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Barzey v. City of Cuthbert

Supreme Court of Georgia

September 22, 2014


Workers' compensation; constitutional question. Randolph Superior Court. Before Judge Bishop.

Robert J. White, Sr., for appellant.

Perry & Walters, Franklin T. Coleman IV, for appellee.


Page 448

Nahmias, Justice.

Appellant Louise Shorter Barzey challenges the constitutionality of the provisions in the Workers' Compensation Act, OCGA § § 34-9-1 to 34-9-421,

Page 449

that preclude her, as a non-dependent parent, from recovering benefits for the death of her son, Deron Shorter, from his employer, the City of Cuthbert. We affirm the trial court's ruling that the Act's limitation on the recovery of non-dependent heirs does not violate Barzey's constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

1. Shorter was killed in 2010 while acting in the course of his employment with the City. He was 37 at the time of his death, was not married, and had no dependents. His mother Barzey is his only heir at law.

After Shorter's death, Barzey filed a lawsuit against the City, seeking a judgment declaring that she has the right to sue the City [295 Ga. 642] under OCGA § § 34-7-20 and 19-7-1 (c).[1] Barzey acknowledged that the Workers' Compensation Act provides the exclusive remedy of an employee's heirs for the employee's death during the course of his employment.[2] She also acknowledged that the Act expressly says that the compensation for a deceased employee " shall be payable only to dependents and only during dependency." OCGA § 34-9-265 (c). See also OCGA § 34-9-265 (b) (1) (providing that reasonable expenses for the burial of an employee killed in the course of employment " shall be the only compensation" when " the employee leaves no dependents" ). In response to the clear bar to her claim erected by the Workers' Compensation Act, Barzey asserted that the Act as applied to her situation violates her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection by precluding her, as Shorter's non-dependent heir, from bringing a claim to recover for his death.

On March 30, 2012, Barzey filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, which the trial court treated as a summary judgment motion and denied on April 2, 2013. On October 8, 2013, the City filed a motion for summary judgment. Neither party requested oral argument on the motion pursuant to Uniform Superior Court Rule (" USCR" ) 6.3, and no hearing was held. On October 21, 2013, the trial court issued an order granting the City's summary judgment motion. In the order, which in substance tracked the court's April 2013 order, the court ruled that " [a]ll claims that the Georgia Workers' Compensation Act violate[s] the 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution have no legal basis and are meritless." Barzey filed a response to the City's summary judgment motion on October 23, 2013. She then filed a timely direct appeal to this Court, see OCGA § 9-11-56 (h) (authorizing the direct appeal of " [a]n order granting summary judgment on any issue" ), invoking our exclusive appellate jurisdiction over " all cases in which the constitutionality of a law ... has been drawn in question." Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. VI, Par. II (1).

[295 Ga. 643] 2. We begin by considering whether this appeal is properly decided by this Court rather than by the Court of Appeals. The City argues that we lack subject matter jurisdiction because in the trial court, Barzey failed to designate with sufficient precision the provisions of the Constitution she claims are violated, making only " vague references to equal protection and due process" and not engaging in any " meaningful constitutional analysis." Jurisdiction is proper here, however, because Barzey asserted in the trial court that the Workers' Compensation Act

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provisions limiting her recovery for her son's death violate her rights to due process and equal protection; the court explicitly ruled on her federal constitutional claims; Barzey enumerates that ruling as error on appeal; and this Court has not previously decided these constitutional challenges to the Act. See Jenkins v. State, 284 Ga. 642, 644 (670 S.E.2d 425) (2008) (" By raising the constitutional issue and obtaining a distinct ruling from the trial court, and then raising the matter on appeal in an enumerated error, [the appellant] has properly invoked this Court's constitutional question jurisdiction." ). Compare Zepp v. Mayor & Council of City of Athens, 255 Ga. 449, 451 (339 S.E.2d 576) (1986) (" Where a law has been held to be constitutional as against the same ...

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