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Reihe v. Midwest Viking, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 8, 2017

BERWYN JOE REIHE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MIDWEST VIKING, INC., d/b/a MIDWEST VIKING TRUCKING, and GREAT WEST CASUALTY CO., Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Brad McCall, Judge.

         Berwyn Reihe appeals a district court order remanding a matter to the workers' compensation commissioner for the entry of an order nunc pro tunc.

          Christina I. Thompson of Phil Watson, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Deena A. Townley and Timothy A. Clausen of Klass Law Firm, L.L.P., Sioux City, for appellees.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Berwyn Reihe appeals a district court order remanding a matter to the workers' compensation commissioner for the entry of an order nunc pro tunc correcting a compromise settlement agreement to accurately reflect the true agreement made between the parties. He contends (1) the district court exceeded its authority and improperly considered extrinsic evidence in reaching its ruling and (2) reformation of the contract is barred by judicial estoppel.[1] He requests an award of attorney fees in both the district court and on appeal and asks us to remand the case to the district court for a determination of the same.

         I. Background

         The record establishes the following facts as undisputed. Reihe suffered a workplace injury in September 2013 within the course of his employment with Midwest Viking, Inc. (Midwest).[2] On February 27, 2015, Midwest forwarded a workers' compensation settlement offer to Reihe in the amount "of $75, 758.71 less a deduction of the payments which have been made to date which currently total $21, 080.12 through 2/23/2015."[3] Reihe accepted the offer. Midwest and Reihe entered into a written compromise settlement agreement in March 2015 which required Midwest to "pay to [Reihe] the sum of $75, 758.71 less weekly payments made from 3/5/15 until settlement approval." Quite obviously, the written agreement differed in terms than the original offer, as the original offer would have credited Midwest with benefits that were paid from June 3, 2014, while the written agreement only credited Midwest with benefits paid from March 5, 2015. On March 31, 2015, the workers' compensation commissioner approved the agreement. See Iowa Code § 86.27 (2015). In April, Midwest provided Reihe with a check for $51, 350.15.[4] In May, apparently noticing the error concerning the credit date contained in the written agreement, Midwest filed with the commissioner a motion for a nunc pro tunc order correcting the "typographical error." The motion was denied for "lack of jurisdiction, " but neither party was made aware of such denial until July 21, 2016.

         On July 19, 2016, Reihe filed a petition in the district court requesting that the unpaid portion of his award be converted to a judgment pursuant to Iowa Code section 86.42. He also requested an award of reasonable attorney fees. Midwest filed a counterclaim for contract reformation, alleging the compromise settlement "should have stated from June 3, 2014, " and "[t]he date of March 5, 2015 was a typographical error and does not accurately reflect the understanding of the parties." Reihe admitted during the proceedings that the parties' original understanding of the agreement was that Midwest would be credited with payments from June 3, 2014. He maintained, however, that this was only the agreement up until the point that he was presented with the written agreement, which he signed and was subsequently approved by the commissioner.

         Midwest moved for summary judgment on its contract-reformation claim. Following a hearing, the district court concluded, "because of a drafting error, the Compromise Settlement prepared by [Midwest] did not accurately set forth the true agreement made by the parties" and the "commissioner retains jurisdiction to correct the errors with the use of a nunc pro tunc order." The district court remanded the matter to the commissioner "for the entry of an Order Nunc Pro Tunc correcting the Compromise Settlement to accurately reflect the true agreement made by the parties and memorialized in the letter . . . to Reihe dated February 27, 2015." As noted, Reihe appeals.

         II. Analysis

         Cases involving reformation of a contract are equitable in nature and are therefore reviewed do novo. Iowa R. App. P. 6.907; Breitbach v. ...


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