Physician Robin Chorn, M.D. and workers’ compensation applicants Robert Kalestian, Tanya Vounov, and Latasha Buie petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate asking it to enjoin the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board from enforcing two recently enacted provisions of the Labor Code pertaining to the lien filing fees, sections 4903.05 and 4903.8.
Petitioners contend that section 4903.05, which imposes a filing fee of $150 on certain medical liens filed in workers’ compensation cases, deprives them of their state constitutional rights to due process (Cal. Const., art. I, § 7), equal protection (Cal. Const., art. I, § 9), and petition for redress of grievances (Cal. Const., art. I, § 3). Petitioners claim that section 4903.8, which restricts payment of lien awards to individuals other than those who incurred the expenses, substantially impairs their constitutional right to contract. (Cal. Const., art. I, § 9.) Finally, they argue that both statutes contravene the constitutional mandate that workers’ compensation laws “accomplish substantial justice in all cases expeditiously, inexpensively, and without any encumbrance of any character.” (Cal. Const., art. XIV, § 4.)
The Court of Appeal rejected the request in the published case of Chorn v WCAB and Kamala Harris and ruled that the challenged provisions of sections 4903.05 and 4903.8 do not violate any of the constitutional provisions identified in the petition.
Article XIV, “section 4 of the state Constitution ‘affirms the legislative prerogative in the workers’ compensation realm in broad and sweeping language’ . . . . [Citation.]” (Stevens, supra, 241 Cal.App.4th at p. 1094.) “[T]he notion that . . . Section 4 itself imposes separate restraints on the plenary powers it confers on the Legislature has been decidedly rejected.” (Ibid.) Likewise, the Legislature’s broad power to regulate and enact limitations upon workers’ compensation matters “has been repeatedly affirmed.” (Ibid. [collecting cases].) Thus, “nearly any exercise of the Legislature’s plenary powers over workers’ compensation is permissible so long as the Legislature finds its action to be ‘necessary to the effectiveness of the system of workers’ compensation.’ (Greener v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 6 Cal.4th at p. 1038, fn. 8.)” (Stevens, supra, 241 Cal.App.4th at p. 1095.) “The California Constitution does not make a workers’ right to benefits absolute” (Rio Linda Union School District v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 517, 532), nor does it make lien claimants’ rights to reimbursement absolute, as their rights arise out of and are derivative of the underlying workers’ compensation claim (see Perrillo v. Picco & Presley (2007) 157 Cal.App.4th 914, 929).
Here, the Senate Rules Committee’s analysis of SB 863 states that the lien system was “out of control” and could be reined in by “re-enact[ing] a filing fee, so that potential filers of frivolous liens have a disincentive to file.” “[F]ar from conflicting with Section 4’s mandate to provide substantial justice,” the lien reforms implemented in sections 4903.05 and 4903.8 advance this goal by taking aim at problem liens that impede the functioning of the workers’ compensation system. (Stevens, supra, 241 Cal.App.4th at p. 1096.) “It is not our place under the state Constitution to ‘second-guess the wisdom of the Legislature’ in making these determinations. (Facundo-Guerrero v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 163 Cal.App.4th at p. 651 [ ].)” (Stevens, supra, 241 Cal.App.4th at p. 1096.)