Holmberg v. Division of Risk Management

In Holmberg v. Division of Risk Management, 796 P.2d 823 (Alaska 1990), the supreme court ruled that the State Division of Risk Management was not in privity with the State Division of Retirement and Benefits. That case arose when Holmberg, a former employee of the Division of Risk Management, applied to the Workers' Compensation Board for occupational disability benefits. The Division of Risk Management disputed her claim, and the Workers' Compensation Board ruled in Risk Management's favor on Holmberg's claim for permanent total disability benefits. Holmberg then appealed to the superior court. While Holmberg's appeal was pending, the Public Employee's Retirement Board (in a separate administrative proceeding) awarded Holmberg occupational disability benefits based on its determination that Holmberg was, in fact, permanently and totally disabled as a result of injuries she sustained at work. After the Retirement Board issued this ruling, Holmberg apprised the superior court of the Retirement Board's action, and she raised a claim of collateral estoppel. That is, Holmberg argued that the Division of Risk Management was now precluded from contesting her permanent occupational disability because another arm of state government (the Retirement Board) had decided this issue in her favor. After the superior court rejected Holmberg's collateral estoppel claim, she appealed to the supreme court. The supreme court concluded that the Workers' Compensation Board was not bound by the Retirement Board's decision because the two divisions of state government involved in the litigation -- the Division of Risk Management and the Division of Retirement and Benefits -- were not in privity. The court explained that, in the proceedings before the Retirement Board, the Division of Retirement and Benefits had not appeared as an adversary or an advocate representing the State against Holmberg, but rather as the arm of state government charged with administering the Public Employees Retirement System.