Ariz. Court: Workers’ Comp Time Limits on Workers’ Comp Judges Not Mandatory

By Chris Rizo | July 11, 2011

Arizona law does not prescribe any consequences in cases where administrative law judges do not issue an opinion in workers’ compensation cases with the required 30 days from hearing, a state appeals court ruled.

The Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division One, Department E, held that the 30-day provision in Arizona Revised Statutes section 23-942(A) appears to impose a mandatory 30-day time limit, however the time limit is directive and not mandatory, according to the unanimous opinion written by Judge Maurice Portley.

“It was well within the legislature’s authority to impose a remedy or consequence for untimely decisions in workers’ compensation cases. It did not provide a statutory remedy or consequence, and we decline to do so here,” Portley wrote, with concurrences from Judge Lawrence Winthrop and Judge Sheldon Weisberg.

Moreover, because ARS ยง 23-942(A) “is directory, rather than mandatory and jurisdictional,” the Industrial Commission of Arizona did not lose jurisdiction in case when the administrative law judge took more than 30 days to render the decision, the panel ruled.

The Phoenix-based appeals court said it based its decision on the Arizona Supreme Court’s 1926 decision in Williams v. Williams, when the high court considered whether the sixty-day time limit imposed on superior court judges by Article 6, Section 15, of the Arizona Constitution was jurisdictional.

The court held that the constitutional provision was not jurisdictional (Williams v. Williams, 29 Ariz. 538, 243 P. 402).

Workers’ compensation claimant Stephen McCurry had argued that because an administrative law judge’s ruling against his claim took more than 30 days after hearing, it should not be allowed.

McCurry filed a workers’ compensation claim, which was denied by his employer’s insurance carrier, Specialty Risk Services.

He testified that in May 2009 he injured his neck during a work-related errand, while throwing a bag of ice into his truck. McCurry testified that he told his employer’s human resources manager that he injured his neck the same day of the incident.

The human resources manager, however, said McCurry approached her on June 4. She testified that she instructed McCurry to provide her with a written account. She then reported the injury to the insurance carrier, and a claim number was generated.

Additionally, McCurry testified that he had a history of neck problems, dating back to 2000. He testified he received a cervical spinal fusion in 2002. After the fusion, McCurry testified that he did not have neck pain until August 2008.

Following testimony, the parties stipulated that the only issue was McCurry’s credibility and whether he injured himself at work.

In the Industrial Commission of Arizona ruling, an administrative law judge found McCurry not credible and entered an award for a noncompensable claim. McCurry appealed, arguing that conflicting testimony concerning the date of the injury is not sufficient to support the judge’s credibility determination. The appeals court, rejecting his argument, ruled that given the conflicting testimony, the judge “was entitled to exercise his discretion as the fact-finder and reject McCurry’s testimony.”

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