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The full case caption appears at the end of this opinion. Neumann, Justice. [�1] Deborah Frank appealed from a judgment dismissing her petition foran alternative writ of mandamus to compel the Workers CompensationBureau to hold a formal hearing on her claim for benefits. Because Frankhad a plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of lawthrough a direct appeal from the Bureau’s determination that her requestfor reconsideration was insufficient, we conclude the district court did notabuse its discretion in denying the writ of mandamus. We affirm. I [�2] Frank filed a workers compensation claim on August 25, 1997,alleging she injured her lower back and tailbone when she fell on July 9,1997, while employed as a supervisor and teacher at the Early ChildhoodLearning Center in Bismarck. The Bureau dismissed Frank’s claim in anorder dated September 30, 1997. The Bureau found Frank did not reportthe injury to her employer until July 15, 1997, and did not report thealleged work-related accident to her physician during her initial medicalexamination on July 16, 1997. The Bureau also found Frank’s medicalhistory revealed she had similar physical complaints arising from aNovember 1995 motor vehicle accident, and, despite her prior medicalproblems, Frank checked “no” to questions in her application for benefitsand prior injury questionnaire relating to whether she had any priorproblems or injuries to her lower back and tailbone. [�3] The Bureau concluded Frank had not proven a compensable injury,she had willfully made false statements in violation of N.D.C.C. �65-05-33, and she must forfeit her right to benefits. The Bureau’sdismissal was accompanied by a “Notice to Claimant” form and anotherform describing the Workers’ Adviser Program, each advising Frank ifshe wanted to challenge the dismissal, she needed to write to the Bureauand explain why the dismissal was wrong. On November 21, 1997, aftercompleting the Workers’ Adviser Program, Frank requestedreconsideration and demanded a formal hearing through her attorney,stating: Specifically, Findings of Fact V, VII, VIII, XIV, XVII, and XVIII are incorrect; Conclusions of Law I, II, IV, and V are not supported by the facts; and the Bureau’s Dismissal Order should be reversed. Ms. Frank suffered a compensable injury and is entitled to compensation. [�4] On November 26, 1997, a special assistant attorney general wrote toFrank’s attorney telling him the request for rehearing was not accepted: North Dakota law requires that a request for rehearing must specifically state each factual or legal error you believe is contained in the order, and must also state what you believe the correct decision should be. Your request did not contain that information. If you want a hearing, you must file a written request for rehearing specifically stating each factual or legal error you believe is contained in the order, and also stating what you believe the correct decision should be. You must file the request within 30 days after the Order, or within 10 days after the date of this letter, whichever is later. If you do not file a proper request within that time, the Order will become final. [�5] Rather than attempt to comply with the Bureau’s directive, onDecember 5, 1997, Frank’s attorney responded to the November 26 letterfrom the special assistant attorney general: N.D.C.C., Section 65-01-16 requires that a request for reconsideration and formal hearing “must specifically state each alleged error of fact and law to be reheard and the relief sought.” The Claimant’s Request for Reconsideration/Demand for Formal Hearing dated November 21, 1997, does precisely that. If the Bureau wishes to impose criteria in addition to the clear terms of the statute, it should consider promulgating administrative rules. Absent additional requirements, however, the Claimant’s Request for Reconsideration/ Demand for Formal Hearing is adequate. If the administrative law judge assigned to this matter wishes a prehearing brief outlining the issues in greater detail, I will honor any request. [�6] On February 26, 1998 and March 20, 1998, Frank’s attorney wrotethe Bureau asking if it would continue to “ignore” the request forreconsideration and demand for a formal hearing or assign anadministrative law judge, but did not submit a revised request for a formalhearing as requested by the Bureau. After Frank’s attorney wroteanother letter to the Bureau questioning the status of Frank’s request forrehearing, a different special assistant attorney general responded onMay 5, 1998: Rather than provide the requested information, your December 5, 1997 response to our letter was to challenge our ability to reject your request for rehearing on the grounds we identified in our letter. Since you failed to respond in a timely manner, the Bureau considers the September 30, 1997 Order dismissing Ms. Frank’s claim to be a final order. The Bureau’s position on the requirements for a request for rehearing are based upon statutory language that you continually seem to ignore. It is somewhat disconcerting that you are so inclined to challenge the Bureau on this issue when the Bureau’s position on this issue continues to be upheld as valid. Perhaps even more disconcerting is that you would jeopardize your clients’ claims because you refuse to submit adequate requests on their behalf. [Emphasis in original]. [�7] On June 9, 1998, Frank’s attorney wrote to the Bureau’s litigationattorney asking him to intercede in the matter, and informed him if theBureau were unwilling to accept the request for rehearing, he would seeka writ of mandamus, as he had previously done regarding a request forrehearing in a different client’s case. On June 25, 1998, the litigationattorney informed Frank’s attorney the request for rehearing wasinadequate and the Bureau considered its September 30, 1997 order to befinal: Your reliance on the claim of [the previous client] is misplaced. For that case only, the Bureau agreed your request for rehearing letter adequately complied with the law and agreed to schedule an administrative hearing. As a result, the mandamus proceeding was dismissed. As part of the dismissal, we reached what I thought was a workable understanding concerning future requests for rehearing. I refer to my letter of March 25, 1998 (copy enclosed) in which we confirmed the dismissal of the [prior] mandamus proceedings. The letter contains the following confirmation: This will further confirm that, for future requests for rehearing, the Bureau will expect your clients to identify the specific findings of fact and/or conclusions of law they contend are in error, and for each finding/conclusion, provide at least a one sentence explanation as to why the Bureau is in error. [�8] Frank petitioned the district court for an alternative writ ofmandamus on September 25, 1998, almost one year after the Bureauissued the original order denying Frank benefits. Frank requested thecourt to order the Bureau to set the matter for formal hearing within 30days or show cause why it could not do so. The district court denied thepetition for the writ and dismissed the action, concluding: Frank failed to provide the Bureau with “a statement of the specific grounds upon which relief is requested or a statement of any further showing to be made in the proceeding” under N.D.C.C. � 28-32-14(3) (1993); failed to “state the alleged errors in the decision and the relief sought” under N.D.C.C. � 65-01-16(4) (1997); and failed to “specifically state each alleged error of fact and law to be reheard and the relief sought” under N.D.C.C. � 65-01-16(7) (1997). Frank appealed. II [�9] A district court may issue a writ of mandamus to “any inferiortribunal, corporation, board, or person to compel the performance of anact which the law specially enjoins as a duty resulting from an office,trust, or station.” N.D.C.C. � 32-34-01. An applicant for a writ ofmandamus must demonstrate a clear legal right to the performance of theact and must have no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in theordinary course of law. Kadlec v. Greendale Township Board ofTownship Supervisors, 1998 ND 165, � 8, 583 N.W.2d 817. Issuance ofthe writ is left to the sound discretion of the district court, and we will notreverse the court unless the writ should not issue as a matter of law orthe court abused its discretion. Robot Aided Mfg., Inc. v. Moore, 1999ND 14, � 10, 589 N.W.2d 187. A court abuses its discretion when it actsarbitrarily, unconscionably, or unreasonably, or when its decision is not theproduct of a rational mental process. Gowin v. Trangsrud, 1997 ND 226,� 8, 571 N.W.2d 824. [�10] Although the district court denied the writ based on the merits ofthe parties’ dispute, we will not set aside a correct result merely becausethe trial court assigned an incorrect reason if the result is the same underthe correct law and reasoning. Almont Lumber & Equipment Co. v. Dirk,1998 ND 187, � 10, 585 N.W.2d 798. Mandamus is not available if anappeal is authorized from an adverse decision of an administrativeagency. Tooley v. Alm, 515 N.W.2d 137, 140 (N.D. 1994). In Lende v.North Dakota Workers Compensation Bureau, 1997 ND 178, �� 14-22,568 N.W.2d 755, decided before the Bureau issued its September 30,1997 order dismissing Frank’s claim for benefits, we held if a claimantpetitions for reconsideration or requests a formal hearing, and the Bureaufails to act on that request within 30 days, the request is deemed denied,the order becomes final, and the claimant can appeal. See also Boger v.North Dakota Workers Compensation Bureau, 1998 ND 131, � 12, 581N.W.2d 463; Gregory v. North Dakota Workers Compensation Bureau,1998 ND 94, � 13, 578 N.W.2d 101. Frank had the right to directly appealto the district court after the Bureau failed to “take some affirmativeaction toward the arrangement of the formal hearing within thirty days ofthe filing of the petition.” Lende, 1997 ND 178, � 20, 568 N.W.2d 755. [�11] We recognize an argument could be made that Lende is notapplicable in this case because N.D.C.C. � 65-01-16(7) provides”[a]bsent a timely and sufficient request for rehearing, the administrativeorder is final and may not be reheard or appealed.” See 1997 N.D. Sess.Laws ch. 532, �� 1, 7. [FOOTNOTE 1] However, we decline to hold the subjectivedecision of the Bureau whether a request for rehearing is “timely andsufficient” is not reviewable on direct appeal. Section 65-01-16(7),N.D.C.C., does not provide that a determination the request is untimely orinsufficient may not be reheard or appealed. Rather, it is the”administrative order” under the statute which is final and may not bereheard or appealed if the request for rehearing is not timely or sufficient.The “administrative order” is the order issued on the merits by the Bureauafter a request for reconsideration from the Bureau’s informal review.N.D.C.C. � 65-01-16(5). The “rehearing” provided in section 65-01-16(7),N.D.C.C., is in reality a request for a formal hearing, which is to beconducted under the provisions of N.D.C.C. ch. 28-32. N.D.C.C. �65-01-16(8). See also Steele v. North Dakota Workmen’s Comp. Bur.,273 N.W.2d 692 (N.D. 1978) (holding a formal hearing is requiredwhenever Bureau acts in a quasi-judicial capacity). Therefore, while thestatute does prohibit an appeal of the merits of the Bureau order if notimely and sufficient request for rehearing is made, the statute does notprohibit an appeal challenging the Bureau’s determination the request forrehearing was insufficient. [�12] Our construction of the statute is supported by the Bureau’s owninterpretation. The Bureau in its brief to this Court not only concededLende still applies but argued if “Frank is correct in her assertions as tothe adequacy of her request for rehearing, she should have appealed todistrict court.” The construction of a statute by an administrative agencycharged with its execution is entitled to weight and we will defer to areasonable interpretation of that agency unless it contradicts clear andunambiguous statutory language. E.g., Lee v. North Dakota WorkersComp. Bureau, 1998 ND 218, �11, 587 N.W.2d 423. Under Lende, Frankhad the right to directly appeal to the district court, but failed to do so andinstead sought a writ of mandamus. [�13] Although exhaustion of remedies is not required if exhaustion wouldbe futile, Tracy v. Central Cass Public School, 1998 ND 12, � 13, 574N.W.2d 781, or if a case involves only the interpretation of anunambiguous statute, Medcenter One v. North Dakota State Board ofPharmacy, 1997 ND 54, � 21, 561 N.W.2d 634, neither exception appliesunder the facts of this case. Because Frank had a plain, speedy andadequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, we conclude the districtcourt did not abuse its discretion in denying Frank’s petition for analternative writ of mandamus. III [�14] The judgment is affirmed. [�15] William A. Neumann Mary Muehlen Maring Carol Ronning Kapsner Dale V. Sandstrom Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. :::FOOTNOTES::: FN1 1. The Legislature in 1999 amended N.D.C.C. � 65-01-16. See 1999N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 553. Effective July 1, 1999, N.D.C.C. �65-01-16(12) provides “[t]his section is effective for all orders anddecisions on all claims regardless of the date of injury or the date theclaim was filed.”
Baier v. North Dakota Workers Compensation Bureau IN THE SUPREME COURT STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA 1999 ND 183 Filed Sep. 22, 1999 Deborah Frank, Petitioner and Appellant v. Patrick Traynor, as Executive Director of the North Dakota WorkersCompensation Bureau, Respondent and Appellee No. 990013 Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central JudicialDistrict, the Honorable Thomas J. Schneider, Judge. AFFIRMED. Opinion of the Court by Neumann, Justice. Stephen D. Little, Dietz, for petitioner and appellant. Brent J. Edison, Special Assistant Attorney General, for respondent and appellee. Frank v. North Dakota Workers Compensation Bureau
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