Mathews v ICA (11.23.22)

We previously discussed this worker’s compensation case. The Arizona Supreme agrees with the court of appeals and holds the legislature did not violate the constitution when it enacted a statute limiting mental injury claims to on-the-job stressors which are unusual, unexpected, or extraordinary.  The court reminds us the legislature did not come up with this standard on its own, but the legislature codified the supreme court’s holding in Sloss v. Indus. Comm’n, 121 Ariz. 10 (1978).

Then along came the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision in Grammatico v. Indus. Comm’n, 211 Ariz. 67 (2005). There, the court held the legislature violated the Arizona Constitution Art. 18 sec 8 when it enacted statutes denying worker’s compensation benefits when the injuries were caused in part by the employee’s use of illegal drugs or alcohol.  The court in Grammatico explained denying benefits under these circumstances injected fault into a no-fault system. The court in Grammatico further explained the legislature cannot alter legal causation but can alter medical causation. Here, Matthews latches on to Grammatico and argues the legislature violated the constitution by limiting mental injury claims to instances only where the stressors are “unusual, unexpected, or extraordinary.”

In answering the argument Grammatico created, the court looks back to when the Arizona Constitution was adopted and determines the “public meaning” of terms in Art. 18 sec 8 including “injury,” occurring by “accident”, and a “necessary risk or danger of employment.” The court concludes in 1912, stress-related mental illness would neither have been considered an “injury,” nor an “accident.” The court holds: “We are persuaded that the original, plain meaning of injury by accident requires more than the ordinary stresses presented by a specific job, but rather an unexpected event resulting in tangible physical harm.” These are the core requirements of Art. 18 sec 8, and the legislature can do as it wishes when determining what other benefits may be available.  As far as the equal protection claim, if there is a distinction between mental injuries and physical injuries, the legislature can make that distinction. Justice Timmer dissents.  She argues the public meaning of the same terms included mental injuries and points to other contemporary sources. She concludes the statute violates the constitution by limiting mental injury stress claims. Citing Grammatico, she concludes Art. 18 sec 8 includes such claims.

Both Justice Bolick, who authors this opinion, and Justice Timmer in her dissent endorse the original public meaning theory of constitutional review. Searching for an originalist “public meaning” devolves into historical word play comparing dictionaries and contemporaneous writings. Shaky ground? If “public meaning” constrains both Justice Bolick and Justice Timmer, why such divergent results?  Justice Bolick emphasizes public meaning in a broad sense of “corpus linguistics”: “But, article 18, section 8 uses the terms ‘injury’ and ‘accident,’ not ‘illness,’ ‘disease,’ or ‘condition.’” Engaging in a similar analysis, dictionaries, and sources Justice Timmer concludes on the job stressors can constitute an “accident,” and she concludes “injury” is broad enough to include any unexpected injury.  If attempts to recover original public meaning reach contrary results, is there a different methodology we could better embrace? What about Grammatico?  Is this a thorn in the “corpus linguistics” analysis or can it be limited under this methodology to certain “core requirements.” If we read Art. 18 sec 8 the only thing that is clear–in a run-on sentence a paragraph long– is the authority given to the legislature to enact worker’s compensation laws as it “may prescribe” and “as defined by law.” Maybe the answer is much simpler and made unnecessarily complex by Grammatico.

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