Challenge to Changes to Iowa Workers' Compensation Law Dismissed for Lack of Standing

Challenge to Changes to Iowa Workers' Compensation Law Dismissed for Lack of Standing

This is a Constitutional Law case, in the workers' compensation arena. On June 20, 2008, in Godfrey v. State of Iowa, the Iowa Supreme Court refused to consider a challenge to a recent change in the Iowa Workers' Compensation statute, holding that the person challenging the statute did not have standing to make the challenge, and it was not of sufficient public importance to waive the standing requirement.

The case involves changes made by the Iowa General Assembly in a Special Session in 2003, which changed the way that previous injuries are considered in awarding damages for a subsequent work injury. Prior to the change, the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner had held that prior injuries for the same employer would not reduce the award for subsequent injuries.

For instance, if a worker had a 20% industrial award, equivalent to 100 weeks of compensation, due to a low back injury in 1990, and then got back to work and sustained a low back injury in 2000, the employer wanted to claim credit for the previous 100 weeks of compensation paid for the 1990 injury, but the Commissioner ruled that the new injury would not be reduced.

The Iowa General Assembly changed the law, and the Governor signed it, since it was tied into an economic development bill which the Governor wanted.

Gertrude Godfrey challenged the law, claiming that it had more than one subject, and therefore violated the single-subject requirement for legislation, as contained in the Iowa Constitution. Since the challenging party could only identify the potential that her right to compensation might be reduced by the legislation, the Court found no present personal interest that would confer standing on her to challenge the legislation. They suggest that if she had a pending claim, she might have had a real, as compared to a "hypotethetical," personal interest in the legislation. They noted that "only a likelihood or possibility of injury need be shown," but more than a hypothetical possibility of injury.

While the Court acknowledged that they could waive the standing requirement for an issue of great public importance, they found that the alleged violation was not one of fraud or personal or private gain, and not of sufficient importance to consider the issue without standing. Curiously, at least one decision within the agency since enactment of the changes indicated that the changes might be more beneficial to the claimant than previously anticipated by most claimants'' or defense attorneys.