Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court

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Utah Code 34A-2-417(2)(a)(ii), a provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA) that limits the time an injured worker has to prove a claim, is a statute of repose but is nevertheless constitutional under the Open Courts Clause of the Utah Constitution. Section 34A-2-417(2)(a)(ii) provides that an employee claiming compensation for a workplace injury must prove that he or she is due the compensation claimed within twelve years from the date of the accident. Petitioners filed claims to receive permanent total disability benefits more than twelve years after the original workplace accident that led to their injuries. Petitioners’ claims were dismissed as untimely under the statute. In petitioning for review, Petitioners argued that the statute acts as a statute of repose and is unconstitutional under the Open Courts Clause. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 34A-2-417(2)(a)(ii) is a statute of repose but withstands Open Courts Clause scrutiny. View "Waite v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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Utah Code 35-1-65, which provides that an injured worker who is temporarily totally disabled shall not receive compensation benefits over a period of eight years from the date of the injury, does not operate as an unconstitutional statute of repose under the Open Courts Clause of the Utah Constitution. Petitioner suffered a back injury while working for the Granite School District in 1982. An impartial medical panel concluded that Petitioner’s injury was the medical cause of a subsequent surgery in 2014, but an administrative law judge (ALJ) with the Utah Labor Commission denied Petitioner’s request for temporary total disability compensation on the ground that more than eight years had elapsed since the date of the injury. The Appeals Board of the Commission affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 35-1-64 does not abrogate any previously existing remedy and so is not subject to an Open Courts Clause challenge; and (2) the Workers’ Compensation Act is an adequate substitute remedy for Petitioner’s common law tort of action. View "Petersen v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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In this splintered opinion, two justices would affirm in part and reverse in part the final order of the Labor Commission, two justices would affirm, and one justice would vacate and remand. Therefore, the order the Commission stood as issued. Appellee claimed workers’ compensation benefits against her employer for injuries she sustained while working. Appellee’s employer and its insurers initially paid Appellee’s benefits but later concluded that Appellee’s condition did not constitute a compensable accident under the Workers’ Compensation Act but was rather an occupational disease under the Occupational Disease Act. An administrative law judge (ALJ) disagreed and found in favor of Appellee, concluding that the employer was subject to ongoing liability for Appellee’s injuries, which were caused by a workplace accident under a theory of “cumulative trauma.” The Commission upheld the ALJ’s decision in its final order. In dispute in this opinion was the effect of the 1991 amendments to the Occupational Disease Act on the Workers’ Compensation Act. View "Rueda v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, which set aside the order of the Labor Commission concluding that Respondent had failed to make out a permanent total disability claim against her former employer, the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Hospital. The Commission reversed the order of an administrative law judge (ALJ), which awarded Respondent permanent total disability benefits. In denying Respondent’s application for permanent total disability benefits, the Commission concluded that Respondent had failed to show that she was limited in her ability to do basic work activities. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Respondent was not limited in her ability to perform basic work activities because her impairments did not “reasonably” limit her. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the Commission’s order denying Respondent’s application for permanent total disability benefits, holding (1) both the court of appeals and the Commission misstated the burden of proof on the “other work reasonably available” element of a permanent total disability claim; and (2) the court of appeals erred in reversing the Commission’s determination that Respondent was limited in her ability to do basic work activities. View "Quast v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the order of the Labor Commission denying Respondent’s application for permanent total disability benefits under Utah Code 34A-2-413, the permanent total disability portion of the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Commission denied the application based on Respondent’s failure to prove two elements of a permanent total disability claim. The Supreme Court held (1) the court of appeals erred in its interpretation of section 34A-2-413(1)(c)(ii); (2) the court of appeals misallocated the burden of proof and improperly considered information not contained in the record in reversing the Commission’s determination that Respondent failed to prove the “essential functions” element of a permanent total disability claim; and (3) the Commission correctly denied Respondent’s application for permanent total disability benefits. View "Oliver v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was seriously injured during the course of his employment with Defendant. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Defendant’s negligence caused his injuries. Defendant moved for summary judgment asserting that it was immune from suit under the exclusive remedy provision of the Utah Workers’ Compensation Act. The district court granted the motion, determining that Defendant qualified for immunity under the “eligible employer” statute. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Defendant did not “secure the payment” of workers’ compensation benefits for Plaintiff as required by the statute. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant qualified as an “eligible employer” under the workers’ compensation statutes and fulfilled all of the statutory requirements. View "Nichols v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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John Dorsey filed a series of unemployment claims for time periods when he was in Mexico during the offseason of his employment at a Utah resort. Because he was considered a seasonal employee Dorsey was granted a deferral from the requirement of search for work as a prerequisite to eligibility for benefits. The Department of Workforce Services later concluded that Dorsey had been ineligible to receive unemployment benefits during his trips to Mexico under its rule deeming unemployment claimants ineligible for benefits if they travel outside the United States for more than two weeks. The Workforce Appeals Board affirmed. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Department's rule as extended to a seasonal worker not required to search for work is incompatible with the governing statutory position; and (2) because Dorsey was “able” and “available” for work he was eligible for unemployment benefits under the statute. View "Dorsey v. Dep't of Workforce Servs." on Justia Law

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Kelly Colvin was killed in an automobile accident while returning to Utah from a work project in Maryland. The accident occurred when Colvin was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his coworker, Joseph Giguere. Colvin’s widow and son sued Giguere, claiming that Colvin’s death was proximately caused by Giguere’s negligent driving. Giguere moved for summary judgment, asserting that the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act barred this suit because the accident occurred in the course of his and Colvin’s employment. The district court agreed and granted Giguere’s motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the accident occurred while Colvin and Giguere were carrying out a special errand for their employer, this action was barred under the Act’s exclusive remedy provision. View "Colvin v. Giguere" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, employees of Kane County Hospital, sued various parties, including Utah Retirement Systems (URS), based on the Hospital’s alleged failure to adequately fund their retirement benefits as required by the Utah State Retirement and Insurance Benefit Act (“Act”). Before Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, URS initiated an administrative proceeding against the Hospital, pursuant to the Act, seeking recovery of unpaid benefit contributions for Hospital employees. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims for lack of jurisdiction because Plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies. The court of appeals reversed and ordered that the case be stayed pending resolution of URS’s administrative action against the Hospital, concluding that it was impossible to ascertain which claims were subject to the exhaustion requirement until the pending administrative action was resolved. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that it lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims based on their failure to exhaust their administrative remedies because all of the claims fell within the scope of the Act and none of the exceptions to exhaustion applied. View "Ramsay v. Kane County Human Res. Special Serv. Dist." on Justia Law

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The Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division (UOSH) cited and fined Hughes General Contractors, which oversaw a construction project involving over 100 subcontractors, for a subcontractor’s violation on the project. In determining that Hughes was responsible for safety conditions for the subcontractor’s employees, the UOSH invoked the multi-employer worksite doctrine, which makes a general contractor responsible for the occupational safety of all workers on a worksite, including those who are not the contractor’s employees. Both an administrative law judge and the Labor Commission’s Appeals Board upheld the citation and the multi-employer worksite doctrine, which federal OSHA regulations have adopted and federal courts have upheld. The Supreme Court reversed the citation and penalty, holding (1) the multi-employer worksite doctrine is incompatible with the governing Utah statute, Utah Code 34A-6-201(1; (2) the responsibility for ensuring occupational safety under the governing statute is limited to an employer’s responsibility to its employees; and (3) because Hughes was not an employer of the workers in question in this case, Hughes was improperly cited and sanctioned. View "Hughes Gen. Contractors, Inc. v. Utah Labor Comm'n" on Justia Law