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ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS
OCTOBER TERM, 2008 -2009
Reynalda Alanis Duran et al.
Appeal from Shelby Circuit Court
In Taliaferro v. Goff Group, 947 So. 2d 1073 (Ala. Civ.
App. 2006), this court considered an appeal from a judgment of
the Shelby Circuit Court determining that under § 25-5-82,
Ala. Code 1975, a portion of the Alabama Workers' Compensation
Act ("the Act"), no compensation benefits were payable to the
dependents of Luis Martinez Silva ("the employee"), i.e.,
Reynalda Alanis Duran, Martin Martinez Alanis, and Carlos
Martinez Alanis (collectively, "the dependents"), on account
of the employee's death.
We reversed the trial court's
judgment on purely procedural grounds in Goff, holding that
the dependents were necessary parties that had not yet been
joined in the action:
"The present case involves death benefits
Under Alabama law, those
benefits, and the right to bring an action for their
recovery, belong solely to the dependents of the
Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-60;
Lawrence v. United States Fid. & Guar. Co., 226 Ala.
161, 164-65, 145 So. 577, 580 (1933); Baughn v.
Little Cahaba Coal Co., 213 Ala. 596, 597, 105 So.
648, 649 (1925); and Ex parte Havard, 211 Ala. 605,
607, 100 So. 897, 898 (1924). So long as there are
dependents, the deceased worker's estate is not the
proper party to bring a suit to recover death
benefits. See id."
947 So. 2d at 1078 (emphasis added).
On remand from this
court, the dependents were joined as parties, and, ultimately,
a new judgment was entered by the trial court that again
determined, in pertinent part, that no compensation benefits
were payable to the dependents; in that judgment, the trial
"The Alabama Workers' Compensation Act provides:
"'Compensation for the death of an
employee shall be paid only to dependents
who, at the time of the death of the
injured employee, were actually residents
of the United States. No right of action
to recover damages for the death of an
employee shall exist in favor or for the
benefit of any person who was not a
resident of the United States at the time
of the death of such employee.'
"Ala. Code[ 1975, § 25-5-82]. ...
"None of the dependents [resided in the] United
States at the time of the death of [the employee].
Accordingly, as a matter of law, the dependents are
not entitled to recover death benefits under the
Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. The dependents
contend that [§] 25-5-82 is unconstitutional.
However, this section has never been deemed
dependents' claims for benefits under the Act."
The dependents timely appealed from the trial court's
judgment on remand.
Their sole contention on appeal is that
§ 25-5-82, by denying death benefits to nonresident alien
dependents of deceased workers who are subject to the Act,
contained in the United States Constitution.
dependents, being neither citizens of nor resident aliens in
constitutional guaranties on their own behalf, because those
guaranties are inapplicable to nonresident noncitizens.
the United States Supreme Court noted in United States v.
Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259, 271 (1990), leading cases of
that Court discussing federal constitutional rights of aliens,
such as those relied upon by the dependents in this appeal,
"establish only that aliens receive constitutional protections
when they have come within the territory of the United States
and developed substantial connections with
Perhaps cognizant of their tenuous claim to
constitutional protection in their own individual capacities,
the dependents attempt to assert in their brief to this court
the rights of the employee not to be discriminated against.
Their attempt to do so is perhaps unsurprising given the split
of authority among the various American decisions that have
addressed state-law restrictions upon full payment of workers'
dependents. The majority of those cases have upheld the power
of state legislatures to distinguish between resident alien
beneficiaries and nonresident alien beneficiaries.
Industrial Comm'n of Arizona, 132 Ariz. 233, 235-36, 644 P.2d
Barge-Wagener Constr. Co. v. Morales, 263 Ga. 190, 191-93, 429
S.E.2d 671, 672-73 (1993) ($1,000 benefit limitation); Jarabe
v. Industrial Comm'n, 172 Ill. 2d 345, 348-51, 666 N.E.2d 1,
limitation); Maryland Cas. Co. v. Chamos, 203 Ky. 820, 821,
263 S.W. 370, 371-72 (Ct. App. 1924) (50% benefit limitation);
Gregutis v. Waclark Wire Works, 86 N.J.L. 610, 614-15, 92 A.
354, 355-56 (1914) (total bar to benefits); Pedrazza v. Sid
Fleming Contractor, Inc., 94 N.M. 59, 61-63, 607 P.2d 597,
599-601 (1980) (total bar to benefits); Alvarez Martinez v.
Industrial Comm'n of Utah, 720 P.2d 416, 417-19 (Utah 1986)
(50% benefit limitation); cf. Gambalan v. Kekaha Sugar Co., 39
Haw. 258 (1952) (American territory's total bar to benefits
opinions heavily relied upon by the dependents that hold to
the contrary, i.e., De Ayala v. Florida Farm Bureau Casualty
Insurance Co., 543 So. 2d 204 (Fla. 1989), and Jurado v.
Popejoy Construction Co., 253 Kan. 116, 853 P.2d 669 (1993),
are in the clear minority.
In Jarabe v. Industrial Commission, supra, the Illinois
Supreme Court considered the competing lines of authority as
to restrictions on payability of workers' compensation death
benefits to nonresident aliens and expressly sided with the
majority line of cases, opining that it had been "persuaded by
those courts which have concluded that the nonresident aliens
challenging the constitutionality of similar statutes lack the
requisite standing to do so."
at 3, 216 Ill. Dec. at 835.
172 Ill. 2d at 350, 666 N.E. 2d
In rejecting "the notion that a
nonresident alien beneficiary may step into the constitutional
shoes of the deceased employee," id., the Jarabe court noted
that under Illinois precedent, in contrast to Florida and
Kansas precedent, "a deceased employee's beneficiary under the
workers' compensation statute has no rights derivative of the
deceased employee" (id. at 350, 666 N.E. 2d at 4, 216 Ill.
Dec. at 836), and that a right of action for death benefits
"is a statutory benefit exclusively for the dependents and
over which the employee has no control and is powerless to
release, waive or extinguish" (id. at 350-51, 666 N.E. 2d at
216 Ill. Dec. at 836).
touchstone separating the majority and minority lines of
authority in this area is whether the beneficiaries of a
particular deceased worker step into the worker's shoes in
maintaining an action for death benefits under the worker's
compensation laws of the pertinent state.
provides a clear answer to that question.
In Ex parte
Woodward Iron Co., 277 Ala. 133, 167 So. 2d 702 (1964), a
worker who claimed in a civil action that he was disabled
because of occupational pneumonoconiosis arising out of and in
the scope of his employment died during the pendency of that
substituted as the plaintiff.
The Alabama Supreme Court held
"A claim of an employee for compensation for
injuries, and the claim of his widow or other
dependents after his death on account of such
injuries are separate and distinct causes of action.
The employee's claim results from his injury; his
dependent's claim results from his death. Wade &
Richey v. Oglesby, 251 Ala. 356, 37 So. 2d 596
[(1948)]; United States Steel Corp. v. Baker, 266
Ala. 538, 97 So. 2d 899 [(1957)].
"The right of the surviving dependents does not
arise until the death of the workman, while his
Tennessee Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. King, 231 Ala. 303,
164 So. 760 [(1935)].
"Here the wife's cause of action did not arise
and had not accrued when the original suit was
filed, and she had no right to be substituted as
plaintiff in the original action. The two different
claims, the husband's and the wife's, could not
exist at the same time. His rights terminated at
his death, and hers did not exist prior to his
277 Ala. at 135, 167 So. 2d at 703 (emphasis added).
deduce from that analysis that the rights of the dependents in
this case to death benefits under the Act are similarly
"separate and distinct" from the rights of the now-deceased
employee rather than derivative of the employee's rights.
Accord 2 Terry A. Moore, Alabama Workers Compensation § 18:2
(1998) (dependents do not inherit an employee's inchoate
compensation claim for disability benefits but are granted "an
independent right to claim death benefits for their own loss
when the death is caused under circumstances giving rise to
liability under the workers' compensation laws").
Viewed in the appropriate legal context, then, § 25-5-82
does not implicate any constitutional rights of the employee;
rather, to the extent that that statute bars the dependents
from having a valid claim to benefits under the Act upon the
employee's death, the statute acts in a sphere that is not
occupied by the due-process and equal-protection guaranties of
properly entered its judgment denying death benefits to the
The judgment of the Shelby Circuit Court is,