construction. State, Dep't of Nat. Resources
v. City of Haines, 627 P.2d 1047, 1049 (Alaska 1981).
2. AS 23.30.110(c) was amended in 1988. See 48, ch. 79, SLA
1988. The version of AS 23.30.110(c) in effect prior to the 1988
amendments applies in this case. See Id. (providing that the 1988
amendments to section 110(c) apply only to injuries sustained on or
after July 1, 1988).
3. ARCO relies on Jonathan v. Doyon Drilling, Inc., 890 P.2d 1121
(Alaska 1995), to support its position. In Doyon Drilling, the
employer filed a notice of controversion before the employee filed
a claim with the Board. Id. at 1121-22. After the employee filed
a claim, the employer controverted the claim a second time. Id. at
1122. The employee requested a hearing within two years of the
employer's second controversion, but not within two years of the
employer's initial controversion. Id. The question presented in
Doyon Drilling was whether the limitations period in section 110(c)
was triggered by a notice of controversion filed prior to the
filing of an employee's written claim. Id. at 1122-25. We held
that the "the limitations period of section 110(c) is only
triggered after the employee files a claim." Id. at 1124. Doyon
Drilling does not address the issue of whether section 110(c)
requires an employee to request a new hearing every time a hearing
4. In Doyon Drilling, we held that the word "claim"in section
110(c) refers only to the employee's written application for
benefits, not the employee's right to compensation. Doyon
Drilling, 890 P.2d at 1123-24. Therefore, while the expiration of
the two-year period in section 110(c) results in dismissal of the
particular claim, it does not prevent the employee from applying
for different benefits, or raising other claims, based upon a given
injury. In this sense the provision differs from a statute of
limitations, which terminates all rights emerging from a cause of
action. Nevertheless, as to the particular claim dismissed under
its strictures, section 110(c) resembles a statute of limitations.
See Id. at 1122 (referring to section 110(c) as a statute of
limitations); Suh v. Pingo Corp., 736 P.2d 342, 346 (Alaska 1987)
5. ARCO incorrectly argues that construing section 110(c) to
require an employee to file only one hearing request would allow an
employee to "delay his case indefinitely"if the requested
hearing were cancelled. An employer can prevent a claim from, as
ARCO puts it, "languish[ing] for years without being heard"by
filing its own request for hearing under section 110(c). According
to Board regulations, an employee opposing such a request would
have to state "specific reason[s] why a hearing is not
appropriate." 8 AAC 45.070(c). A "general allegation that the
case should not be heard or that a party is not ready"is
insufficient grounds for postponing a hearing. Id.