Which Court Has Jurisdiction in a Workers’ Compensation Case Involving Multiple States?

texas_flag_texas_flag-1024x683It’s pretty common for large corporations to conduct business across multiple state lines. So, too, it’s expected that employees for these types of companies will also have connections with multiple states based on their employment with the corporation. In these situations determining which state and Court has jurisdiction over legal claims when such issues arise can become an incredibly fact-specific inquiry. This was the case for one Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”), who found that the Office of Workers’ Compensation (“OWC”) located in Lafayette, Louisiana had subject matter jurisdiction to decide the legal claims of a former Tyson-employed truck driver.

Frank Verret (“Mr. Verret”), a Louisiana resident, was hired as a long-haul truck driver for Tyson Foods, Inc. (“Tyson”) in 1999. Initially, he drove to a Tyson facility in Center, Texas, to apply for a position and later called to inquire about the status of his application from his home in Louisiana. During that phone call, Mr. Verret claimed that Tyson hired him for the long-haul truck driver position. Afterward, he drove back to Texas, picked up his truck, and began employment.

Years later, in 2015, while driving his Tyson truck through Oklahoma, Mr. Verret crashed into the median barrier. Mr. Verret was hospitalized and treated for his injuries in Oklahoma, then was sent to Texas for an employer-mandated drug screening before returning to Arkansas, where he had begun his route before the crash. A few months after the crash, a then-retired Mr. Verret filed a Disputed Claim for Compensation against Tyson.

Although Tyson attempted to dismiss the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the WCJ ruled that since the contract for hire between Mr. Verret and Tyson was formed in Louisiana, the OWC had subject matter jurisdiction. The WCJ further awarded Mr. Verret workers’ compensation benefits from the crash date. Tyson subsequently appealed. 

For a court or legal tribunal to hear a case, there must be personal and subject matter jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction is a court’s ability to listen to a case and enter a judgment over a person or entity. To have personal jurisdiction, certain elements like whether a person or entity is a citizen of the state where the Court resides or whether the person or entity has had sufficient ‘minimum contacts’ with the state where the Court resides are necessary. For subject matter jurisdiction, a court’s ability to hear a specific type of case depends on the type of claim being brought before the Court. By way of example, a bankruptcy court would not have subject matter jurisdiction over family law matters but would have subject matter jurisdiction over bankruptcy claims. 

At issue on appeal before the Third Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana in determining subject matter jurisdiction, this case was whether the employment contract between Mr. Verret and Tyson was formed in Louisiana. The Court noted that in workers’ compensation cases like this one, “the intent of the parties is paramount in deciding whether a contract should be regarded as a Louisiana contract or that of another state” Offord v. Border to Border Trucking. After reviewing the facts of Mr. Verret’s hiring with Tyson, the Court made the following factual findings: (1) Mr. Verret traveled to Texas to apply for a job with Tyson; (2) Tyson introduced sufficient evidence to show that Mr. Verret would not actually be hired until he passed a road test and a physical examination; (3) these examinations are federally mandated requirements; (4) Mr. Verret’s job was not principally located in Louisiana; (5) Mr. Verret traveled to Texas, Arkansas, or states other than Louisiana to pick up loads for his truck and begin his employment with Tyson; (6) Tyson did not have any long-haul facilities in Louisiana; and finally (7) Mr. Verret made few to no deliveries to Louisiana. Based on these facts, the Court ruled that the WCJ made a manifest error, that the OWC did not have subject matter jurisdiction in this case, and that Mr. Verret’s claims must be dismissed. As a result, the prior holding awarding Mr. Verret workers’ compensation benefits was reversed. 

Notably, this case demonstrates the importance of a Court establishing jurisdiction. Otherwise, Tyson may have been accountable for claims a court could not enforce against it. Mr. Verret likewise could have missed out on benefits because his claims were brought before a court that lacked jurisdiction. In pursuing claims before any court, be sure you secure the advice of a good attorney who understands when and where your claims can be brought and enforced. 


Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Gina McKlveen

Other Berniard Law Firm Articles on Subject Matter Jurisdiction: Louisiana Law Gives The Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration Exclusive Subject Matter Jurisdiction

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