Monday, September 10, 2018

New Book from the American Bar Association, Addressing Mediation, Features Workers' Compensation Chapter by Duff & Torrey

 

            Workers’ compensation practice, as in many other areas of law, has been impacted significantly by the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) movement of the last few decades. Judge David Torrey and Professor Michael Duff (writers of this blog) explore this issue in a chapter of the new ABA book, Resolving Insurance Claim Disputes Before Trial (2018) (edited by Timothy H. Penn & Judith F. Goodman).

            The chapter reviews this growth of workers’ compensation ADR, summarizes the law and practice of mediation and other ADR devices in select states, and explores practical considerations which are essential to the workers’ compensation field. The chapter concludes with a table setting forth the authorities supporting ADR in the various states.

           The authors do not, in detail, discuss the fine mechanics of ADR – as to such mechanics, the authors recommend another superlative American Bar Association book, Representing Clients in Mediation (2013), by Florida mediator Spencer Punnett.

            Of course, an irony exists in this discussion. In many respects, workers’ compensation itself represented the first national experiment in alternative dispute resolution. In the early twentieth century, of course, a broad national consensus existed that the formal tort litigation system was not working well for employees or employers. In order to address the perceived litigation dysfunction, stakeholders participated in development of a state-based no-fault workers’ compensation system as an alternative to tort litigation. That system is now roughly a century old in most states.

            Despite the noble intentions of the founders of workers’ compensation statutes, adjudication in the system has become more complex, even though the system operates primarily in state administrative agencies meant to provide simplified processes. Because of this complexity, and because of increasing costs,* workers’ compensation writ large has joined the ADR movement, and ADR structures – most prominently, mediation – have become much more prevalent than in the past.  Indeed, by 2014 the influential Chief Florida Judge, David Langham, declared, “There is a developing trend in workers’ compensation. Mediation is becoming the norm rather than the exception.” He echoed the assertions of a Washington, D.C. judge who, in 2010, authored a meticulous review of “revitalized” mediation programs in several states.  These assertions ring true, as borne out by recent events. The new Tennessee administrative court system features mandatory mediation, and Connecticut and Rhode Island have just recently instituted voluntary mediation programs as well.    

            Of course, a properly-functioning state agency has, for a century, been said to be one which is pro-active in avoiding disputes in the first place.  (The scholar Timothy Schmidle suggested this point to me at the outset of the project.)  Under this advocacy, agencies monitor carrier conduct and compliance and aggressively provide information to injured workers. Were this plan to work, both litigation and ADR (which is the subject of the Torrey & Duff chapter) could be avoided. 

            A modern classic of this advocacy is John F. Burton, Jr. & Monroe Berkowitz, Paean to an Active Workers’ Compensation Agency, John Burton’s Workers’ Compensation Monitor, p.1 (Sept.-Oct. 1989) (stating, among other things, “The prevalence of litigation … is, in our view, a reflection of how poorly the workers’ compensation agencies are doing their job.”).  Maine is a jurisdiction (among several) which maintains such a system, employing claims resolution specialists to “troubleshoot” in advance of disputes.  Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, meanwhile, maintain telephone helplines to answer injured worker and employer questions.  Kentucky, for its part, employs ombudsmen.  Texas, meanwhile, maintains an Office of Injured Employee Counsel. See https://www.oiec.texas.gov/.  

***

 

 * Writers Orin Kramer and Richard Briffault, in the insurance industry tract Workers Compensation: Strengthening the Social Compact, p.67 (I.I.I. Press 1991), encouraged state administrators to reform dispute resolution via “mandatory settlement conferences, mediation, and arbitration,” in order to reduce costs.   

 

 

September 10, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

New Article Explores Potential Employee Status of Gig Workforce Members via Analogy to ... Exotic Dancers

            In a new article, the author, a  law student, tries to predict how South Carolina courts would rule when a platform intermediary worker alleges, in some employment law context (like workers’ compensation), that he or she is an employee. He undertakes this effort by examining the recent South Carolina precedents treating the employment status of exotic dancers in that state’s gentlemen’s clubs.  Axton D. Crolley, Strippers, Uber Drivers, and Worker Status in South Carolina, 69 South Carolina Law Review 945 (Summer 2018).

              The effort is not as cleverly provocative as it might seem; those cases, one decided under the Workers’ Compensation Act and the others under the FLSA, all involved defendant arguments that the exotic dancer plaintiffs were independent contractors and not employees. However intriguing the subject occupation, the cases are apparently the latest in the state to explore this essential dichotomy.

            As for the workers’ compensation case, which animated many an industry listserv – and clucking of disapproving tongues – a couple years ago, see Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty, 770 S.E.2d 393 (S.C. 2015) (exotic dancer, severely injured by stray bullet in the midst of work, was employee, not independent contractor, of hiring club; this was so notwithstanding the fact that dancer undertook her performances at several unrelated clubs).        

            Of note is the fact that South Carolina law is like that of  most states, as control, or the right to control, forms the basis of the critical analysis. The author, indeed, reports that it was the courts’ consecutive discernments of sufficient control on the club’s part that yielded, in all three cases, the legal conclusion that employment on the part of the dancers existed.

             The author feels constrained to predict that, given this analysis, a South Carolina court would consider workers like Uber drivers to be employees, not independent contractors. The author, seemingly sympathetic to his state‘s desire to create a “business-friendly” environment, is dissatisfied with this prospect.

            In his view, to limit the number of platform intermediary laborers from being deemed employees, South Carolina courts should emphasize, in the control analysis, the already existing sub-criterion of the worker’s “economic reality.” He suggests that when this constituent aspect of the South Carolina control analysis is emphasized, workers like Uber drivers are less likely to be found employees.

August 30, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Recent Death of Senator John McCain Recalls the USS Forrestal Fire, Navy Efforts at Safety Aboard Warships

 

            The media is full of news accounts right now of the death (Aug. 25, 2018) of Arizona Senator John McCain, a dynamic figure and a hero of the Vietnam War. McCain’s death brought to this writer’s mind the 1967 fire aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Forrestal (named for the first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, a heroic figure in his own right), a disaster in which 134 officers and sailors died, with McCain, then a young naval aviator, barely escaping death.

            An account of the fire and its aftermath can be found in the top-notch Sailors to the End (Perennial 2002), a book at once riveting and educational, by author Gregory A. Freeman.  I have recommended this book in the past to colleagues in the workers' compensation and industrial safety fields.

            Freeman explains how the Forrestal was, on July 29, 1967, preparing to launch attacks into North Vietnam when one of its jets accidentally fired a rocket into an aircraft occupied by McCain, its pilot. A huge fire ensued, and McCain barely escaped before a 1000-pound bomb on his plane exploded, causing a chain reaction with other bombs on nearby aircraft. The crew struggled for days to extinguish the fires but, in the end, the tragedy took the lives of 134 men.

            This writer has been told by navy officer colleagues that the Forrestal fire is a subject of study by new naval officers as shipboard safety consciousness is considered.

            And, indeed, according to one new internet account, the fire “was taken as a teachable moment for the Navy, demonstrating how much care has to be exercised to prevent such a catastrophe and what damage control training was required to be able to defeat the flames and explosions when everything goes wrong.” https://hotair.com/archives/2018/08/26/lt-cmdr-john-mccain-literal-fire/.

August 29, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 27, 2018

"Workforce ... or 'Taskforce'"? Jeremias Prassl, in New Book, "Humans as a Service," Explains the Law and Machinations of Gig Work via Labor Platform Intermediaries

            In a new book, British Law Professor Jeremias Prassl analyzes the gig economy with a focus on the workers who actually labor in the gig workforce – and with an eye on the dignity and rights of such workers.  Humans as a Service: The Promise and Perils of Work in the Gig Economy (Oxford University Press 2018).    

            Prassl accepts that new forms of business enterprises, like Uber, Lyft, and Taskrabbit have changed the nature of business, but he rejects the proposition that work itself needs to be examined differently. He shows that models of work in the gig economy find predecessors in the history of work relationships. As a result, caution is required in the analysis of whether the gig economy has truly changed the nature of work. Prassl, after showing that the purported innovation of platforms reflects old models of work, that enterprises like Uber retain control over its workers, and that much gig economy lingo is in fact “doublespeak” that clouds the critical analysis, argues that familiar Anglo-American precepts of employment law should apply to work in the gig economy.

            Much is to be learned by the workers’ compensation specialist from Prassl’s book. He explains the nature and economics of the gig economy; how gig economy enterprises disingenuously seek to rebrand work as some innovation, the better to ward off regulators; and how laughable the idea is that most workers in the gig economy are autonomous entrepreneurs. Prassl also explains in detail that gig economy enterprises resemble the commercial labor intermediaries that have been with us since the 19th century, abetted in the present day by advanced communications.

           On this point, Prassl asserts that, just as other labor intermediaries are subject to employment law, so should gig workforce enterprises. Prassl concludes his book by emphasizing that the wealth of enterprises like Uber comes at a societal cost – it is fine, for example, to create fleets of independent contractors to prowl the streets en masse 24/7, but when unemployment or injury occurs, it is the taxpayers who will likely pay the cost.  

            Prassl’s book is, to my knowledge, the first by an employment law scholar to comprehensively take on the issue of work in this specialized sector of the gig economy. His insights and manner of argument will be familiar to the lawyer-reader, but this book is also a manifesto at once exposing and rejecting a modern example of the unsatisfactory commodification of labor.

            For me, the analysis brought context and will inform my reasoning as a judge – and as a member of the public.  I read it twice to make sure I have a mastery of the text.  Fortunately it is nicely written and flawlessly edited.  My full review (a kind of Cliff's Notes) may be found at www.davetorrey.info.

 

August 27, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

New Scholarship by Professor Gary Spitko on Platform Labor Intermediaries, Quality Control, and the Franchisor-Franchisee Analogy

            A significant legal literature is developing addressing the gig workforce and employment law.

            In a new article, an example of such scholarship, the author argues that one aspect of platform intermediary oversight of its workers, to wit, service quality standards – as enforced chiefly by consumer follow-up ratings – should not be held by courts to reflect control sufficient to establish an employer-employee relationship.  Gary Spitko, A Structural-Purposive Interpretation of "Employment" in the Platform Economy, 70 Florida Law Review 409 (March 2018), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2945130.  (The author teaches at Santa Clara University School of Law.)

            Quality control standards, the author argues, “promote trust between the platform consumers and provider” and “benefit the platform operator, consumer, and provider.” This critical aspect of value attendant to platform-provided services will be defeated if quality control is to equal control sufficient to establish employment. Indeed, were this to be the law, the platform “operator is more likely to forgo the right to impose such standards.”

            The author says that the franchisor-franchisee relationship serves as an example of a business relationship whereby one enterprise exerts quality control standards but does not, under most analyses, become the employer of the franchisee. (Of course, in my state, Pennsylvania, our middle-level appeals court came to this conclusion in a leading workers’ compensation case where it held, specifically, that the employee of a franchisee – which failed to secure insurance – was not the "statutory employee" of the franchisor.  See Salad Works, LLC v. WCAB (Gaudioso & UEGF), 124 A.3d 790 (Pa. Commw. 2015)).

             The author’s footnotes are a treasure-trove of citations to recent articles (2016-2017) on the gig economy and employment law, as well as the law surrounding the franchisor-franchisee relationship. 

August 26, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

My Newest Workers' Compensation Article on the Scope of the Grand Bargain

I have just reached agreement with the Tulsa Law Review to publish a workers' compensation article in its spring 2019 issue. Here is the abstract:

During the second and third decades of the twentieth century, the U. S. Supreme Court issued a handful of opinions rejecting 14th Amendment constitutional challenges by employers to implementation of workers’ compensation statutes in the United States. Unknown to many, the statutes were largely the fruit of privately-sponsored investigations, principally by the Russell Sage Foundation and the National Association of Manufacturers, of European workers’ compensation systems during the first decade of the twentieth century. Some of those systems had been in existence since the 1870s and 1880s, and many employers preferred them to newly-emerging American employer liability statutes that retained tort liability while eliminating many or all affirmative defenses. The Minnesota Employees’ Compensation Commission and the National Civic Federation (NCF) catalyzed the national conversation on workers’ compensation from 1909-1911, and it was an NCF lawyer who was substantially responsible for a draft that became the first workers’ compensation statute upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional.

Contrary to the view held by some, the foundational Supreme Court opinions constitutionally authorizing the workers’ compensation “Grand Bargain”—statutory benefits for tort damages—set no workers’ compensation benefit floor. The article parses the opinions to emphasize the point, and then goes on to explore the context of what seems a strange omission. Ultimately, the article concludes that the Court “deferred,” sub silentio, to the private bodies of experts who had been investigating, reporting, and deliberating upon the European systems. The difficulty with the Court’s approach is that little has been left to posterity explaining what scale of employee benefits the Court might have deemed inadequate or unreasonable as an exchange for employee tort damages. The pregnant silence on federal constitutional boundaries continues to impact current discussions on limits to legislative reductions of workers’ compensation benefits. This absence of an explicit benefit floor should give pause to proponents of schemes seeking to export the workers’ compensation model to other legal regimes.    

    A link to a reasonably polished draft but not finalized version of the piece can be found here.

 

Michael C. Duff

 

August 25, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Creative Commons Workers’ Compensation Law Treatise for Students, Newer Practitioners, and Others

I’m excited to announce that the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction’s (CALI) eLangdell textbook division has agreed to publish the first Wyoming Workers’ Compensation treatise. This creative commons/open source concept will allow anyone to access the treatise online at no charge. A bound .pdf can be obtained very inexpensively from Lulu Publishers for those requiring a hard copy.

This will be the first state-specific title eLangdell has published. The core of my advocacy for the project was two-fold.

First, as law schools continue their collective push to become “experiential,” working harder and harder to get students as close to “practice-ready” as possible by graduation, state-specific materials will assume increasing importance. I teach my workers’ compensation course from the multistate text I personally authored. I believe my text does a pedagogically sound job of exposing beginning students to core legal principles. But I could not (and no author could) load up the textbook with the local law of any particular state without driving it to an unreasonable length, expense, and level of complexity not conducive to second and third-year law student learning. A separate, pedagogically-sensitive supplement of local law, on the other hand, gives an instructor a resource to efficiently focus on local rules, where quirks require it. I believe these kinds of back up local law texts will become the norm in the law school market.

Second, in Wyoming a substantial number of students will become involved in workers’ compensation cases early in their careers. I was disappointed at the paucity of Wyoming workers’ compensation secondary materials able to assist newer practitioners in quickly bringing together fundamental principles of Wyoming workers’ compensation law. As I did some preliminary marketing research with my assistants, I was surprised to learn of the number of states that did not possess a treatise. It is my hope that instructors in states without a treatise—both adjuncts and full-time faculty—will be persuaded by my model to explore writing and publishing similarly efficient and accessible workers’ compensation materials that will be helpful to both students and newer practitioners. CALI/eLangdell apparently believes this market may have legs.

I’m about a third of the way through the writing of the manuscript. I will keep folks apprised of the progress of the manuscript and distribute links to the finished text.        

 

Michael C. Duff

August 16, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Thinking Clearly about the Quid Pro Quo

I wanted to make some comments about the recent Kansas quid pro quo case, Johnson v. U.S. Food Serv. I won’t repeat the facts here—it is enough to know that a permanent impairment benefit was significantly reduced under the 6th edition of the AMA Guides as compared to what it would have been under the earlier 4th edition of the Guides; and the Kansas intermediate appellate court plurality reviewing the award found the reduction to be a bridge too far – a violation of the quid pro quo (I have written on such incremental-erosional theories here).

Attentive readers will have noted that the underlying challenge was brought under both Kansas state quid pro quo law and a 14th amendment (of the U.S. Constitution) due process theory.  Although the opinion discusses the old (1917) N.Y. Central R. Co. v. White case (in general terms), the court did not find that the benefit reduction violated federal due process.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my summer reading and very closely analyzing cases like White, Mountain Timber, the Arizona Copper/Liability cases, and Krinsky (I’m currently shopping an article around to the law reviews on the deep back story of these cases – stay tuned). I’ll save you a lot of time by giving the shortest version I can of what the cases said:

“Yes, states may implement workers’ comp (or employer liability statutes) despite what some employers argue about 14th amendment deprivations of property or interference with contract.  Thank goodness (!), however, we don’t have to decide the boundaries for how low employee benefits can go in the quid pro quo (before there might be a constitutional problem) because what we are looking at here obviously does not approach that floor.”  Crickets.

The federal courts of the era certainly did not set up a 14th amendment, substantive due process analysis that might be used to delineate benefit floors. Nothing like substantive due process analysis/theory yet existed in the 1910s. In fact, the whole idea of applying “strict scrutiny” for legislative infringement of “fundamental” rights ( a step of modern federal substantive due process analysis) did not begin to  crystallize until the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in  United States v. Carolene Products Co. (1938). Of course, even to get that far under the modern theory, the exchanged tort rights must be deemed “important” or “fundamental” to escape deferential rational basis review, something that has only infrequently happened.  See the now-overturned Smothers v. Gresham Transfer case here. (This will be the real challenge for all federally-based, and most state-based, claimant challenges in the future).

Consider that the 1914 NY workers’ compensation statute upheld in White provided no ongoing medical benefits for a work-related injury (beyond the first 60 days for first aid). The same was true for many states Download EarlyWorkmensCompensationmedbenefits (probably emulating the 1897/1906 English Act – which became moot in England because national health insurance was established in the UK in 1911, which universally thereafter covered all medical expenses of injured workers—had been the case in Germany since 1884). Kansas provided Download KansasDOLsummaryofearlystatute, total benefits of 50% of the average weekly wage (subject to a pretty low cap) or partial benefits of 50% of wage loss (subject to the same cap), and disability payments in both cases expired after eight years. These are the kinds of austere statutes the U.S. Supremes upheld, and I sometimes think that as a claimant I might prefer to argue they were wrongly decided. (citing Magna Carta). 

Moving beyond the vague federal law, Kansas’s quid pro quo doctrine, uniquely among the states, directly equates substantive due process with quid pro quo, and assigns fundamental, or quasi-fundamental, status to workers’ compensation rights (and implicitly tort rights). Along with Florida, Kansas has some very favorable state constitutional language providing plaintiffs with—at least potentially—some real leverage. But (regrettably, as I see things) what happens in Kansas, probably stays in Kansas. To prevail on quid pro quo grounds most other places, claimants will likely have to avail themselves of other state-based constitutional arguments.   

Michael C. Duff

August 15, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Excellent Article on the Idea of Applying Workers' Comp Type Structures to Med Malpractice

I suspect there is much concerning which Prof. Alexander Volokh and I would disagree, but I cannot heap enough praise on his excellent article, "Medical Malpractice as Workers’ Comp: Overcoming State Constitutional Barriers to Tort Reform," published in the Emory Law Journal earlier this year. I would argue that he has framed the issues surrounding state law constitutionality of tort substitutes (like workers' compensation)  just right. I came across the piece as I was working on my article on workers' compensation benefit adequacy and the prehistory of the 1917 White case, about which more later.  Here is a link to Prof. Volokh's article.  The abstract is below:

This Article discusses the intersection of torts, administrative law, and constitutional law—a surprisingly understudied area, given its importance for modern-day tort reform efforts. In several states, based on perceptions of a medical malpractice liability and insurance crisis, reformers have sought to abolish tort liability for medical malpractice—replacing it with an administrative compensation system not based on negligence and roughly similar to workers’ compensation.

Tort reformers have, in the past, been hindered by state courts that have struck down damages caps and similar reforms on state constitutional theories. Some of the main theories have been state constitutional jury trial rights, access-to-courts rights, and due process/equal protection.

Surprisingly, it turns out that workers’-comp-like administrative systems, though more radical than damages caps and similar reforms, seem to have a better chance of being held constitutional—in part because of their similarities with workers’ comp, which also abolished certain tort actions and replaced them with a non-negligence-based administrative system, and which has been universally held to be constitutional.

This Article analyzes the constitutionality of this sort of administrative compensation system under the Florida, Alabama, and Georgia constitutions, focusing on jury trial rights, access-to-courts rights, and due process/equal protection.

 

Excellent stuff!

 

Michael C. Duff

 

 

August 4, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

“The Tamping Iron Speaks”: Poetry Inspired by a Notorious Work Accident

            Many readers of this blog will be familiar with the name of Phineas Gage, the victim of one of the most remarkable work accidents in history. Gage, who suffered a brain injury, is reliably mentioned in just about every neurology and neuroscience book for the lay public that one can pick up.

            In September 1848, Gage was supervising workers blasting rock in preparation of a roadbed for an early Vermont railway. “Setting a blast” involved a skilled worker boring a hole deep into an out­crop of rock, adding blasting powder and a fuse, and then using a “tamping iron” to tamp sand into the hole above the powder, in effect to make a plug.

            Gage became distracted during the process. According to an accurate Wikipedia summary, “As Gage was [undertaking the process] … his attention was attracted by his men working behind him. Looking over his right shoulder, and inad­vert­ent­ly bringing his head into line with the blast hole, Gage opened his mouth to speak; in that same instant the tamping iron sparked against the rock and (possibly because the sand had been omitted) the powder exploded. Rocketed from the hole, the tamping iron‍ – 114 inches … in diameter, three feet seven inches … long, and weighing 1314 pounds … ‍ – ‌entered the left side of Gage's face in an upward direction, just forward of the angle of the lower jaw. Continuing upward outside the upper jaw and possibly fracturing the cheekbone, it passed behind the left eye, through the left side of the brain, and out the top of the skull through the frontal bone.”

            The amazing aspect of the story of the story is that Gage not only lived, but was able to recover and live a fairly normal life for another twelve years. The loss of significant frontal lobe brain tissue altered his personality severely but did not, as many physicians at the time expected, necessarily result in his death. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage. Gage did ultimately die of brain seizures caused by his injury.

            Although much has been written about Gage, a modernist poem has now been published which is perhaps in its own category – it gives the point of view of the tamping iron which both caused the injury -- and which Gage so famously clung to, after the accident and for the rest of his life. The poem, The Tamping Iron Speaks, authored by Zoe Hitzig, appeared in the June 7, 2018 issue of the London Review of Books. The poem is presumably inspired by her contemplation of the iron, as it is on display, along with Gage’s skull, at a museum at Harvard Medical School (the poet is also an economics Ph.D. candidate at Harvard.)

            For this brief reverie, see https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n11/zoe-hitzig/the-tamping-iron-speaks

July 15, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Nonstandard Work/Work in the True Gig Workforce: An International View, A Pennsylvania View

            Oxford University's Jeremias Prassl has just published what seems to be the first book by a law professor analyzing the gig economy and its relationship to international precepts of modern employment law.  Jeremias Prassl, Humans as a Service: The Promise and Perils of Work in the Gig Economy (Oxford University Press 2018).   

            I'm on my second read-through, and one won't want to miss this item.  It's beautifully written and edited, with revelations on most every page. 

            After describing the current landscape of the gig economy, Prassl asks, "Can we protect consumers and workers without stifling innovation?"  To this query he replies, "As courts and governments around the world begin to grapple with the gig economy, Humans as a Service explores the challenges of on-demand work, and explains how we can ensure decent working conditions, protect consumers, and foster innovation.  Employment law plays a central role in leveling the playing field: gigs, tasks, and rides are work -- and should be regulated as such."

            Just a couple months before Prassl's book came out, I completed my own view of the situation as I see it from Pennsylvania.  I have posted my two papers, presented last month at my agency's educational seminar in Hershey, at www.davetorrey.info.  I have appended to each paper a bibliography for those who wish to do further reading.  These papers were largely inspired by the excellent January 2018 seminar on the topic convened by the National Academy of Social Insurance,  “Nonstandard Work and Social Insurance: Designing Risk Protections for a Changing Workforce.”  Videos of that conference, and all the presentations, are available at https://www.nasi.org/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=228.  

   

July 10, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Debate in N.Y. Over Law Students Appearing in Workers’ Compensation Cases

The New York Workers’ Compensation Board has proposed a rule that would permit “law school graduates and senior law students” to represent any party in interest before the workers’ compensation board “only in those type of matters that have been authorized by the Board and set forth in the approved program . . .”

“Such law interns may, under the general supervision of an attorney, file forms, [and] make applications as required, fully participate in informal adjudicatory proceedings, prepare and enter stipulations other than waiver agreements, [and] appear at hearings before Workers' Compensation Law judges in noncontroverted claims or at such hearings, other than trial hearings, in controverted claims, and prepare and file applications for administrative review and full board review, and rebuttals, as necessary. Such law interns may, under the immediate supervision of an attorney, appear before Workers' Compensation Law judges at trial hearings in controverted claims and at all hearings before board panels, and prepare and enter waiver agreements.”

Some claimants’ attorneys are pretty upset about the proposal. But the Board argues that “such amendments are necessary to decrease the total number of unrepresented claimants appearing in Board proceedings, particularly where no indemnity benefits are sought and the only issue is entitlement to medical treatment. Upon review of current internal records, the Board finds that, in 2016, there were 247 unrepresented claimants with cases pending before the Board, in which the claimant did not seek indemnity benefits.  This number is largely consistent with past years; in 2014 there were 229 such claimants and in 2015 there were 302.  It is the Board’s position that the legal assistance provided by a law school or legal intern will help many of these unrepresented claimants navigate the workers’ compensation law and the adversarial hearing process."

Claimants’ counsel very rightly argue that a law student (or law school graduate -which I assume to mean a recently graduated law student who is not yet gainfully employed or is working pro bono) could not possibly represent an injured worker as ably as experienced counsel. Claimants’ counsel also argue that the real solution is to provide adequate attorneys’ fees for all classes of workers’ compensation cases, and I agree.

As a law professor who practiced law for 11 years (workers’ compensation in Maine and labor law with the federal government), interned with the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents during the second and third years of law school, and handled five SSDI cases before Federal ALJs during the third year of law school, I have a unique perspective on the issue.

Law students face an incredibly difficult job market and law schools are doing everything in their power to gain in-school experiential opportunities for their students. As a workers’ compensation law professor, I would be thrilled for my students to have in-school workers’ compensation experiential opportunities. Students would benefit from the experience generally, and might become attracted longer-term to the practice of workers’ compensation law, an interest I unashamedly try to instill in them.

It is true that law students will not be prepared to take on the most complex cases, and I would suggest that the New York Board be very explicit about defining the types of cases to which law students should not be assigned. Without even thinking too hard about it, one could come up with excludable categories involving multiple carriers on the risk, and cases involving significantly conflicting medical evidence in arcane medical areas. (Obviously, very simple cases do not go to hearing in the first place). But all of this could be managed with reasonably skilled supervision and teaching. I would strongly suggest that the Board stay in close contact with law school clinical instructors, who perform equally delicate balancing acts in areas of law that are (I say respectfully) just as complex as (or more complex than) workers’ compensation. In my law school, for example, we have clinics and practicums in Estate Planning, Trial Practice, Energy Law, International Human Rights/Immigration, Family and Child Legal Advocacy, Criminal Defense and Prosecution Assistance, and Civil Legal Services. Virtually all the students in these law school clinics and practicums have live-client contact or appear before courts and administrative agencies (many have argued before our state supreme court).  And I will note in passing that most folks know that third year medical school students engage in live-patient intern practice.  

Of course, I think attorneys’ fees should be available to practicing attorneys for many, if not all, the kinds of cases that would likely be assigned to students under the rule. And there is no doubt a real risk that state legislators might become too comfortable with the idea of unpaid legal labor once they saw it. But there is a relatively simple partial solution to that problem – the Board should establish with law schools externship (not internship) programs that would both pay students a competitive hourly wage (in comparison with other types of law school work) and simultaneously earn them law school credit. That could create some real goodwill between law students and practicing lawyers. The American Bar Association approved these kinds of paid externships in August 2016 and many law schools have adopted these programs.

As a former nine-year administrative agency lawyer (with the NLRB), I also understand that administrative officials frequently have very little control over what legislators do. At the end of the day, the official is faced with the stark reality that (apparently) hundreds of claimants go without representation. Is it any wonder that administrators would attempt to fix the problem with whatever resources they possess? I would not want to deny an injured worker some representation in what all agree can be a tangled mess of a system. One must be guided here by a higher moral compass.  

One caveat – I do not like the application of the program to “law school graduates” (which appears to be part of the rule).  I am not sure what the phrase means. One hopes the “graduates” will have passed the Bar exam since, unlike the case with students, there is no cap on the duration of such a hire. But in any event, opening such a program to that class of participant really does hint at a shadowy unbounded servitude inappropriately (in my view) sponsored by the state. I would have to know a lot more before I could agree it was a good idea.

Michael C. Duff

July 1, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Don’t Get Hit by or in an Amazon Van

All the issues we have seen emerging from employee classification—or misclassification—were likely to come to a head in the context of a large multistate employer. And Amazon is the perfect catalyst. When Amazon “entrepreneurs” hit someone in an Amazon van—that we will be told really isn’t an Amazon van—and it will assuredly happen, the driver will be hurt, or worse, and so, somewhere (many such somewheres) will a third-party. This is not speculative, it is reasonably foreseeable. So, the question that I pose to every first-year law student at the University of Wyoming College of Law springs to the fore: who is going to pay? Because somebody is going to pay (even if we return de facto to the 19th century and that somebody is the victim). Much of what will play out is excruciatingly predictable.

Amazon had already “Uberized” its “last mile” delivery services through a “platform” structure known as “Amazon Flex.”  Now Amazon has announced a new “Delivery Service Partners” program, described as the company’s attempt to build its own delivery alternative to USPS, FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service and other traditional shipping companies.

“The new program lets anyone run their own package delivery fleet of up to 40 vehicles with up to 100 employees. Amazon works with the entrepreneurs — referred to as ‘Delivery Service Partners’ — and pays them to deliver packages while providing discounts on vehicles, uniforms, fuel, insurance, and more. They operate their own businesses and hire their own employees, though Amazon requires them to offer healthcare, paid time off, and competitive wages. Amazon said entrepreneurs can get started with as low as $10,000 and earn up to $300,000 annually in profit.” 

According to reports, Amazon “now has 7,000 truck trailers and 40 jumbo jets that shuttle packages to and from 125 fulfillment centers across the world.”

To me, all of Amazon’s recent initiatives bespeak a single overriding goal: control. The soft underbelly of the Uber-world is the tension between giving up control, so as not to incur legal liability through use of employees, and the need for control to maintain standards and quality. Amazon’s decision is logical and structural: our “entrepreneurs” and/or their employees will wear Amazon uniforms and drive Amazon trucks (and even fly Amazon jumbo jets); hence we will have more control.

Here comes the excruciating part: Amazon will argue that the scheme is somehow not under their control for purposes of liability. When the onslaught of frenetic activity results in predictable collisions, of one sort or another, it is the “entrepreneur”-employer who will be in control (though Amazon will dictate design of vehicles, provide packages, and set baseline working conditions for employees of those “entrepreneurs.”) If you buy that canard, the next argument will be that the entrepreneur is not an employer because it is dispatching its drivers through a “marketplace.” Politicians will bemoan that the dilution of responsibility is all the result of a “new” economy (‘cuz no one has ever delivered packages before) and propose an insurance system of some type providing pennies on the dollar for what was formerly a tort or workers’ compensation remedy). In the end, all risk is projected into the community as a classic economic “externality.” All the world is a “marketplace,” with no one in control. Ask not, dear reader, on whom the risk falls; it falls on thee!

Michael C. Duff   

June 28, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Hidden Gem in New York Cent. R. Co. v. White (1917)

I would be the first to admit that I can be a hard-head. For years, some very sophisticated people have been trying to convince me that a citizen’s right to be free from invasions of property is hierarchically more important than a citizen’s right to be free from invasions of personal security. Because of that difference in status, the argument continues, the decision by a legislature to whittle away at workers’ compensation benefits (and by inference tort, and by further inference a right to a remedy to protect against invasions of personal security) need only have a “rational basis.”  Obviously, very few decisions by a legislature will lack some rational basis, whatever the legislation’s essential or true motivations. But what if Blackstone is right? What if the right to personal security is “absolute”? I told you I was a hard-head. And maybe that is because I come from a place where invasions of personal security (or fear thereof) are real and omnipresent. For some people, the fear of invasions of personal security is at least as important as guarantees of remedies for property deprivation.

I’m currently working on an article on foundational (early 20th century) understandings of “adequate benefits.” My research has me revisiting and reanalyzing New York Cent. R. Co. v. White,  243 U.S. 188 (1917). White was a case that said it might be doubted that the state could abolish all rights of action, or all defenses without setting up something adequate in their stead. But, said the Court, that situation wasn’t presented in the case at bar, the general quid pro quo made sense given the risks all parties faced in litigation, nothing about the scheme offended the 14th Amendment, and this was not to say that any scale of compensation, however insignificant or onerous would be supportable. But, again, in the case at bar, no one was challenging the amount of compensation. The issue was whether the New York system, which the Court obviously found reasonable, could lawfully be compulsorily applied to objecting employers or employees.

Today, however, my eyes were drawn, as if for the first time, to this passage:

The subject matter in respect of which freedom of contract is restricted is the matter of compensation for human life or limb lost or disability incurred in the course of hazardous employment, and the public has a direct interest in this as affecting the common welfare. ‘The whole is no greater than the sum of all the parts, and when the individual health, safety, and welfare are sacrificed or neglected, the state must suffer.’ . . . . It cannot be doubted that the state may prohibit and punish self-maiming and attempts at suicide; it may prohibit a man from bartering away his life or his personal security; indeed, the right to these is often declared, in bills of rights, to be ‘natural and inalienable;’ and the authority to prohibit contracts made in derogation of a lawfully-established policy of the state respecting compensation for accidental death or disabling personal injury is equally clear.

This language was, of course, responding to the criticism that the (second attempt by New York at a) workers’ compensation statute had unconstitutionally interfered with the right of the employer and employee to contract out of coverage, in this case for extrahazardous occupations. (Essentially, a Lochner argument). The Court’s response was that the right to life or personal security were “natural and inalienable.” In other words, the court essentially said, “we won’t permit contracting out of a lawfully-established policy where the inalienable right to personal security is bartered away.” This hard-head continues to believe that the Supreme Court first authorizing a compulsory workers’ compensation scheme really did have in mind a baseline of benefits (would that it had clarified it!) beneath which workers’ compensation would become insignificant and not supportable. Neither individuals nor legislatures may barter away the inalienable right of personal security. Occasionally, even hard-heads find hidden gems.

Michael C. Duff   

June 25, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Wyoming’s Unusual Workers' Compensation Undocumented Worker Rule

Back in May of 2012, the Federal District Court of Wyoming entered a $900,000 tort judgment against an employer, Reiman Corp., for an injury arising out of and in the course of employment by its undocumented worker, Omar Romero. (The case has been oddly difficult to retrieve – a LexisNexis account can be reviewed here). Why a tort case? Because at the time Wyoming explicitly excluded undocumented workers from coverage under its workers’ compensation act. Those not pleased by this outcome apparently did not understand the fundamental nature of the quid pro quo under some state constitutions: if you categorically exclude a category of injured worker from eligibility under workers’ compensation, you arguably must restore underlying tort rights. This is how Judge Nancy Freudenthal of the federal district court of the District of Wyoming, who heard the case, saw Wyoming law. Hence, the tort suit was not barred by exclusivity.

Subsequent to the Reiman decision, the Wyoming legislature enacted a very unusual undocumented worker rule: an “alien” is an employee for purposes of eligibility for Wyoming workers’ compensation benefits if “authorized to work by the United States department of justice, office of citizenship and immigration services [or is an alien] whom the employer reasonably believes, at the date of hire and the date of injury based upon documentation in the employer's possession, to be authorized to work by the United States department of justice, office of citizenship and immigration services.” The corollary to this rule is that an alien who is not properly authorized to work, and whom the employer does not reasonably believe to be properly authorized based on documents in the employer’s possession, is not a statutory employee. To my knowledge, and here I attach the excellent summary chart produced recently by Judge David Torrey and now-Attorney Justin Beck, Wyoming is the only state possessing an explicit statutory exclusion for undocumented workers, albeit an odd partial one based on someone’s subjective belief of something.

So, the really bad employer is not liable for workers’ compensation but is possibly liable in tort. Not a bad trade, I’d say, given the relatively low likelihood of an employer being sued by an undocumented worker in a long-running tort suit (though it did, of course, happen in Reiman, above).

One irony of this structure is that, if an undocumented worker wishes to pursue a tort case against his or her employer for a work-related injury in Wyoming, a workers’ compensation exclusivity bar defense would probably have to go to the jury (all other elements of the negligence prima facie case would have to satisfy evidentiary pleading requirements, of course). Whether the documents relied upon by the employer are the type upon which a reasonable belief of authorization could be founded is perhaps a question of law for the court. But before you can get to the question of reasonable belief there is the preliminary question of actual belief. Did the employer actually believe (whatever the basis of the belief) that the undocumented worker was authorized to work by United States officials? It seems to me that question is squarely for the jury.     

Michael C. Duff

June 19, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (2)

New Article Describes VA Disability Claims Procedure, Advocates for Change

            In a new, well-crafted article, a recent law graduate, and former naval officer, outlines in brief the law and procedure of veterans’ disability benefits claims – and sets forth a critique of the same.  See Scott W. Taylor, Improving Services for Those Who Served: Practical Recommendations for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Disability Benefits Model, 68 Hastings Law Journal 1291 (August 2017).

            He first explains the creation of the program in the early 1930s, its essentially charitable, non-adversarial structure, and the character of the benefits payable. A disability award must, of course, be based on a disability incurred because of service in the military. The VA disability model, meanwhile, has, instead of stressing functionality, “always inferred a veteran’s ability to work based solely on the severity of the veteran’s ‘medical conditions and symptoms.’” Benefits are, meanwhile, payable without reference to whether the claimant is working again. Veterans’ disability payments are made on a monthly, not lump-sum, basis, in a manner which the author correctly refers to as paternalistic.  

            The author then sets forth the administrative claim/dispute resolution structure, explaining that a veteran’s initial claim for a disability award is submitted to a regional office of the VA. In the event of a denial, an appeal is taken to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). Further review is available in an Article I court called the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Consistent with the law’s purpose (taking care of the serviceman and his family in the wake of service-related injury), the “reasonable doubt rule” prevails. In other words, if the proofs are in equipoise, the claim is resolved in the veteran’s favor. The author also notes that assistance is available in-house and from volunteers for claimants to pursue their claims, and more recently lawyers are allowed to represent veterans in their appeals.  

            The author believes that the VA’s disability assessment and disability benefits models are obsolete and should be reformed. To aid in the analysis, the author compares the U.S. approach to that of Canada, a system which has the same goals yet several system features that differ from those of our country.

            The author advocates that, in contrast to the traditional model, the focus of disability assessment should be on the veteran’s residual functionality. This is an argument inspired by recommendations from the World Health Organization and, notably, is the same type of thinking that inspired the AMA to revise the AMA Guides and create the 6th Edition.

            The author also asserts that blindly (my term) paying lifetime monthly disability awards, regardless of whether a veteran is employable, is simply unsatisfactory. He argues that, rather than regarding disability payments as an “entitlement,” finite periods of benefits – with an attendant focus on rehabilitation, and/or even the closure of cases with lump sums – should be the preferred approach. This latter advocacy is drawn from the Canadian example. Such advocacy mirrors that of the debates in the workers’ compensation community over whether delivery of benefit via periodic payments or lump sum is superior. While the latter form of payment creates the “risk of financial mismanagement,” the “finite award provides closure for less severely injured veterans, as well as the sense that their service-related condition does not necessarily impede their ability to earn an income. Simply put, the finite award enables non-permanently disabled veterans to move on with their lives and begin the process of rehabilitation.”

June 19, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Wyoming’s Strange Workers’ Compensation Non-Relationship With Walmart

More from my excursion writing a Wyoming workers’ compensation treatise. (Oh, the places you’ll go!). Wyoming’s largest private sector employer, Walmart, is not covered by the state’s workers’ compensation act. Why? Because it is not engaged in an “extrahazardous” employment. Unlike any other state in the nation, the Wyoming statute compulsorily applies to extrahazardous employment and to non-extrahazardous employment only when employers opt in to the statute. The application of the statute to only extrahazardous employment is in fact dictated by the state’s constitution, which does not permit limitations on personal injury damages except in the case of workers’ compensation, as carefully defined and separately authorized by the state constitution. Because that authorization (for a monopolistic) workers’ compensation fund pertains only to extrahazardous employments, mandatory workers’ compensation for non-extrahazardous employments is unconstitutional. (An echo of prairie populism).

But the story gets stranger. Although a few states continue to have vestigial references to extrahazardous employments, those provisions have – to put it in the words of the Larson’s treatise – “no substantial operative importance.” In contrast, Wyoming’s extrahazardous employment character is fundamental. Employers are defined in terms of their participation in extrahazardous employments, as noted in the previous paragraph. Employees are those employed by employers engaged in extrahazardous employment. You get the picture.

Well, what’s a state to do with a statute appearing to cover an extremely limited segment of the workforce? I’ll tell you what I would do: I’d get the constitution amended and then amend the statute to very broadly cover work. But that’s not what Wyoming did. Over the decades, it expanded the definition of “extrahazardous”. Many, many employments that you and I would not think of as extrahazardous are defined as such now as a matter of law. And not exactly transparently so. Extrahazardous employment is defined by reference to several “codes” from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) manual. You think you have Protz problems? Here, a private manual seems on the surface to be defining the jurisdiction of the Act. I’d call that a delegation issue.  I have it on good authority that once upon a time department store-type retail employers (there are several different kinds of “retail” coded under NAICS) were included in the system as extrahazardous. Then, allegedly, Walmart lobbied the legislature to remove this type of retail establishment from extrahazardous designation. The legislature agreed. Walmart declined to opt in, but other similar retailers opted in. Experienced hands tell me that things may be yet more complicated than I’ve explained. But this is all I can get my head around now.

I’m still not done. Whatever else this system is, it is one in which the largest private sector employer in the state is not covered (including, by the way, employees at a large Walmart warehouse distribution center in Cheyenne).  Well, what does a worker do if injured? This is not as bad as the overruled Oklahoma structure. You’ll recall that there, the plan was to allow employers opting out of the system to utilize alternative plans and in the process employees received neither workers’ compensation coverage nor could they bring a tort suit. In Wyoming, employees of non-covered employers can bring a tort suit, so the quid pro quo is maintained to that extent. But many (most?) employees “agree” to participate in the Walmart alternative benefit plan, for all the obvious reasons. You will no doubt recall that such alternative plans are necessarily governed by ERISA. Under ERISA, an employer is not required to pay any specific level of indemnity or medical benefits. The federal courts, at best, will require that the employer’s plan pay what the employer promised (and I am also reliably informed that not nearly enough is even promised under the plans). Any state lawsuits for amounts above what the alternative benefit plan promised to pay are preempted by ERISA. This is the system applicable to the largest private sector employer in my state. We had Oklahoma opt out. We still have Texas opt in. And to that list you can add Wyoming opt in (h/t: George Santini).

 

Michael C. Duff      

June 18, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

CA: Legislation Sought to Protect Utilities, Lead Paint Manufacturers

As a western U.S. resident currently suffering through rather dramatic wildfires here in the Laramie, WY area, this story from TortsProfBlog caught my eye:

In California, the "tort wars" have been quiet recently.  That may change due to wildfires and a court decision finding lead paint manufacturers liable for a public nuisance.  The state's utilities, potentially on the hook for billions of dollars in damage caused by wildfires, and lead paint manufacturers have sought legislation to protect themselves from damages.  The Mercury News has details.

 

Michael C. Duff

June 16, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 15, 2018

No Reimbursement for Medical Marijuana in Maine Workers’ Compensation and a Subtle Connection to Undocumented Workers

As a Maine workers’ compensation lawyer, I was interested to read the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s just-issued opinion in Gaetan Bourgoin v. Twin Rivers Paper Co. In the opinion, the Court holds that Twin Rivers is not required to reimburse Bourgoin for medical marijuana used to treat his chronic back pain from a work-related, permanently disabling injury. Bourgoin had previously used opioids for pain management, but found marijuana, lawfully obtained and used under state law, more effective and less secondarily debilitating. Because of the opinion, he will probably be forced to return to opioid consumption, a very unsatisfactory outcome.

The legal basis for the opinion, which the Court repeatedly asserted as “narrow” despite all appearances to the contrary, was that the federal Controlled Substances Act preempted Maine’s medical marijuana law. Characterizing an employer’s requirement to subsidize an employee’s acquisition as a “positive conflict” between federal and state law, the Court concluded that principles of conflict preemption rendered the Maine administrative order unenforceable against Twin Rivers. Of course, the ruling also means that no other Maine employer can be compelled to reimburse an injured worker for medical marijuana expense.

In the real world, parties simply contract around these kinds of obstacles. Because the alternative may be extended-duration use of opioids, with all that goes with that process, if medical marijuana cannot be explicitly reimbursed, the parties will simply find other ways to put the required funds in an injured worker’s hands.  What interests me as a law professor, however, is the analysis by which the Court arrived at its preemption conclusion, because that analysis could carry unintended consequences.

The Court recites that, under Title 18 U.S.C.S. § 2(a), a federal prosecution can be directed against any individual who “commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission.” This provision, argues the Court, “reflects a centuries-old view of culpability: that a person may be responsible for a crime he has not personally carried out if he helps another to complete its commission.” Thus, the argument ultimately concludes, the employer here could have been prosecuted under federal law if it took an “active role” in furtherance of the marijuana offense with the intent of facilitating the offense’s commission. The employer on this reading is provided the Hobson’s Choice of violating state or federal law.

But a violation of federal law hardly seems a foregone conclusion. As the dissent points out, it would be nearly impossible to prove an employer had specific intent to violate federal law, a necessary element for conviction. I, of course, agree with the Court that former federal guidance documents expressing a disinclination to federally prosecute marijuana possession purportedly authorized by state law does not save the state marijuana law from preemption. But imagine trying to prosecute an employer for specific intent to violate federal law where, in the context of a countervailing, authorizing state marijuana law: 1) internal federal documents suggest a (broadly publicized) federal lack of interest in prosecuting; and 2) not a single medical provider, employer, or insurance carrier acting under color of state marijuana laws could be shown to have been prosecuted under the Controlled Substances Act. Could it be said in those circumstances that an employer complying with a state workers’ compensation order to reimburse for medical marijuana possessed specific intent to violate federal law? That strikes me as implausible and, as a former federal lawyer, I would not be happy to prosecute such a case.

Furthermore, how would the broad “aid or abet” formulation laid out by the Court work in the context of, to take one stark example, undocumented workers? Does an employer, merely by complying with a workers’ compensation award in favor of its injured, undocumented worker “aid or abet,” in violation of federal law, e.g., 18 U.S.C.S. § 1325 (illegal entry), or 18 U.S.C § 1542 (providing false information to obtain a passport)? Would the employer thereby possess specific intent to violate immigration laws? Surely, state courts in upholding the lawfulness of workers’ compensation awards have implicitly or explicitly rejected such arguments. Will Maine courts now have difficulty with such cases after Twin Rivers?

A final somewhat obscure preemption problem is discussed in the case. The Controlled Substances Act states that it did not intend to “occupy the field in which that provision operates, including criminal penalties, to the exclusion of any State law on the same subject matter which would otherwise be within the authority of the State unless there is a positive conflict between that provision of this title and that State law so that the two cannot consistently stand together.” So, states are not forbidden from legislating, regulating, or enforcing in the field of controlled substances. But state law must yield to federal law where there is a “positive conflict” between the two. When does that happen?  The dissenting opinion quoted constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky:

The phrase “positive conflict . . . so that the two cannot consistently stand together” in [the Controlled Substances Act] has been interpreted as narrowly restricting the preemptive reach of the CSA to “cases of an actual conflict with federal law such that ‘compliance with both federal and state regulations is a physical impossibility.”’ Justice Scalia has written that the plain language of [the Controlled Substances Act] states a congressional intent that the CSA preempt only state laws that require someone to engage in an action specifically forbidden by the CSA. As a California appellate court succinctly put it, “mere speculation about a hypothetical conflict is not the stuff of which preemption is made.”

It is not physically impossible to comply with both the CSA and state marijuana laws; nothing in the more liberal state laws requires anyone to act contrary to the CSA. Only if a state law required a citizen to possess, manufacture, or distribute marijuana in violation of federal law would it be impossible for a citizen to comply with both state and federal law. Similarly, if a state were to make state officers the manufacturers or distributors of marijuana, it might well be impossible for those officials to comply with both state and federal law. No state marijuana law, however, has attempted to require state or local officials to violate the CSA in this manner.

In a nutshell, state marijuana laws do not “require,” they “permit,” in the sense that state authorities agree not to prosecute certain marijuana offenses under state law. The laws are passive in a manner that is reminiscent of state laws or practices that permit business (including through awarding of workers’ compensation benefits) to be conducted “around” illegal immigration. In both contexts the situation is created when a paralyzed federal government is simply unable to keep up with evolving facts on the ground within the states. I doubt Twin Rivers will be followed because there is every indication that the preemptive sweep of the Controlled Substances Act is not nearly as broad as the Court contends.

Michael C. Duff

June 15, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Is Heroism the Standard?" Redux .... Hershey, PA, June 8, 2018

            Many in the workers' compensation community complain that seriously injured workers can develop a disability lifestyle, become dependent on drugs, and unreasonably extend their disabilities.  Instead of falling into such a lifestyle, these critics argue, disabled workers should show "resilience."  This rhetoric, which I have written about before on this blog, has its genesis in progressive medical/rehabilitation thinking, Muscular Christianity (I think), and, realistically, employer/insurer cost considerations. 

            The complaint is legitimate, and one with which I have some sympathy.  I also believe that some legitimately injured workers do indeed unreasonably extend their disabilities -- if only waiting for a generous lump sum settlement.  Many readers will know of the sharp critique of this type advanced by Dr. Nortin Hadler in his many books.   

            On the other hand, the "duty-of-resilience" critique can go too far, and is often articulated in overly simplistic terms.  At my agency's conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania (June 7-8), an articulate industry speaker, addressing an audience about medical marijuana, posited forcefully that the "choice between opioids and medical marijuana [for chronic pain patients] is a false choice...."  What workers need to do, instead, is show some resilience and "get off their asses!"  After all, a friend of his, who is partially paraplegic, has shown resilience and will often go hiking with him.  If she can do it, so can others!

            I believe the speaker knew his audience and thus took some pleasure in feeding these lions of the community some red meat, and indeed they rewarded this coarse declaration with a leonine roar of applause. 

            Yet, his panel partner, Dr. Michael Wolk, thereupon gently reminded the industry speaker -- and the audience -- that not all people respond to pain and other impairments the same way; indeed, he posited that science has shown that one's genetic make-up can affect the ability to be resilient.

             Dr. Wolk (my God, an astonishing speaker) might also have remarked, as have other physicians at our Pennsylvania conferences, that heroism is not appropriately considered the recovery standard in the first place.  Commentators like the industry speaker, talking about resilience, often invoke exceptional individuals, like Christopher Reeve, but most of us realize that not everyone is Superman. 

            This point was vividly made two years ago in the memoir, A Body Undone: Living on After Great Pain (NYU Press 2016).  The author, Christina Crosby, a professor at Wesleyan University, was rendered quadriplegic in a cycling accident, and has been left with chronic pain as well.  She recounts in her memoir what life is like with such a catastrophic injury, shows that she indeed has great resilience -- but leaves the heroism narrative behind.  She makes clear that her circumstances, like education; a life of reflection and discipline; and the unflagging love and support of her family, make her ability to bounce back possible.  Most of us know that not every injury victim will have these advantages.  (My complete review of Professor Crosby's book is posted at the research website www.davetorrey.info.)

            Is all this not common sense?  We have known for a century, after all, that young men respond differently to their traumatic wartime exposures.  Some show a grim resilience; some are troubled for life, but are able to continue on; some are broken.  In the modern day, most of us would not address such veterans with the admonition that they get off their asses.  Injured workers deserve the same respect.             

   

 

 

 

June 13, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)