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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.
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.
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 the authority to resolve dependency questions, like issues of paternity or maternity.
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.
If you have questions about how an administrative judge may decide paternity in an Arizona divorce case, you should seriously consider contacting the attorneys at Hildebrand Law, PC. Our Arizona paternity and family law attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience successfully representing clients in paternity and family law cases.
Our family law firm has earned numerous awards such as US News and World Reports Best Arizona Family Law Firm, US News and World Report Best Divorce Attorneys, “Best of the Valley” by Arizona Foothills readers, and “Best Arizona Divorce Law Firms” by North Scottsdale Magazine.
Call us today at (480)305-8300 or reach out to us through our appointment scheduling form to schedule your personalized consultation and turn your Arizona paternity or family law case around today.
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About the Author: Chris Hildebrand has over 26 years of Arizona family law experience and received awards from US News and World Report, Phoenix Magazine, Arizona Foothills Magazine and others. Visit https://www.hildebrandlaw.com.