Legislature Cannot Deny Plaintiff Right to Dismiss Employer Appeal
Update: The Ohio Supreme Court has accepted the state’s appeal from the Eighth District Court of Appeals decision in Ferguson v. State, 8th Dist. No. 102553, 2015-Ohio-4499 (10/29/15), which affirmed the Common Pleas Court’s decision.
Ferguson v. State of Ohio, Cuyahoga Common Pleas No. CV-13-810584 (12/31/14).
Issue: Can the legislature limit the right of injured workers to dismiss their complaint in an employer’s R.C. §4123.512 appeal?
Background: Under R.C. §4123.512, either the employer or the injured worker can file an appeal to court to challenge an Industrial Commission decision. (Only certain types of decisions, relating to the right to participate, can be appealed. Extent of disability decisions must be challenged through mandamus.)
Once the appeal is filed, the injured worker becomes the plaintiff and, like any plaintiff, must file a complaint and establish their right to participate. The injured worker has this responsibility even if they won administratively and the employer filed the notice of appeal. The trial which occurs to determine the injured worker’s right to participate is a trial de novo – the administrative proceedings are not considered.
The Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure generally apply to a trial determining an injured worker’s right to participate in the workers’ compensation system.
Under the Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff is permitted to dismiss their complaint (which they can later refile using the savings clause). In Kaiser v. Ameritemps, 84 Ohio St.3d 411 (1999), the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that an injured worker could use Civil Rule 41 to voluntarily dismiss an employer’s appeal in an R.C. §4123.512 appeal.
In 2006, the legislature amended R.C. §4123.512 to deny injured workers the right to dismiss their complaint in an employer’s workers’ compensation appeal. Ferguson filed a declaratory judgment action to challenge this provision.
Decision: Common Pleas Court finds the amendment unconstitutional.
Under Rule 41 of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff is entitled to dismiss all claims prior to trial. Under Rule 1 of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, the Rules of Civil Procedure apply to all cases, except where they are “clearly inapplicable.”
The Rules of Civil Procedure do not contain a limitation prohibiting an injured worker from dismissing their complaint in an employer appeal. Based on this, the Court finds that an injured worker can dismiss their complaint as provided in the Rules of Civil Procedure, even in an employer’s appeal.
The Court also finds that the amendment to R.C. §4123.512, prohibiting an injured worker from dismissing their complaint in an employer appeal, is unconstitutional on multiple grounds. The Court recognizes that the amendment violates:
- due process: because it improperly limits the rights of one party to an appeal;
- equal protection: because it restricts an injured worker’s rights during an appeal but not the employer’s; and
- the separation of powers: because, through the amendment to R.C. §4123.512, the legislature interfered with the power of the courts to regulate proceedings under the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure.
Editor’s Comment: An appeal from this decision is currently pending in the Eighth District Court of Appeals, as Case No. CA-15-102553.
As pointed out by the Common Pleas Court, Kaiser recognized that R.C. §4123.512 makes an injured worker a plaintiff and held that “[a]s [a] plaintiff, a claimant under R.C. 4123.512 should be afforded all of the rights provided to him or her by the Rules of Civil Procedure.” The question in this case is whether the legislature can interfere with the Rules of Civil Procedure enacted by the courts. In Rockey v. 84 Lumber Co., 66 Ohio St.3d 221 (1993), syl. 2, the Supreme Court held:
The Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, which were promulgated by the Supreme Court pursuant to Section 5(B), Article IV of the Ohio Constitution, must control over subsequently enacted inconsistent statutes purporting to govern procedural matters.