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The Superior Court is Not the Only Court That Can Decide Issues of Paternity in Arizona

Posted on : October 11, 2016, By:  Christopher Hildebrand
The Superior Court is Not the Only Court That Can Decide Issues of Paternity in Arizona

The Superior Court is Not the Only Court That Can Decide Issues of Paternity in Arizona

Arizona law provides that the superior court has exclusive jurisdiction to determine paternity or maternity. Does this law preclude the Industrial Commission from determining the dependency of a minor seeking Worker’s Compensation death benefits? The Court of Appeals considered this issue in Rios v. Industrial Commission, 586 P.2d 219 (1978).

Facts of the Case

Mr. Rios died in 1975 as the result of an industrial accident. He lived with and financially supported Mrs. Suniga and two minor children, D. Suniga and E. Suniga. All applied for death benefits. Mrs. Suniga admitted that she had never been married to Mr. Rios. The carrier denied these claims to benefits.
Superior Court is Not the Only Court That Can Decide Issues of Paternity in Arizona
Therefore, the Industrial Commission scheduled a formal hearing before a hearing officer. The hearing officer found that Mrs. Suniga was not Mr. Rios’s surviving spouse under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. Therefore, he denied her claim for benefits. He also denied the claim of minor child D. Suniga, finding that he was not the child of the deceased Mr. Rios.

As to minor child E. Suniga, the hearing officer concluded that the Industrial Commission did not have jurisdiction to determine paternity. He found that only the superior court could establish paternity in Arizona. E. Suniga and her mother brought a special action to question the hearing officer’s refusal to determine E. Suniga’s (Rios) entitlement.

Industrial Commission Jurisdiction

The Industrial Commission has exclusive jurisdiction to determine a claimant’s entitlement to Worker’s Compensation benefits. This is set out in Article 18, Section 8 of the Arizona Constitution, The procedure is set out in the Workman’s Compensation Act. Where, as here, the carrier denies claims for benefits, the Industrial Commission holds a formal hearing.
The Superior Court is Not the Only Court That Can Decide Issues of Paternity Arizona
At this hearing, a hearing officer adjudicates the entitlement of the deceased workman’s “dependents.” However, another Arizona law provides that the superior court has “exclusive original jurisdiction” over actions to establish the maternity/paternity. Does this bar the Commission from making a dependency finding?

The Court of Appeals found no legislative intent to limit the Commission’s authority to determine dependency death benefits issues. Even if those issues require a resolution of a paternity question, the Court found that the Commission has jurisdiction. Its broad exclusive jurisdiction includes authority to resolve dependency questions, like issues of paternity or maternity.

Disposition

The Court held that the Commission has jurisdiction to determine whether E. Suniga is the child of the deceased employee Mr. Rios. It must do this to determine her entitlement to death benefits under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. In light of this, the Court set aside the award.


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