We have been talking about a Florida case involving workers’ compensation. As we said, the case has a complicated procedural history, and the appeals court felt that history made it impossible for the court to rule on the central question. The question, as the title of the post suggests, is whether the workers’ comp system itself is constitutional.
Even if the matter in question is extremely important — as constitutionality is — the courts will not touch it until someone has suffered harm. Courts cannot give advisory opinions, or, as the lower court said, answer questions propounded from curiosity. There must be a controversy. For example, suppose a law in Illinois makes it illegal to complain about the price of milk in a grocery store. No matter how many people think the law is a violation of their right to freedom of speech, someone has to be charged with the crime before anyone can challenge its constitutionality.
This was the argument made by Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal when it refused to touch the constitutionality question. The court instead focused on the fact that the original parties to the case had long before settled their dispute. The court chose to ignore the circuit court’s argument that the constitutionality question was far from moot.
The original parties may no longer be involved, the circuit court said, but the issue is “capable of repetition in the future and might evade review.” The employer in the original controversy had triggered the constitutionality argument by asserting that the employee could not sue because workers’ comp was the sole remedy available. The employer withdrew this argument, however, when the constitutionality issue came up — successfully evading judicial review of the statute’s constitutionality.
So, the lower court found that there was, in fact, a question to settle — if not for the original plaintiff, then for similarly situated plaintiffs in the future. And, because the matter is important and requires resolution, the court may ignore the problems of mootness and case and controversy.
The Florida Supreme Court has not exactly agreed to hear the appeal of the Court of Appeal decision. The court did, however, ask the petitioners — the plaintiffs arguing that the law is unconstitutional — to amend some of their filings. There is a chance that the court will take the case, but the decision will not be made before September.
Business Insurance, “Exclusive remedy litigation heads to Florida Supreme Court,” Stephanie Goldberg, July 15, 2015
Cortes v. Velda Farms, 2014 WL 6685226 (Fla.Cir.Ct.), via WestlawNext