Benson v. North Dakota Workmen's Compensation Bureau, 9238-A

Decision Date16 July 1979
Docket NumberNo. 9238-A,9238-A
Citation283 N.W.2d 96
PartiesElvin O. BENSON, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. NORTH DAKOTA WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION BUREAU, Defendant and Appellant. Civ.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Dale W. Moench, Dickinson, for plaintiff and appellee.

Murray G. Sagsveen, Sol. Gen., Bismarck, and Richard J. Gross, Special Asst. Atty. Gen., Workmen's Compensation Bureau, Bismarck, for defendant and appellant.

Lisa Knazan and Arcelia Romo Perez, Migrant Legal Services, Fargo, amicus curiae, on briefs.

PEDERSON, Justice.

The district court of Stark County has twice held in this case that the statute which excludes agricultural service from the mandatory provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act violates both the Constitution of North Dakota and the Constitution of the United States. When the first holding was appealed to this court, we remanded because of procedural deficiencies and made suggestions as to procedure and issues. Benson v. N. D. Workmen's Comp. Bureau, 250 N.W.2d 249 (N.D.1977). On this appeal, we will address the merits of the constitutionality of the agricultural exclusion under the Workmen's Compensation Act (Chapter 162, S.L. 1919 now Title 65, NDCC).

There is no factual dispute. Although the trial subsequent to our previous holding in Benson v. N. D. Workmen's Comp. Bureau, supra, developed the facts in much greater detail, the essential facts are the same as set forth in our previous opinion. The record reveals that Benson's scope of employment as an agricultural employee was extremely broad, and included: milking, livestock feeding, equipment operation, cleaning cattle, cleaning barn, hauling silage and grain, assisting in calving, repairing machinery, welding tuning motors, changing oil and greasing machinery, repairing fences and corrals, operating augers, carpentry, driving tractors, trucks and swathers, chopping corn, operating a power saw, painting, and "about anything you could name."

Although North Dakota's Workmen's Compensation Act has been often amended, the stated purpose of the Act has remained essentially as enacted in 1919. The title to the Act clearly discloses that this is an act creating a fund for the benefit of employees injured, and the dependents of employees killed in hazardous employment. Section 1 of Chapter 162 (now § 65-01-01, NDCC), provides:

"The state of North Dakota, exercising its police and sovereign powers, declares that the prosperity of the state depends in a large measure upon the well-being of its wage workers, and, hence, for workmen injured in hazardous employments, and for their families and dependents, sure and certain relief is hereby provided regardless of questions of fault and to the exclusion of every other remedy, proceeding, or compensation, except as otherwise provided in this title, and to that end, all civil actions and civil causes of action for such personal injuries and all jurisdiction of the courts of the state over such causes are abolished except as is otherwise provided in this title."

Section 2 of Chapter 162 (now § 65-01-02, NDCC), provides in part:

"65-01-02. Definitions. Whenever used in this title:

"3. 'Employment' shall mean . . . all private employments;

"4. a. 'Hazardous employment' shall mean any employment in which one or more employees are employed regularly in the same business or in or about the establishment except:

(1) Agricultural or domestic service; . . .

"5. 'Employee' shall mean every person engaged in a hazardous employment under any appointment, . . .

"7. 'Employer' shall mean:

c. Every person, partnership, association, and private corporation, . . ."

The language chosen by the legislature when enacting Chapter 162 is, at best, uncertain and perplexing. In declaring the purpose of Chapter 162 and in defining its terms, the legislature resorted to a legal fiction. Apparently believing it necessary, in order to provide a benefit to workers who are injured, the legislature labeled certain employment as hazardous and then defined the term in such manner as to eliminate any concern as to whether or not a hazard existed. The exclusion of agricultural services was not based upon a conclusion that it was nonhazardous when compared to services that were not excluded. We will assume, as administrators and courts have for 60 years, that agricultural employment is excluded from mandatory workmen's compensation coverage without regard to its relative hazardousness.

There was no contention by anyone in this case that agricultural employment is not hazardous. By the very nature and scope of tasks required of a general agricultural service employee, such as Benson in the instant case, a jack-of-all-trades develops who may be the master-of-none. While operating a power saw a few minutes during a week, we would not expect Benson to be as proficient or careful as a carpenter helper who operates a power saw forty hours a week. The composite activities of a farmhand are obviously more hazardous than the total of the individual activities when performed full time.

Both parties agree that the issue for this court is whether the exclusion of agricultural employees from mandatory coverage under § 65-01-02(4)(a)(1), NDCC, violates the Constitutions of North Dakota and the United States. The thrust of the holding of the district court is that the statutory exclusion: (1) deprives Benson of equality as guaranteed by § 1 of Article I, North Dakota Constitution; (2) imposes upon him a non-uniform burden in violation of § 11, Article I, North Dakota Constitution; (3) violates his right to due process of law under § 13, Article I, North Dakota Constitution; (4) invidiously discriminates against him contrary to § 20, Article I, North Dakota Constitution; and (5) fails to provide him with due process and equal protection assured by § 1, Article XIV, United States Constitution.

Standards of Constitutional Review

Our court has reiterated the rule many times that an act of a legislature is presumed to be valid, and any doubt as to its constitutionality must, where possible, be resolved in favor of its validity. So. Valley Grain Dealers v. Bd. of Cty. Com'rs, 257 N.W.2d 425, 434 (N.D.1977). See also, Caldis v. Board of County Commissioners, 279 N.W.2d 665 (N.D.1979); Ralston Purina Company v. Hagemeister, 188 N.W.2d 405 (N.D.1971); Souris River Telephone Mutual Aid Corp. v. State, 162 N.W.2d 685 (N.D.1968); Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. v. Johanneson, 153 N.W.2d 414 (N.D.1967).

In some of our recent decisions we have discussed the "three-standard of scrutiny" used to determine whether a statute is constitutionally valid. State v. Knoefler, 279 N.W.2d 658 (N.D.1979); Herman v. Magnuson, 277 N.W.2d 445 (N.D.1979); Arneson v. Olson, 270 N.W.2d 125 (N.D.1978). All three of these cases refer us to Johnson v. Hassett, 217 N.W.2d 771 (N.D.1974), where we identify the standards as: (1) the traditional rational-basis standard under which a statute is upheld if the classification is not patently arbitrary or if it bears some reasonable relationship to a legitimate governmental interest; (2) the strict judicial-scrutiny standard used when the classification is inherently suspect, or concerns a fundamental interest; and (3) an intermediate standard that has been difficult to label or define but which closely approximates the historical, substantive due-process test. This standard requires a close correspondence between statutory classifications and legislative goals. For interest, see Paulsen, The Persistence of Substantive Due Process in the States, 34 Minn.L.Rev. 91 (1950). Each of the first two standards is presumably applied in the federal court system and would have to be applied by this court here insofar as Benson argues that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is violated by our statute. The substantive due-process test would be inappropriate for that review. But see, Lalli v. Lalli, 439 U.S. 259, 99 S.Ct. 518, 58 L.Ed.2d 503 (1978).

In Herman v. Magnuson, supra, 277 N.W.2d at 451, our court discussed the three standards of scrutiny to determine which of the three was applicable to the circumstances of that case. One of the issues in Herman was whether the notice provisions of §§ 40-42-01 and 40-42-02, NDCC, requiring a claim to be filed prior to the commencement of a suit against a municipality, violated equal protection. We rejected the application of the traditional rational-basis standard used in Tharaldson v. Unsatisfied Judgment Fund, 225 N.W.2d 39 (N.D.1974), because the right to recover from a municipality was severely limited by the notice provisions contained in Chapter 40-42, NDCC, and, hence, a stricter standard of review was appropriate. Because there was no "fundamental interest" or "suspect-classification" issue presented, the "strict-scrutiny" test was also inappropriate. State ex rel. Olson v. Maxwell, 259 N.W.2d 621 (N.D.1977). Our court, in Herman v. Magnuson, supra, 277 N.W.2d at 451, concluded that the intermediate standard of review requiring a close correspondence between a statutory classification and legislative goals was the proper standard because the issue involved a limitation upon the authority of an injured party to bring an action against the tort-feasor.

Although we are not concerned in this case with a limitation on actions for common-law tort remedies, we are concerned with the complete exclusion of a legislatively created remedy for personal injury to one class of employees. Our concern here closely resembles those concerns addressed in cases using the intermediate close-correspondence test (Herman v. Magnuson, supra ; Arneson v. Olson, supra ; Johnson v. Hassett, supra ), rather than those cases in which we have applied the traditional rational-basis test. Tharaldson v. Unsatisfied Judgment Fund, supra. The complete exclusion of agricultural employees from workmen's compensation not only deprives the farm worker of a...

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