Nonresident alien beneficiaries not entitled to deceased worker's benefits
Case name: Duran v. Goff Group, No. 2070763 (Ala. Civ. App. 02/06/09).
Ruling: The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled that the trial court appropriately denied death benefits to nonresident dependents of a deceased worker.
What it means: In Alabama, workers' compensation death benefits are available only to dependents who are "actually residents of the United States."
Summary: The nonresident alien dependents of a deceased worker sought to obtain benefits after the worker's death. Their request for death benefits was denied pursuant to the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, which bars nonresident alien beneficiaries from recovering damages for the death of a worker in the United States, unless they are residents of the United States.
The dependents alleged the act was unconstitutional. They asserted that the denial of benefits was contrary to the equal protection and due process guaranties in the U.S. Constitution. The court rejected their argument, noting the dependents were neither citizens nor resident aliens of the United States and therefore were not entitled to the federal constitutional guaranties.
The court pointed out that, as noted by the Supreme Court in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, aliens "receive constitutional protections when they have come within the territory of the United States and developed substantial connections with this country." Thus, nonresident noncitizens do not have standing to sue.
The dependents argued that because the deceased worker was entitled to workers' compensation benefits, they should likewise be able to step into the "constitutional shoes" after the worker's death. The court disagreed. It noted the dependents lacked the requisite standing and indicated the claims of surviving dependents are separate and distinct from the workers' compensation claims of the worker. Thus, there are no "derivative" rights.
The court found that the constitutional rights of the deceased worker were never implicated. It held that to the extent the law bars the dependents from having a valid claim to death benefits, their due process and equal protection arguments were not at issue, and thus the trial court properly denied benefits.
March 12, 2009
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