Monday, May 5, 2014

Case law you may have missed

The First District Court is the usual source for interpretations of Chapter 440. I know many workers' compensation practitioners follow the court through its website or its RSS feed. If you are not subscribed to the court's feed, you should look into it and sign up. When court opinions are released, the RSS will automatically send you an email listing the decisions, and you can review those you wish. It is a great way to stay current on the law. 

There are occasions, however, when other appellate courts in Florida weigh in on issues that may be of interest to the workers' compensation practitioners. On April 30, 2014 the Fourth District issued State of Florida v. Francisco Brock (No.4D13-962). The defendant in this case applied for a job but used a social security number that did not belong to him. He did not file any workers' compensation claim, but was charged with violating Chapter 440. 

The circuit court (trial court) dismissed the charges against the defendant on the grounds that Chapter 440 is an insurance coverage and regulation statute. The court reasoned that therefore this law was not applicable to situations which did not involve the application for or provision of insurance benefits. 

The Fourth District explained that Section 440.105, Fla. Stat. is a prohibition on such activity regardless of whether there is or is not a claim for workers' compensation benefits. The focus of the analysis is on the word "or" in the provisions of §440.105(4)(b)9. The court held that this section's language makes it illegal for any person to:

"knowingly present or cause to be presented any false, fraudulent, or misleading oral or written statement to any person as evidence of identity for the purpose of obtaining employment or filing or supporting a claim for workers' compensation benefits." (Emphasis added).

The Fourth District Court noted that both the state and Brock argued Matrix EmployeeLeasing v. Hernandez, 975 So.2d 1217 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008) in support of their respective positions. This First DCA decision centered on whether a violation of Chapter 440 "was cause for forfeiture of compensation benefits." The Fourth DCA explained that in the context of providing a false identification "for the purpose of obtaining benefits," Matrix is controlling. However, according to Brock, the statutory  provision regarding obtaining employment is co-equal and independent of the benefit process. 

The Fourth DCA reversed the trial court's dismissal. The court held that the "or," in a plain reading of the statute resulted in a "clear and unambiguous" interpretation that presentation of false information is actionable in two contexts, the obtention of benefits or the obtention of employment. It held that the statute precludes the presentation of any false, fraudulent, or misleading statement for either purpose. 

The court noted that it did not need to resort legislative intent analysis because the statute is clear and unambiguous. However, it noted that the legislative history "confirms the legislature intended to prohibit illegal aliens from using false identification information to obtain employment . . .."

There are currently many interesting cases receiving their share of attention. Many wonder and conjecture about how the Florida Supreme Court will determine MoralesCastellanos and Westphal. certainly these determinations are anticipated to bring edification to practitioners and the marketplace. However, Brock is also likely worth a read, and provides perspective that may be of interest to many who litigate workers' compensation and employment law cases in Florida. 

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