Adrienne Johnson was a professional basketball player who was not employed by a California team, has never resided in California, has played one professional game in California out of 34 games played during the 2003 season, and has suffered no specific injury in California. Upon graduation from Ohio State University, she was drafted by the Cleveland Rockers, a professional basketball team in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), and played for them for two years. Johnson next played for the Orlando Miracle, which became the Connecticut Sun in 2003. In December 2003, an MRI revealed she had a knee injury, for which she had surgery in 2004. Although Johnson did not play during the 2004 season she signed with the Seattle Storm and practiced with that team in Seattle in 2005. She did not play for that team during the 2005 regular season and has not played in any professional games since the end of the 2003 season.
While playing for the Orlando Miracle, Johnson lived in Orlando, Florida. When her team moved to Connecticut, Johnson moved from Orlando to Hackensack, New Jersey, and she continued to play for that team. At the time of her September 2010 deposition in the workers’ compensation proceeding in California, Johnson resided in Louisville, Kentucky and had been living there for two years.
Johnson sustained an injury to her right knee while playing for the Orlando Miracle in 1999. She had surgery for this injury in Orlando, Florida in 2000. In May 2001, while in training camp in Orlando, Johnson tore her Achilles tendon. She was treated again in Orlando and missed the entire 2001 season. She re-injured her right knee in 2003. Johnson signed a two-year contract with the Connecticut Sun on May 2, 2003. She signed this contract in Hackensack, New Jersey. Her agent was based in Ohio.
Johnson filed a workers’ compensation claim in Connecticut in August 2003 for the injury to her right knee. It was resolved by a settlement resulting in a $30,000 payment to Johnson. Johnson played 34 games in the 2003 season, which was the full season. During that season, she played one game in Los Angeles, California on July 20, 2003.
Johnson filed an application for adjudication of the claim in California against the Connecticut Sun and its workers’ compensation insurer Federal Insurance Company, which is part of the Chubb Group of insurance companies. The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) awarded disability indemnity., After a petition for reconsideration, the Board rescinded the award and returned the matter to the WCJ for further proceedings to apportion the compensation between the present injury and past injuries for which she already received workers’ compensation benefits in Connecticut. The defendants petitioned for a writ of review, contending that the Board does not have jurisdiction over Johnson’s claim. The Court of Appeal agreed that there was no subject matter jurisdiction in the published opinion of Federal Insurance Company vs WCAB, Adrienne Johnson.
The court reasoned that the issue of personal jurisdiction must be decided before the conflicts of law question. The WCJ’s determination that “[p]laying in even one professional basketball game in California is sufficient to establish jurisdiction” mischaracterizes the issue, which is not one of personal jurisdiction but rather one of whether one or more state compensation laws apply and whether in this case California may provide a forum for the claim. Thus the issue in this case is which state’s workers’ compensation law applies, not which state has personal jurisdiction. The issue may be characterized as a conflicts of law issue, which arises when there are contacts in multiple states.
Whether California’s workers’ compensation law governs depends on the application of the due process clause of the United States Constitution. If an employer or the insurer are subject to workers’ compensation law of a state that does not have a sufficient connection to the matter they are deprived of due process. Also, the determination may depend on the application of the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution. That is, if the workers’ compensation law of another state exclusively should apply and California does not have a sufficient contact with the matter, California must, under the full faith and credit clause, accede to the other state to provide a forum. California courts have long focused on the contacts of the employment relationship with California in determining which state’s workers’ compensation law applies. Despite a lack of California authority, it is widely accepted that rights created by the compensation act of one state cannot ordinarily be enforced in another state or in a federal court. Such a principle is justified because workers’ compensation laws involve administrative machinery that will differ from state to state. In some states there is an exception to this rule.
The Court was not, therefore, faced with an issue of which law to apply, but only with whether California’s workers’ compensation law applies in this case. That issue has been framed as one of due process under the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution. If this state lacks a sufficient relationship with Johnson’s injuries, to require the employer to defend the case here would be a denial of due process such that the courts of this state do not have authority to act. This might be referred to as a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The court concluded that a single basketball game played by a professional player does not create a legitimate interest in injuries that cannot be traced factually to one game. The effect of the California game on the injury is at best de minimis. Accordingly, California does not have a sufficient relationship with Johnson’s injuries to make the application of California’s workers’ compensation law reasonable. And California law has no obligation to apply the workers’ compensation law of any other state. Thus, as a matter of due process, California does not have the power to entertain Johnson’s claim.