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Simpson v. Lewis

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

February 16, 1995

DONALD SIMPSON Petitioner
v.
LEWIS AND CLARK COUNTY Respondent/Insurer/Employer.

          DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Mike McCarter, Judge

         Summary: Individual performing community service work as part of a deferred criminal sentence hurt his back when a light bulb fixture fell and knocked him down. He challenged the limitation of benefits under section 39-71-118(f), MCA (1991) as denying equal protection, full legal redress, or substantive due process, or as constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

         Held: Section 39-71-118(f), MCA (1991), which limits workers' compensation benefits available to an individual performing community service work under court order, is constitutional. The legislature's decision to provide a more limited benefits package to workers injured while performing court-ordered community service was rationally calculated to encourage public agencies and non-profit organizations to participate in community service programs while still affording some protection to the workers (medical benefits and impairment award).

         Topics:

Constitutions, Statutes, Regulations and Rules: Montana Code Annotated: section 39-71-118(f), MCA (1991). Section 39-71-118(f), MCA (1991), which limits workers' compensation benefits available to an individual performing community service work under court order, does not violate constitutional provisions requiring equal protection, full legal redress, or substantive due process, nor does it inflict cruel and unusual punishment. The legislature's decision to provide a more limited benefits package to workers injured while performing court-ordered community service was rationally calculated to encourage public agencies and non-profit organizations to participate in community service programs while still affording some protection to the workers (medical benefits and impairment award).
Constitutional Law: Constitutional Challenges: Full Redress. Section 39-71-118(f), MCA (1991), which limits workers' compensation benefits available to an individual performing community service work under court order, does not violate constitutional provisions requiring equal protection, full legal redress, or substantive due process, nor does it inflict cruel and unusual punishment. The legislature's decision to provide a more limited benefits package to workers injured while performing court-ordered community service was rationally calculated to encourage public agencies and non-profit organizations to participate in community service programs while still affording some protection to the workers (medical benefits and impairment award).
Constitutional Law: Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Section 39-71-118(f), MCA (1991), which limits workers' compensation benefits available to an individual performing community service work under court order, does not violate constitutional provisions requiring equal protection, full legal redress, or substantive due process, nor does it inflict cruel and unusual punishment. The legislature's decision to provide a more limited benefits package to workers injured while performing court-ordered community service was rationally calculated to encourage public agencies and non-profit organizations to participate in community service programs while still affording some protection to the workers (medical benefits and impairment award).
Constitutional Law: Due Process: Substantive Due Process. Section 39-71-118(f), MCA (1991), which limits workers' compensation benefits available to an individual performing community service work under court order, does not violate constitutional provisions requiring equal protection, full legal redress, or substantive due process, nor does it inflict cruel and unusual punishment. The legislature's decision to provide a more limited benefits package to workers injured while performing court-ordered community service was rationally calculated to encourage public agencies and non-profit organizations to participate in community service programs while still affording some protection to the workers (medical benefits and impairment award).
Constitutional Law: Equal Protection. Section 39-71-118(f), MCA (1991), which limits workers' compensation benefits available to an individual performing community service work under court order, does not violate constitutional provisions requiring equal protection, full legal redress, or substantive due process, nor does it inflict cruel and unusual punishment. The legislature's decision to provide a more limited benefits package to workers injured while performing court-ordered community service was rationally calculated to encourage public agencies and non-profit organizations to participate in community service programs while still affording some protection to the workers (medical benefits and impairment award).
Employment: Community Service. Section 39-71-118(f), MCA (1991), which limits workers' compensation benefits available to an individual performing community service work under court order, does not violate constitutional provisions requiring equal protection, full legal redress, or substantive due process, nor does it inflict cruel and unusual punishment. The legislature's decision to provide a more limited benefits package to workers injured while performing court-ordered community service was rationally calculated to encourage public agencies and non-profit organizations to participate in community service programs while still affording some protection to the workers (medical benefits and impairment award).

         The present case requires the Court to determine whether the different treatment accorded under the Montana Workers' Compensation Act to workers performing court-ordered community service is constitutional. At issue is a 1991 amendment to section 39-71-118(f), MCA. As amended, the section provides:

Employee, worker, workman and volunteer firefighter defined. (1) The terms "employee", "workman", or "worker" means:
(f) a person, other than a juvenile as defined in subsection (1)(b), performing community service for a nonprofit organization or association or for a federal, state, or local government entity under a court order, or an order from a hearings officer as a result of a probation or parole violation, whether or not under appointment or contract of hire with an employer as defined in this chapter and whether or not receiving payment from a third party. For a person covered by the definition in this subsection (f):
(i) compensation benefits must be limited to medical expenses pursuant to 39-71-704 and an impairment award pursuant to 39-71-703 that is based upon the minimum wage established under Title 39, chapter 3, part 4, for a full-time employee at the time of the injury; . . .

See 1991 Montana Laws, ch. 813, § 2. Petitioner, who was injured while performing court-ordered community service, challenges the law on various constitutional grounds.

         The facts underlying the petitioner's constitutional challenge are not in dispute and the parties have presented the matter for final decision by way of respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment. The motion requests the Court to find the statute constitutional. In resisting the motion, the petitioner requests the Court to find the statute unconstitutional.

         Factual Background

         The summary judgment motion is based on the pleadings, a Stipulation of Facts, medical records of the petitioner, and legislative history of section 39-71-118(f), MCA. The legislative history is attached to respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         The petitioner, Donald Simpson, pled guilty to a criminal charge and was sentenced to perform forty (40) hours of community service as part of a deferred sentence arrangement. He was discharging his community service sentence by performing work at the City/County Building in Helena when on March 11, 1992, he was struck by a falling fluorescent light fixture. He fell and hit his tailbone, injuring his back. Since then he has suffered low-back pain. He has been treated by various physicians, ultimately by Dr. Allen Weinert, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Dr. Weinert diagnosed petitioner as suffering from "spondylolysis at the L5-S1 level with grade I spondylolisthesis." He has limited petitioner "to work at the light medium physical demand level." As of June 21, 1993, petitioner had reached maximum healing.

         At the time of his accident, the petitioner was a full-time student at Helena Vocational Technical School. He had completed one-year of a two-year course in auto mechanics. He was also employed for sixteen (16) hours a week as a janitor at Shodair Hospital in Helena, earning $5.60 per hour. He claims that as a result of his back injury he is unable to continue with his schooling in auto mechanics and is unable to perform his job at Shodair Hospital.

         The County has paid the petitioner's medical bills and an impairment award. Based on section 39-71-118(f), MCA, it has denied liability for any further benefits.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The issues presented in this case are legal ones. The stipulated facts demonstrate petitioner's standing to challenge the statute in question and both parties agree that summary judgment is appropriate. They disagree only as to which party is entitled to judgment. Therefore, the Court will omit any discussion of summary judgment rules and procedures.

         DISCUSSION

         Jurisdiction and Nature of Constitutional Review

         The Workers' Compensation Court has jurisdiction to decide constitutional questions. State ex rel. Uninsured Employers' Fund v. Hunt,191 Mont. 514, 625 P.2d 539 (1980); McClanathan v. Smith,186 Mont. 56, 606 P.2d 507 (1980). Thus, the ...


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