Willoughby v. Dept. of Labor & Industries, No. 71950-1.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtSANDERS, J.
Citation57 P.3d 611,147 Wn.2d 725,147 Wash.2d 725
PartiesTony WILLOUGHBY, Respondent, v. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRIES OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, Appellant. Lennie T. Cain, Respondent, v. Department of Labor and Industries of the State of Washington, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 71950-1.
Decision Date14 November 2002

57 P.3d 611
147 Wn.2d 725
147 Wash.2d 725

Tony WILLOUGHBY, Respondent,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRIES OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, Appellant.
Lennie T. Cain, Respondent,
v.
Department of Labor and Industries of the State of Washington, Appellant

No. 71950-1.

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc.

Argued June 13, 2002.

Decided November 14, 2002.


57 P.3d 612
Christine Gregoire, Attorney General, John Wasberg, Assistant Attorney General, Seattle, Kames Johnson, Assistant Attorney General, Olympia, for Appellant

Tony Willoughby, appearing pro se.

Lennie Cain, appearing pro se.

Bryan Harnetiaux, Debra Stephens, Spokane, Amicus Curiae on Behalf of Washington State Trial Lawyers Association.

SANDERS, J.

Tony Willoughby and Lennie Cain challenge the validity of RCW 51.32.040(3)(a) and 72.60.102's bar against disbursing industrial insurance permanent partial disability benefits to prisoners who have no statutory beneficiaries and are unlikely to be released from prison. Judge Schacht of the Walla Walla County Superior Court found these statutes

57 P.3d 613
worked a forfeiture of the prisoners' property contrary to RCW 9.92.110, violated their right to equal protection of the law, and deprived them of their property without due process of law. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (Labor & Industries) appealed. We granted direct review and affirm

FACTS

Tony Willoughby is incarcerated at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla for life without the possibility of parole. He is unmarried and has no dependents.

At the time of his injury Willoughby was employed in a correctional work program to which the State's industrial insurance applied. On November 14, 1994, Willoughby suffered a job related injury, requiring the amputation of two-thirds of his right index finger.

Willoughby filed a timely claim with Labor & Industries, which rated his injuries and determined he should receive $10,260.81 in permanent partial disability benefits. However, because he was incarcerated and had no spouse or dependents, Labor & Industries canceled his benefits pursuant to RCW 51.32.040(3)(a) and 72.60.102.

In June 1996, Willoughby, acting pro se, filed a declaratory judgment action in Walla Walla County Superior Court, challenging the validity of RCW 51.32.040(3)(a) and 72.60.102 on several grounds, alleging violations of due process and equal protection, and claiming that RCW 51.32.040(3)(a) and 72.60.102 conflicted with RCW 9.92.110, which prohibits forfeiture of a prisoner's property by reason of his or her conviction.1

Lennie Cain, born in 1964, is serving a 60 year sentence at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.2 Cain has no spouse or dependents. Like Willoughby, Cain also was employed in a correctional work program, to which the State's industrial insurance applied. On March 17, 1997, Cain suffered a job related injury, incurring the loss of three fingers of his right hand. Cain timely filed a claim with Labor & Industries. Noting that Cain was incarcerated and had no spouse or dependents, Labor & Industries closed Cain's claim without first determining his permanent partial disability rating.

In May 1998, Cain, pro se, filed a declaratory judgment action with the Walla Walla County Superior Court challenging the validity of RCW 51.32.040(3)(a) and 72.60.102 on the same grounds raised by Willoughby. Concluding the legislative classification of RCW 51.32.040(3)(a), applicable to Willoughby and Cain by virtue of RCW 72.60.102, rests on grounds wholly irrelevant to achievement of any legitimate state objective and finding no conceivable set of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification created by these statutory provisions, the trial court held the statutes violated constitutional equal protection and due process guaranties. It also concluded RCW 51.32.040(3)(a) and 72.60.102 conflicted with RCW 9.92.110 because they forfeit a prisoner's property. Willoughby v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., No. 96-2-00344-2, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (Sup.Ct. July 25, 2000); Cain v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., No. 98-2-00240-0, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (Sup.Ct. July 25, 2000).

On August 22, 2000, Labor & Industries appealed to the Court of Appeals, and the Willoughby and Cain matters, 19525-2-III and 195265-1-III, were consolidated on motion by the State. On March 1, 2001, the Court of Appeals stayed the superior court judgment and thereafter, on January 16, 2002, certified the consolidated appeals for direct review by this court. We accepted review pursuant to RCW 2.06.030(c).

57 P.3d 614
STANDARD OF REVIEW

The construction of a statute is a question of law and is reviewed de novo. Stuckey v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 129 Wash.2d 289, 295, 916 P.2d 399 (1996). Constitutional challenges are reviewed de novo. Fusato v. Wash. Interscholastic Activities Ass'n, 93 Wash.App. 762, 767, 970 P.2d 774 (1999).

ANALYSIS

I. Forfeiture

If an issue can be resolved on statutory grounds, the court need not reach constitutional issues. Tunstall ex rel. Tunstall v. Bergeson, 141 Wash.2d 201, 210, 5 P.3d 691 (2000), cert. denied, 532 U.S. 920, 121 S.Ct. 1356, 149 L.Ed.2d 286 (2001). However, this claim that denial of a prisoner's permanent partial disability benefits pursuant to RCW 51.32.040(3)(a) and 72.60.102 violates RCW 9.92.110 (barring forfeiture of a prisoner's property by reason of his or her conviction) cannot succeed.

"[I]t is the duty of the court to reconcile apparently conflicting statutes and to give effect to each of them, if this can be achieved without distortion of the language used." Tommy P. v. Bd. of County Comm'rs, 97 Wash.2d 385, 391-92, 645 P.2d 697 (1982).

RCW 72.60.102 states in relevant part:

[A]ny inmate employed in classes I, II, and IV of correctional industries as defined in RCW 72.09.100 is eligible for industrial insurance benefits as provided by Title 51 RCW. However, eligibility for benefits for either the inmate or the inmate's dependents or beneficiaries for temporary disability or permanent total disability as provided in RCW 51.32.090 or 51.32.060, respectively, shall not take effect until the inmate is released pursuant to an order of parole by the indeterminate sentence review board, or discharged from custody upon expiration of the sentence, or discharged from custody by order of a court of appropriate jurisdiction.

RCW 51.32.040(3) states in relevant part:

(a) Any worker or beneficiary receiving benefits under this title who is subsequently confined in, or who subsequently becomes eligible for benefits under this title while confined in, any institution under conviction and sentence shall have all payments of the compensation canceled during the period of confinement. After discharge from the institution, payment of benefits due afterward shall be paid if the worker or beneficiary would, except for the provisions of this subsection (3), otherwise be entitled to them.
. . . .
(c) If the confined worker has any beneficiaries during the confinement period during which benefits are canceled under (a) or (b) of this subsection, they shall be paid directly the monthly benefits which would have been paid to the worker for himself or herself and the worker's beneficiaries3 had the worker not been confined.4

According to these statutes, Labor & Industries is required to suspend payment of prisoners' permanent partial disability benefits for the duration of their imprisonment.

RCW 9.92.110 provides:
[a] conviction of crime shall not work a forfeiture of any property, real or personal, or of any right or interest therein.

57 P.3d 615
Labor & Industries correctly argues there is no conflict between statutes because RCW 51.32.040(3)(a) suspends payment of benefits where a worker is confined pursuant to a conviction, not because the worker is convicted. Similarly, RCW 72.60.102 lifts the suspension upon discharge at the expiration of the sentence, pursuant to an order of parole or by order of a court of appropriate jurisdiction. Thus, the statutes do not penalize Willoughby and Cain by reason of their conviction and do not conflict with RCW 9.92.110

II. Due Process

A claimant alleging deprivation of due process must first establish a legitimate claim of entitlement to the life, liberty or property at issue. Meyer v. Univ. of Wash., 105 Wash.2d 847, 853, 719 P.2d 98 (1986). Legitimate claims of entitlement generally entail vested liberty or property rights. In re Marriage of MacDonald, 104 Wash.2d 745, 748, 709 P.2d 1196 (1985).

"A vested right, entitled to protection from legislation, must be something more than a mere expectation based upon an anticipated continuance of the existing law; it must have become a title, legal or equitable, to the present or future enjoyment of property, a demand, or a legal exemption from a demand by another."
Harris v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 120 Wash.2d 461, 475, 843 P.2d 1056 (1993) (quoting Godfrey v. State, 84 Wash.2d 959, 963, 530 P.2d 630 (1975)).

By its text RCW 51.32.080 mandates payment of permanent partial disability benefits upon determination of an industrial injury. RCW 51.32.080(1)(a); see also Harris, 120 Wash.2d at 475, 843 P.2d 1056 (right to disability benefits does not vest until determination of an industrial injury). All workers who suffer an industrial injury covered by the Industrial Insurance Act, Title 51 RCW, have a vested interest in disability payments upon determination of an industrial injury.5 Furthermore, Labor & Industries has a statutory duty to conduct an investigation pursuant to an injury claim and to determine whether the worker has suffered a compensable industrial injury. RCW 51.32.055. We recognize both Willoughby, for whom Labor & Industries has made a determination, and Cain, for whom it failed to perform its duty, have a vested interest in these benefits.6

Whether a statute deprives one of life, liberty or property without due process depends on "`(1) whether...

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32 practice notes
  • Andersen v. King County, No. 75934-1.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • 26 Julio 2006
    ...v. Washington, 135 Wash.2d 141, 156, 955 P.2d 377 (1998) (Sanders, J., concurring). 17. See e.g., Willoughby v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725, 741-42, 57 P.3d 611 (2002) (blanketly rejecting every proposed rational basis for a statutory bar to disbursing industrial insurance perm......
  • Certification from the U.S. Dist. Court for the W. Dist. of Wash. in Chong Yim v. City of Seattle, No. 96817-9
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • 14 Noviembre 2019
    ...273 (1998) W. Main Assocs. v. City of Bellevue, 106 Wash.2d 47, 720 P.2d 782 (1986)451 P.3d 706 Willoughby v. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725, 57 P.3d 611 (2002) STEPHENS, J. (concurring in part, dissenting in part)¶38 I agree with the majority’s answers to the first two certified ......
  • Doe v. Dep't of Corr., Docket Nos. 321013
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 25 Agosto 2015
    ...drawn was arbitrary and not rationally related to the goal of preserving resources); Willoughby v. Washington Dep't of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725, 737, 57 P.3d 611 (2002) (invalidating, on equal protection grounds, a statute that barred the distribution of industrial insurance permanen......
  • Kustura v. Department, No. 57445-1-I.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 22 Enero 2008
    ...424 U.S. 319, 334, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976)). 26. 424 U.S. at 335, 96 S.Ct. 893. 27. Willoughby v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725, 733, 57 P.3d 611.(2002). 28. 120 Wash.2d 461, 475, 843 P.2d 1056 (1993), 29. Id. 30. Willoughby v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • Andersen v. King County, No. 75934-1.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • 26 Julio 2006
    ...v. Washington, 135 Wash.2d 141, 156, 955 P.2d 377 (1998) (Sanders, J., concurring). 17. See e.g., Willoughby v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725, 741-42, 57 P.3d 611 (2002) (blanketly rejecting every proposed rational basis for a statutory bar to disbursing industrial insurance perm......
  • Certification from the U.S. Dist. Court for the W. Dist. of Wash. in Chong Yim v. City of Seattle, No. 96817-9
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • 14 Noviembre 2019
    ...273 (1998) W. Main Assocs. v. City of Bellevue, 106 Wash.2d 47, 720 P.2d 782 (1986)451 P.3d 706 Willoughby v. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725, 57 P.3d 611 (2002) STEPHENS, J. (concurring in part, dissenting in part)¶38 I agree with the majority’s answers to the first two certified ......
  • Doe v. Dep't of Corr., Docket Nos. 321013
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 25 Agosto 2015
    ...drawn was arbitrary and not rationally related to the goal of preserving resources); Willoughby v. Washington Dep't of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725, 737, 57 P.3d 611 (2002) (invalidating, on equal protection grounds, a statute that barred the distribution of industrial insurance permanen......
  • Kustura v. Department, No. 57445-1-I.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 22 Enero 2008
    ...424 U.S. 319, 334, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976)). 26. 424 U.S. at 335, 96 S.Ct. 893. 27. Willoughby v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725, 733, 57 P.3d 611.(2002). 28. 120 Wash.2d 461, 475, 843 P.2d 1056 (1993), 29. Id. 30. Willoughby v. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 147 Wash.2d 725,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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