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David A. Stallworth was an American professional basketball player. He played in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for eight seasons and was a member of the New York Knicks’ 1969-70 championship-winning team.

He filed an Application for Adjudication of Claim for an alleged CT injury to multiple areas while employed as a professional athlete by the Phoenix Suns, the Washington Capitols/Bullets/Wizards, and the New York Knicks, from July 1, 1965 to July 1, 1975. This Application was filed on September 6, 2013. However, he died during the course of litigation on March 16, 2017.

The parties proceeded to trial on November 29, 2018, and framed for decision issues including personal and subject matter jurisdiction, injury arising out of and in the course of employment (AOE/COE), and the running of the statute of limitations under Labor Code2 section 5405. The WCJ heard the testimony of applicant’s spouse and received other evidence including the deposition transcript of David Stallworth taken before he died. The case was submitted, and then further documentation was received,

Ultimately on May 30, 2019, the WCJ issued the F&O finding that “applicant’s contracts were entered into outside of the State of California.” and also found that “California does not have a legitimate and substantial interest in applicant’s claim to compel defendant to adjudicate the claim under the laws of California.”

The Opinion on Decision addressed the issue of personal jurisdiction over the defendants by explaining that “all teams involved have purposefully appeared in California by traveling to the state to participate in league games as well as scheduling future games in California.” The WCJ thus found personal jurisdiction over the party defendants.

Turning to the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, the Opinion on Decision observed that applicant’s spouse testified at trial that the applicant told her in 1995 that he had signed a contract in 1965 at his mother’s house in California. Applicant’s spouse further testified that applicant was in California to appear on the Glen Campbell show, and that he related to her that he signed the contract before making his appearance. However, applicant’s deposition testimony, taken prior to his passing, was that he had signed only two contracts over the course of his career, and that his contracts were signed in New York or Maryland.

The WCAB granted reconsideration to provide an opportunity to further study the legal and factual issues. Having completed it’s review, the WCAB issued a Decision After Reconsideration affirming the Findings and Order, issued on May 30, 2019 in the panel decision of Stallworth v Washington Capitols, Washington Bullets et., al, – ADJ9082985; ADJ10467720; ADJ10467734; ADJ10467683 (May 2024).

On reconsideration Applicant asserts that the testimony of applicant’s spouse is the more credible and supports a finding of contract formation in California in 1969 or 1970. Applicant also contends that irrespective of contract formation, subject matter jurisdiction is established by the fact that applicant sustained two heart attacks while playing in California, resulting in his hospitalization and missing the following two seasons.

Subject matter jurisdiction has been described as “the power of the court over a cause of action or to act in a particular way.” (Greener v. Workers Comp. Appeals Bd. (1993) 6 Cal.4th 1028 [58 Cal.Comp.Cases 793, 795].) Pursuant to Labor Code sections 3600.5(a) and 5305, a hiring in California provides this state with sufficient connection to the employment to support adjudication of a claim of industrial injury before the WCAB. (Alaska Packers Assn. v. Industrial Acc. Com. (Palma) (1934) 1 Cal.2d 250, affd. (1935) 294 U.S. 532 (Palma); Bowen v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 15, 27 [64 Cal.Comp.Cases 745] [‘an employee who is a professional athlete residing in California, such as Bowen, who signs a player’s contract in California furnished to the athlete here by an out-of-state team, is entitled to benefits under the act for injuries received while playing out of state under the contract’]; Johnson, supra, 221 Cal.App.4th at p. 1126].)

Here, the WCJ has identified two competing inferences regarding contract formation that may be drawn from the evidentiary record. Applicant’s Petition asserts the WCJ erred in weighing the evidence because applicant was not competent to testify at deposition. However, the WCJ’s Report identifies and addresses each of applicant’s contentions, offering specific excerpts of the transcript to provide context to the assertions contained in applicant’s Petition. The WCJ concludes that a careful review of the deposition testimony establishes that applicant was able to testify competently and respond to the questions posed.

The Report also notes that applicant offered no objection to moving ahead with testimony on the grounds of competency at the time the deposition was taken, and that applicant was represented by present counsel during the entirety of the deposition. In fact, applicant’s counsel interposed his own examination questions during the deposition. Nor was any objection to the admissibility or the veracity of the deposition testimony offered at the time the transcript was offered into evidence at trial.

In addition to the WCJ’s reasoning, the WCAB panel also note that the record is silent as to the actual contracts in question. Nor does the record establish the nature, number, or character of the contracts entered into, the parties thereto, or other evidence that would speak to the formation of a California contract of hire.

The WCAB said “we discern no evidence of considerable substantiality that would warrant disturbing the WCJ’s determinations as to the credibility of the witnesses or the relative weight of the evidence. Accordingly, we decline to disturb the WCJ’s determination that ‘applicant’s contracts were entered into outside of the State of California.’ “

In Federal Insurance Co. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (Johnson) (2013) 221 Cal.App.4th 1126 [78 Cal.Comp.Cases 1257] the court noted that Johnson played but one game in California out of 34 games played during the 2003 season, and that “a single basketball game played by a professional player does not create a legitimate interest in injury that cannot be traced factually to one game.” (Id. at p. 1130.)

Here, applicant avers that he played two games in California during which he sustained a cardiac infarction, and that the quality and severity of those instances were sufficient to warrant the Appeals Board’s exercise of subject matter jurisdiction over the claimed injury.

However, as the WCJ explains in his report, “Johnson involves a two-part test in determining if California has a legitimate interest in adjudicating an applicant’s claim of cumulative trauma where the cumulative trauma injury is the only connection with the State. This test considered the qualitative as well as quantitative nature of applicant’s exposure.”

The WCAB panel said it agrees with the WCJ’s analysis and conclusion that the evidentiary record does not establish, to a preponderance of the evidence, that the games applicant played in California were sufficient, under either a quantitative or qualitative analysis, to support the exercise of California’s subject matter jurisdiction over the claimed injury.