James M. Johnson, et al., Respondents,
Princeton Public Utilities Commission, defendant and third party plaintiff, Appellant,
Hydrocon, Inc., Third Party Defendant.
Lacs County District Court File No. 48-CV-11-2174
Daniel Howland, James E. Lindell, Lindell & Lavoie, LLP,
Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondents)
M. Baker, Katherine M. Swenson, Kathryn N. Hibbard, Greene
Espel PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)
L. Naughton, League of Minnesota Cities, St. Paul, Minnesota
(for amicus curiae League of Minnesota Cities)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Smith,
Tracy M., Judge; and Randall, Judge.[*]
public utilities commission created by a statutory city
pursuant to Minn. Stat. §§ 412.321-.391 (2016) is a
political subdivision of the state for purposes of Minn.
Stat. § 549.09, subd. 1(c)(1)(i) (2016).
When this court decides an issue and indicates in its opinion
that it intends the decision to be final, a district court,
on remand, may not reconsider that issue.
appeal following a remand by this court to the district
court, appellant public utilities commission argues that the
district court erred by (1) concluding that it is not a
political subdivision of the state entitled to a lower
preverdict interest rate under Minn. Stat. § 549.09,
subd. 1(c)(1)(i); and (2) declining to grant a
collateral-source offset for workers' compensation
benefits paid to the injured respondent. We affirm the
district court's collateral-source decision, but reverse
the award of preverdict interest at the rate of ten percent
per year and remand for a preverdict interest award at the
statutory four-percent rate that applies to a judgment or
award against a political subdivision of the state.
employed by Hydrocon, Inc., a sewer-and-water contractor,
respondent James Johnson was working on a water main for an
ice arena in the City of Princeton. An employee of appellant
Princeton Public Utilities Commission (PUC) agreed to secure
a utility pole located near where Johnson was operating a
compacting machine. Johnson told the PUC employee that he had
finished compacting the soil, and the PUC employee released
the utility pole from the truck that secured it. The pole
fell on Johnson's machine, which caused injuries to
Johnson's neck and back.
received workers' compensation benefits from Hydrocon and
settled his workers' compensation claims in February
2011. Hydrocon assigned its indemnity and subrogation rights
to PUC in a reverse-Naig settlement. Johnson and his
wife, respondent Sherri Johnson, sued PUC for negligence in
trial, the jury returned a special verdict on October 22,
2013, finding that PUC was negligent and its negligence was a
direct cause of harm to Johnson. The jury also found that
Johnson was negligent but his negligence was not a direct
cause of his injuries. The jury then considered all of the
negligence that contributed as a direct cause of
Johnson's injuries and attributed 70% of the negligence
to PUC and 30% to Johnson. Finally, the jury awarded Johnson
$40, 000 for past bodily and mental harm and $200, 000 for
past loss of earnings and declined to award any other
October 29, 2013, one week after the jury returned its
special verdict, PUC moved for an order directing entry of
judgment in the amount of $0 pursuant to PUC's motion for
collateral-source determination. PUC cited the workers'
compensation act, Minn. Stat. § 176.061, and the
collateral-source statute, Minn. Stat. § 548.251, and
argued that because Johnson received workers'
compensation benefits in excess of the amount of the jury
award, judgment should be entered for $0.
January 2014, the district court issued an order for a new
trial based on the inconsistency between the jury's
special-verdict finding that Johnson's negligence was not
a direct cause of his injuries and its finding that 30% of
all of the negligence that contributed as a direct cause of
Johnson's injuries should be attributed to Johnson.
Respondents moved for reconsideration. In May 2014, in
response to respondents' motion to reconsider, the
district court amended its new-trial order to allow
respondents to choose between entry of judgment for 70% of
the original verdict or a new trial on only the issues of
liability and comparative fault.
district court interpreted respondents' response to this
order to be that respondents did not intend to reject entry
of judgment for 70% of the original verdict and that they
were not seeking a new trial. The district court then
concluded that $48, 450 of the workers' compensation
benefits that Johnson received were for wage-loss benefits,
and, under the collateral-source rule, the $200, 000 jury
verdict for past loss of earnings should be reduced by $48,
450. In an order filed July 11, 2014, the district court
awarded respondents 70% of the remaining $151, 550 for past
loss of earnings and 70% of the $40, 000 jury verdict for
past bodily and mental harm, resulting in an award of $134,
085. The district court denied both parties' posttrial
motions for judgment as a matter of law and entered judgment
on December 2, 2014.
appeal, this court affirmed the district court's orders
denying both parties judgment as a matter of law. Johnson
v. Princeton Pub. Utils. Comm'n, No. A15-0038, 2016
WL 22243, at *3-5 (Minn.App. Jan. 4, 2016). But this court
reversed the district court's collateral-source reduction
after concluding that PUC failed to comply with the
collateral-source statute when it brought its motion for
collateral-source reduction more than eight months before,
rather than within ten days after, the district court's
order for judgment on July 11, 2014, pursuant to the
jury's special verdict. This court also reversed the
district court's reduction of the jury's award based
on comparative fault and directed the district court on
remand to enter judgment for $240, 000. This court concluded
that, because the jury should not have answered the
special-verdict question regarding apportionment of fault,
its answer had no legal effect.
remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of
respondents for $240, 000. Three days later, on April 21,
2016, PUC filed a motion seeking a reduction of the judgment
under the workers' compensation and the collateral-source
statutes. Based on this court's direction to enter
judgment in the amount ...