Daily Decisions: Jurisdiction is Jurisdictional

There’s a lot of build up and procedural background in Magee v. Rite Aid (Division 1, January 17, 2012) (published April 23, 2012), but in the end it’s all just sound and fury signifying, well… not nothing, but not much. In the end, the Court of Appeals held that the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (“Board”) has subject matter jurisdiction over any workers’ compensation-related matter, regardless of whether that matter is beyond the Board’s proper scope of review. If the Board decides a workers’ comp issue outside of its scope of review, such a decision may be an error of law, but it is not a jurisdictional error. Accordingly, a party’s failure to challenge such an error on review (either to the Superior Court of the Court of Appeals) constitutes the waiver of any claim that the Board’s decision was outside the scope of review.

The facts of the case are disturbing. Marcia Magee worked at Rite Aid until 2001, when she resigned. In 2004 she filed for workers’ comp claiming that she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her supervisor over a period of months spanning 2000 and 2001. In a footnote, the Court provided some background on Magee’s claims: She previously filed a complaint with the police, who investigated but concluded that she “never physically attempted to stop the sex acts from occurring and she never verbalized her unwillingness except to tell him that the sex was not good and that he had caused medical problems with his rough ways.” No charges were filed.

So that is what Magee suffered at work. She claimed that she was harmed by this conduct and that it constituted either a “disease” or an “injury” under the workers’ comp system. The distinction is relevant for, among other reasons, statute of limitations purposes. A claim must be filed either (a) within one year, for an injury, or (b) within two years from the date of notice from a medical professional, for a disease.

Before we get into this procedural background, you should keep in mind that none of the following is direct procedural background for this appeal. Okay, so the Department of Labor (“DOL”) denied Magee’s request because she was outside the one-year SOL for injuries. She appealed. Following a conference of all parties, the Industrial Appeals Judge (“IAJ”) determined that the issues on appeal were (a) whether Magee met the one-yeardeadline for injury claims and (b) whether Rite Aid failed to report an on-the-job injury.

But at the hearing, there was testimony related to both injury- and disease-related theories of the claim. Accordingly, after the hearing, the IAJ decided not only the injury issue, but the disease issue as well, concluding that Magee missed the one-year injury deadline and that the sexual assaults did not constitute a “disease.” So Magee appealed to the Board, which also decided that she had missed the one-year deadline and that the assaults were not a disease. The Superior Court affirmed the Board’s decision; the Court of Appeals affirmed the Superior Court; the Supreme Court denied review.

And that was that… until 2008, when Magee went back to the DOL to request a determination whether she was entitled to benefits under the “disease” theory. She claimed that because the parties had agreed to a limited review of issues before the Board, the Board did not have authority to determine the “disease” question. The DOL, the IAJ, the Board, and the Superior Court, on a second round of review, all rejected this argument.

So did the Court of Appeals. While the Court recognized that it may have been error for the Board to decide the “disease” question, any such error would not have been jurisdictional. “[A] tribunal lacks subject matter jurisdiction only when it attempts to decide a type of controversy over which it has no authority to adjudicate.”

The Board has authority to decide workers’ comp issues. Accordingly, it had subject matter jurisdiction over the “disease” issue. If Magee thought that the Board exceeded its authority in reaching that question, she needed to raise that issue on appeal to the Superior Court the first time around. But she didn’t. So she can’t collaterally attack it.




One thought on “Daily Decisions: Jurisdiction is Jurisdictional

  1. Pingback: Monday (or Wednesday) Morning (or Evening) Mash-up: May 2, 2012 | Ziff Blog

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