Superior Court Rejects Challenge to Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission
June 6, 2006
(Anchorage) - Attorney General David Márquez announced today that Superior Court Judge Sen Tan issued a ruling last week upholding the constitutionality of the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission.
AKPIRG filed suit last fall seeking a declaration that the new commission was unconstitutional because it functioned as an appellate court within the executive branch and because the legislature withdrew the jurisdiction of the superior court to provide intermediate appellate review in workers' compensation cases.
In its order granting the state's motion for summary judgment, the court rejected AKPIRG's claims. The court acknowledged that the legislature has the power under the constitution to create both courts that are part of the judiciary, and quasi-judicial agencies that are part of the executive branch but perform functions that are essentially judicial. The court held that the commission was not a court but instead a quasi-judicial agency. The court rejected the notion that appellate review is a uniquely judicial function and noted the prevalence of multi-level agency review as a part of the agency decision-making process.
"Similar, non-judicial, administrative appeals commissions, like ours, are widely used by a number of states," said Márquez. "Judge Tan's decision reflects our belief throughout that the workers compensation appeals commission is constitutional. It is also important to note that the Alaska Supreme Court remains the ultimate authority in deciding workers' compensation cases in the state."
The commission was established last year during a special session of the legislature that addressed reforms to the workers' compensation system. "Creation of the commission has many upsides," said Márquez. "It is a specialized and centralized body, meaning injured workers will receive consistent decisions in a more efficient and timely manner. The commission's decisions serve as guiding precedent for both the commission and workers' compensation board panels across the state. Moreover, the commission structure itself provides a voice for labor and management to participate in developing workers' compensation law."
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