Matthews v. Indus. Comm'n of Ariz.

Decision Date23 November 2022
Docket NumberCV-21-0192-PR
Citation84 Arizona Cases Digest 14,520 P.3d 168
Parties Timothy MATTHEWS, Petitioner Employee, v. The INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION OF ARIZONA, Respondent, City of Tucson, Respondent Employer, Tristar Risk Management, Respondent Insurer.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

Laura Clymer (argued), Brian Clymer, Brian Clymer Attorney at Law, Tucson, Attorneys for Timothy Matthews

M. Ted Moeller (argued), Karolyn F. Keller, Moeller Law Office, Tucson, Attorneys for City of Tucson and Tristar Risk Management

Robert J. Forman, Dix & Forman, PC, Tucson, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Arizona Association of Lawyers of Injured Workers

Kristin M. Mackin, William J. Sims III, Sims Mackin, Ltd. Phoenix, Attorneys for Amici Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool and Arizona Counties Insurance Pool

JUSTICE BOLICK authored the Opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE BRUTINEL and JUSTICES LOPEZ, BEENE, MONTGOMERY, and KING joined. VICE CHIEF JUSTICE TIMMER concurred in part and dissented in part.

JUSTICE BOLICK, Opinion of the Court:

¶1 In this case, we hold that A.R.S. § 23-1043.01(B), which limits workers’ compensation claims for mental illnesses to those that arise from an "unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress" situation, does not violate article 18, section 8 of the Arizona Constitution or the equal protection guarantee of article 2, section 13.


¶2 Timothy Matthews began training with the Tucson Police Department ("TPD") in August 2000 after passing the necessary pre-employment physical and psychological examinations. Matthews participated in TPD's training program for four months.

¶3 After a four-month training program, Matthews worked as a TPD patrol officer. In 2009 while off duty, Matthews passed by an accident involving a car that hit a police officer on a bicycle. Matthews responded to the scene. He later learned the officer had died. Afterward, Matthews told his supervisor that the incident was negatively affecting him. He was subsequently sent to a psychiatrist, but the incident was never reported as an industrial accident for workers’ compensation purposes.

¶4 In 2011, Matthews was promoted to detective. He worked in the violent crimes section for six years and then in the street crimes unit. In March 2018, Matthews transferred to the domestic violence unit. During these years, Matthews continued to receive professional mental health care.

¶5 In June 2018, Matthews responded to an active domestic violence scene where an armed suspect was barricaded with his ex-wife and stepson in a residential garage. While negotiators spoke with the armed suspect, Matthews watched a live stream of the residence from a block away. Eventually, the armed suspect released his ex-wife and stepson but remained inside the garage.

¶6 Matthews obtained a search warrant for the SWAT team to remove the suspect. Matthews also interviewed the ex-wife and stepson. At some point, gunshots were heard from inside the garage. The sound prompted officers stationed around the home to partially breach the garage door. The suspect, visibly bleeding from a self-inflicted chest wound, then attempted to crawl out of the garage with his hand raised. The responding officers pulled him out of the garage and administered first aid, but the suspect died at the scene. Matthews watched this unfold on the live stream. He was later assigned to inspect the suspect's body and photograph the crime scene.

¶7 After this incident, Matthews began having nightmares, flashbacks, and difficulties concentrating on the job. Matthews reported these issues to his captain. Additionally, Matthews sought care from his treating psychiatrist and the City of Tucson's doctor. Both physicians recommended Matthews be relieved from his work duties.

¶8 Matthews filed an industrial injury claim arising from the June 2018 incident, claiming that it exacerbated his preexisting post-traumatic stress disorder

("PTSD"). Tristar Risk Management, the City of Tucson's insurer, denied Matthews’ claim. Matthews protested the denial, and a three-day hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ").

¶9 Matthews testified that the June 2018 incident was the most recent of several incidents on the job that contributed to his PTSD. However, he claimed the June 2018 incident was the "straw that broke the camel's back." Matthews also presented Sergeant Daniel Spencer, his TPD training supervisor, as an expert witness. Spencer testified that a domestic violence barricade situation resulting in suicide happens about two to four times a year. Additionally, Spencer testified that there were more than 100 officers in the area during the incident and that Matthews’ only unique involvement was inspecting the suspect's deceased body. Otherwise, Spencer characterized the incident as a "standard issue."

¶10 The City of Tucson and Tristar (the "City") presented a former Phoenix police officer and Dallas police chief, Benny Click. During Click's testimony, he expressed that the June 2018 incident was not unusual for a law enforcement officer and that stress is an expected part of the job. Click further testified that even incidents like a fellow officer being shot or mass shootings are anticipated incidents.

¶11 In October 2019, the ALJ issued a decision finding Matthews’ claims for mental injuries non-compensable because the June 2018 incident was not an "unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress" situation as required under § 23-1043.01(B). The ALJ did not consider Matthews’ testimony on the prior alleged PTSD-inducing incidents because he never filed a gradual injury claim. Matthews requested agency review, arguing that § 23-1043.01(B) violates article 18, section 8 of the Arizona Constitution because it allows defendants to use an assumption of risk defense against applicants. The ALJ affirmed the initial decision.

¶12 Matthews next filed a statutory special action petition with the court of appeals. At oral argument, Matthews argued that § 23-1043.01(B) was unconstitutional under article 18, section 8 because the original Workers’ Compensation Act ("WCA") encompassed mental injuries, and thus the legislature was restricted from treating them differently than physical injuries.1

¶13 In a divided opinion, the court of appeals affirmed the denial of benefits. Matthews v. Indus. Comm'n , 251 Ariz. 561, 563 ¶ 1, 495 P.3d 333, 335 (App. 2021). The majority held that § 23-1043.01(B) did not unconstitutionally restrict compensation but instead expanded it because the framers of the Arizona Constitution never contemplated mental injuries when they used the term "injury." Id. at 569–70 ¶ 19, 495 P.3d at 341-42.

¶14 The dissent argued that "injury" should be read more broadly and in the context of article 18, section 8 ’s language, of any accident arising out of and in the course of employment. Id. at 344 ¶ 30 (Eckerstrom, J., dissenting). The dissent construed "accident" in the workers’ compensation context to encompass both unexpected workplace events and injuries arising from the workplace. Id. Therefore, the dissent concluded that by subjecting compensation for such injuries and accidents to additional requirements, § 23-1043.01(B) unconstitutionally barred Matthews from the benefits to which he is entitled under the WCA. Id. at 345 ¶ 33.

¶15 We granted review to consider whether § 23-1043.01(B) is unconstitutional as applied to claimants who work in high-stress occupations such as law enforcement. This issue is a matter of statewide concern. We have jurisdiction under article 6, section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution.


¶16 A challenge to a statute's constitutionality presents a question of law, which we review de novo. State v. Hansen , 215 Ariz. 287, 289 ¶ 6, 160 P.3d 166 (2007).


¶17 Article 18, section 8 provides in relevant part:

The legislature shall enact a workmen's compensation law applicable to workmen engaged in manual or mechanical labor in all public employment whether of the state, or any political subdivision or municipality thereof as may be defined by law and in such private employments as the legislature may prescribe by which compensation shall be required to be paid to any such workman, in case of his injury and to his dependents, as defined by law, in case of his death, by his employer, if in the course of such employment personal injury to or death of any such workman from any accident arising out of and in the course of, such employment, is caused in whole, or in part, or is contributed to, by a necessary risk or danger of such employment, or a necessary risk or danger inherent in the nature thereof, or by failure of such employer, or any of his or its agents or employee or employees to exercise due care, or to comply with any law affecting such employment ....

¶18 The controlling language from the constitutional provision is coverage for an "injury ... from any accident" arising from "a necessary risk or danger" of the employment. Ariz. Const. art. 18, § 8. Matthews argues that by requiring workers’ compensation claimants to prove their mental injuries were caused by "unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress," § 23-1043.01(B) unconstitutionally restricts legal causation by creating an assumption of the risk defense.

¶19 In deciding this question, we must first determine whether article 18, section 8 of the Arizona Constitution encompasses mental stress injuries; that is, mental illnesses brought on not by physical trauma but by mental trauma such as stress or shock. See Tucson Unified Sch. Dist. v. Indus. Comm'n , 198 Ariz. 133, 134 ¶ 7, 7 P.3d 142, 143 (App. 2000). If it does not, as the court of appeals majority concluded, then the statute does not violate article 18, section 8 because the legislature is free to enlarge the scope of workers’ compensation. Goodyear Aircraft Corp. v. Indus. Comm'n , 62 Ariz. 398, 408, 158 P.2d 511, 521 (1945) (" Sec. 8 of article 18 ... is not a grant of power to the...

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