Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, No. SC13–1930

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtPARIENTE, J.
Citation194 So.3d 311
Decision Date09 June 2016
Docket Number No. SC13–1976.,No. SC13–1930
Parties Bradley WESTPHAL, Petitioner, v. CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG, etc., et al., Respondents. City of St. Petersburg, etc., Petitioner, v. Bradley Westphal, Respondent.

194 So.3d 311

Bradley WESTPHAL, Petitioner,
v.
CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG, etc., et al., Respondents.


City of St. Petersburg, etc., Petitioner,
v.
Bradley Westphal, Respondent.

No. SC13–1930
No. SC13–1976.

Supreme Court of Florida.

June 9, 2016.


194 So.3d 312

Richard Anthony Sicking of Touby, Chait & Sicking, P.L., Coral Gables, FL; and Jason Lawrence Fox of Bichler, Kelley, Oliver, Longo & Fox, PLLC, Tampa, FL, for Petitioner/Respondent.

John C. Wolfe, City Attorney, Jeannine Smith Williams, Chief Assistant City Attorney, and Kimberly D. Proano, Assistant City Attorney, Saint Petersburg, FL, for Respondent/Petitioner City of Saint Petersburg.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Rachel Erin Nordby, Deputy Solicitor

194 So.3d 313

General, Tallahassee, FL, for Respondent/Petitioner State of Florida.

Mark Lawrence Zientz of the Law Offices of Mark L. Zientz, P.A., Miami, FL, for Amicus Curiae Workers' Injury Law and Advocacy Group.

Richard W. Ervin, III of Fox & Loquasto, P.A., Tallahassee, FL, for Amicus Curiae Florida Workers Advocates.

Noah Scott Warman of Sugarman & Susskind, P.A., Coral Gables, FL, for Amicus Curiae Florida Professional Firefighters, Inc.

William J. McCabe, Longwood, FL, for Amicus Curiae Florida Justice Association.

Geoffrey Bichler of Bichler, Kelley, Oliver & Longo, PLLC, Maitland, FL, for Amici Curiae Police Benevolent Association, The Florida Fraternal Order of Police, and International Union of Police Associations, AFL–CIO.

Matthew J. Mierzwa, Jr. of Mierzwa & Associates, P.A., Lake Worth, FL, for Amicus Curiae The International Association of Fire Fighters.

Andre M. Mura of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, P.C., Washington, District of Columbia, for Amicus Curiae American Association for Justice.

Jeffrey Edward Appel of Appel Harden Law Group, Lakeland, FL; and Barbara Ballow Wagner of Wagenheim & Wagner, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, FL, for Amicus Curiae Voices, Inc.

William Harris Rogner, Winter Park, FL, for Amici Curiae Associated Industries of Florida, Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, The Florida Chamber of Commerce, The Florida Insurance Council, The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, The Florida Justice Reform Institute, Publix Super Markets, United Parcel Service, The Florida Roofing, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association, The Florida Retail Federation, The American Insurance Association, The National Federation of Independent Business, The Florida United Businesses Association, Inc., and The Florida Association of Self Insureds.

PARIENTE, J.

In this case, we consider the constitutionality of section 440.15(2)(a), Florida Statutes (2009)—part of the state's workers' compensation law—which cuts off disability benefits after 104 weeks to a worker who is totally disabled and incapable of working but who has not yet reached maximum medical improvement. We conclude that this portion of the worker's compensation statute is unconstitutional under article I, section 21, of the Florida Constitution, as a denial of the right of access to courts, because it deprives an injured worker of disability benefits under these circumstances for an indefinite amount of time—thereby creating a system of redress that no longer functions as a reasonable alternative to tort litigation.

In Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg/City of St. Petersburg Risk Management, 122 So.3d 440, 442 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013), an en banc majority of the First District Court of Appeal valiantly attempted to save the statute from unconstitutionality by interpreting section 440.15(2)(a) so that the severely injured worker who can no longer receive temporary total disability benefits, but who is not yet eligible for permanent total disability benefits, would not be cut off from compensation after 104 weeks.1 The judiciary, however, is without

194 So.3d 314

power to rewrite a plainly written statute, even if it is to avoid an unconstitutional result. See Brown v. State, 358 So.2d 16, 20 (Fla.1978) (“When the subject statute in no way suggests a saving construction, we will not abandon judicial restraint and effectively rewrite the enactment.”). We accordingly quash the First District's decision.

Consistent with the views of both the petitioner, Bradley Westphal, and the principal respondent, the City of St. Petersburg, we conclude that section 440.15(2)(a) of the workers' compensation law is plainly written and therefore does not permit this Court to resort to rules of statutory construction. See Knowles v. Beverly Enters.–Fla., Inc., 898 So.2d 1, 5 (Fla.2004). Instead, we must give the statute its plain and obvious meaning, which provides that “[o]nce the employee reaches the maximum number of weeks allowed [104 weeks], or the employee reaches the date of maximum medical improvement, whichever occurs earlier, temporary disability benefits shall cease and the injured worker's permanent impairment shall be determined.” § 440.15(2)(a), Fla. Stat. The statute does not—as the First District erroneously concluded—provide that the worker is at that time legally entitled to permanent total disability benefits, nor does it provide that the worker is automatically deemed to be at maximum medical improvement based on the cessation of temporary total disability benefits. See Westphal, 122 So.3d at 444.

Applying the statute's plain meaning, we conclude that the 104–week limitation on temporary total disability benefits results in a statutory gap in benefits, in violation of the constitutional right of access to courts. The stated legislative intent of the workers' compensation law is to “assure the quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits to an injured worker and to facilitate the worker's return to gainful reemployment at a reasonable cost to the employer.” § 440.015, Fla. Stat. (2009). Section 440.15(2)(a), however, operates in the opposite manner. The statute cuts off a severely injured worker from disability benefits at a critical time, when the worker cannot return to work and is totally disabled but the worker's doctors—chosen by the employer—deem that the worker may still continue to medically improve.

As applied to these circumstances, the workers' compensation law undoubtedly fails to provide “full medical care and wage-loss payments for total or partial disability regardless of fault.” Martinez v. Scanlan, 582 So.2d 1167, 1171–72 (Fla.1991). Instead, for injured workers like Westphal who are not yet legally entitled to assert a claim for permanent total disability benefits at the conclusion of 104 weeks of temporary total disability benefits, the workers' compensation law lacks adequate and sufficient safeguards and cannot be said to continue functioning as a “system of compensation without contest” that stands as a reasonable alternative to

194 So.3d 315

tort litigation. Mullarkey v. Fla. Feed Mills, Inc., 268 So.2d 363, 366 (Fla.1972). Contrary to Justice Canady's dissenting opinion, the seminal case on the meaning of the Florida Constitution's access to courts provision, Kluger v. White, 281 So.2d 1 (Fla.1973), specifically discussed the test for determining the constitutionality of the workers' compensation statutory scheme under the access to courts provision, article I, section 21, of the Florida Constitution. The constitutional yardstick, which we applied in Martinez and Mullarkey for determining whether an access-to-courts violation occurred as a result of changes made to the workers' compensation statutory scheme, is whether the scheme continues to provide “adequate, sufficient, and even preferable safeguards for an employee who is injured on the job.” Kluger, 281 So.2d at 4.

Accordingly, we hold that the statute as written by the Legislature is unconstitutional. However, we conclude that this unconstitutional limitation on temporary total disability benefits does not render the entire workers' compensation system invalid.2 Rather, we employ the remedy of statutory revival and direct that the limitation in the workers' compensation law preceding the 1994 amendments to section 440.15(2)(a) is revived, which provides for temporary total disability benefits not to exceed 260 weeks—five years of eligibility rather than only two years, a limitation we previously held “passes constitutional muster.” Martinez, 582 So.2d at 1172.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In December 2009, Bradley Westphal, then a fifty-three-year-old firefighter in St. Petersburg, Florida, suffered a severe lower back injury caused by lifting heavy furniture in the course of fighting a fire. As a result of the lower back injury, Westphal experienced extreme pain and loss of feeling in his left leg below the knee and required multiple surgical procedures, including an eventual spinal fusion.

Shortly after his workplace injury, Westphal began receiving benefits pursuant to the workers' compensation law set forth in chapter 440, Florida Statutes (2009). Specifically, the City of St. Petersburg began to provide both indemnity benefits, in the form of temporary total disability benefits pursuant to

194 So.3d 316
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31 practice notes
  • Banks v. Jones, No. 1D15–0330.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • July 12, 2016
    ...v. City of St. Petersburg, 122 So.3d 440, 447 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013), quashed on other grounds by Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, 194 So.3d 311 (Fla.2016). We noted with approval the United States Supreme Court case of Arizona v. Rumsey, 467 U.S. 203, 104 S.Ct. 2305, 81 L.Ed.2d 164 (1984),......
  • Delisle v. Crane Co., No. SC16-2182
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • October 15, 2018
    ...certain statutes are unconstitutional because they restrict litigants' access to courts. See, e.g. , Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg , 194 So.3d 311, 327 (Fla. 2016) ; Mitchell , 786 So.2d 521. Justice Shaw reached this conclusion regarding a statute that provided "that an injured party ......
  • Pardo v. United Parcel Serv., No. 116,842
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • June 1, 2018
    ...no remedy provided to Pardo under the Act.The Florida Supreme Court addressed a similar question in Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg , 194 So.3d 311 (Fla. 2016). There, the Florida Legislature amended its workers compensation act to limit an individual's temporary total disability benefit......
  • Ripple v. CBS Corp., 4D20-1939
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • March 30, 2022
    ...to impermissibly rewrite section 768.21 by adding those words to the statute. This we cannot do. See Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg , 194 So. 3d 311, 313-14 (Fla. 2016) ("The judiciary ... is without power to rewrite a plainly written statute ...."); Hayes v. State , 750 So. 2d 1, 4 (Fl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
31 cases
  • Banks v. Jones, No. 1D15–0330.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • July 12, 2016
    ...v. City of St. Petersburg, 122 So.3d 440, 447 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013), quashed on other grounds by Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, 194 So.3d 311 (Fla.2016). We noted with approval the United States Supreme Court case of Arizona v. Rumsey, 467 U.S. 203, 104 S.Ct. 2305, 81 L.Ed.2d 164 (1984),......
  • Delisle v. Crane Co., No. SC16-2182
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • October 15, 2018
    ...certain statutes are unconstitutional because they restrict litigants' access to courts. See, e.g. , Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg , 194 So.3d 311, 327 (Fla. 2016) ; Mitchell , 786 So.2d 521. Justice Shaw reached this conclusion regarding a statute that provided "that an injured party ......
  • Pardo v. United Parcel Serv., No. 116,842
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • June 1, 2018
    ...no remedy provided to Pardo under the Act.The Florida Supreme Court addressed a similar question in Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg , 194 So.3d 311 (Fla. 2016). There, the Florida Legislature amended its workers compensation act to limit an individual's temporary total disability benefit......
  • Ripple v. CBS Corp., 4D20-1939
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • March 30, 2022
    ...to impermissibly rewrite section 768.21 by adding those words to the statute. This we cannot do. See Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg , 194 So. 3d 311, 313-14 (Fla. 2016) ("The judiciary ... is without power to rewrite a plainly written statute ...."); Hayes v. State , 750 So. 2d 1, 4 (Fl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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