In Re: Joseph C. Melancon, III, 05-1702, 935 So. 2d 661 (La. 7/10/06).
On procedural grounds, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed a district court ruling that the forfeiture provision of La. R.S. 23:1208 is unconstitutional and that the Office of Workers’ Compensation does not have jurisdiction over any claims involving La. R.S. 23:1208.
Joseph Melancon filed a claim with the Office of Workers’ Compensation for workers’ compensation benefits. His employer, Pulmonary Care Specialist, Inc., answered the claim and alleged that, under La. R.S. 23:1208, Melancon forfeited his right to compensation by making false statements for the purpose of obtaining worker’s compensation benefits.
Melancon filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment in district court seeking a declaration that the forfeiture procedure of La. R.S. 23:1208 is unconstitutional and that the Office of Workers’ Compensation does not have jurisdiction over any claims involving La. R.S. 23:1208.
The Trial Court Decision
Without explanation, the district court judged held that the forfeiture provision of La. R.S. 23:1208 is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause of the Louisiana Constitution. The also held that the OWC does not have jurisdiction over any claims adjudicating or applying the other provisions of La. R.S. 23:1208. The district court rendered judgment at a hearing in which no one appeared to oppose Melancon and at which no evidence was presented.
The Louisiana Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court reversed. A strong presumption exists that legislation is constitutional. For that reason, a court must follow appropriate procedure before declaring a statute unconstitutional. The unconstitutionality of a statute must be specifically pleaded and the grounds must be particularized. All interested parties must have sufficient time to brief and prepare arguments defending the constitutionality of the challenged statute. This procedure provides the trial court with thoughtful and complete arguments on the constitutionality of the statute and provides reviewing courts with an adequate record to determine whether the statute is constitutional.
In this case, the district court declared La. R.S. 23:1208 unconstitutional without determining whether all interested parties had been named as defendants, without determining whether the named parties were properly served, and without any evidence regarding the constitutionality of La. R.S. 23:1208 or establishing Melancon’s standing to challenge the constitutionality of La. R.S. 23:1208. The district court’s actions were improper and, therefore, the Supreme Court vacated its judgment enjoining the enforcement of La. R.S. 23:1208. The Supreme Court specifically declined to address substantive issue of the whether the forfeiture provision of La. R.S. 23:1208 is constitutional and whether the OWC has jurisdiction over claims involving La. R.S. 23:1208.