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Margarita Alvarez Bautista et al v. State of California et al

December 6, 2011

MARGARITA ALVAREZ BAUTISTA ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
STATE OF CALIFORNIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC418871) APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, Judge. Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aldrich, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

California Constitution article XIV, section 4 (article XIV, section 4) grants the Legislature plenary power to create a complete system of workers' compensation. As defined in the Constitution, the workers' compensation system includes a "full provision for securing safety in places of employment[.]" Appellants are individual farm workers*fn1 and the United Farm Workers of America who have filed suit against the state, the Department of Industrial Relations (the DIR), and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Standards Board), for failing to comply with this constitutional duty. The complaint alleges the current heat illness prevention regulation (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 3395 (section 3395)), promulgated by the Standards Board, does not ensure the safety of farm workers from heat-related illnesses. Frustrated by the administrative process before the Standards Board to amend section 3395, appellants turned to the courts seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

In this case, we must determine if appellants have stated a cause of action for a violation of article XIV, section 4. That determination turns on whether article XIV, section 4 is self-executing, meaning that the constitutional provision is so complete with respect to the nature of the right and the means to enforce it that no further action by the Legislature is necessary. We conclude that article XIV, section 4 is not self-executing insofar as it is a source of a judicially enforceable right. Rather, the constitutional provision directs the Legislature to create and enact, through appropriate legislation, a complete system of workers' compensation, which includes enacting safety laws. We also conclude that appellants' request for declaratory and injunctive relief violates the separation of powers doctrine as appellants ask this court to divest the legislative and executive branch of discretion to promulgate and enforce safety and health regulations. We affirm the superior court's judgment of dismissal.

BACKGROUND

Article XIV, section 4 grants the Legislature "plenary power" to create a complete system of workers' compensation.*fn2 The article lists "provisions" of a workers' compensation system, including a "full provision for securing safety in places of employment[.]"*fn3 (art. XIV, § 4.) As stated in article XIV, section 4, a complete system of workers' compensation is "expressly declared to be the social public policy of this State, binding upon all departments of the State government." The second paragraph in article XIV, section 4 gives the Legislature discretionary authority to "combine in one statute all the provisions for a complete system of workers' compensation, as herein defined."

Pursuant to the plenary power granted by article XIV, section 4, the Legislature has enacted a comprehensive statutory scheme governing workers' compensation law. (Lab. Code, § 3200 et seq.) This plenary grant of authority permits the Legislature to enact, amend, and repeal workers' compensation laws as it deems appropriate. (See DuBois v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1993) 5 Cal.4th 382, 388; Rio Linda Union School Dist. v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 517, 527.)

The Legislature also has enacted, pursuant to its plenary power, a statutory scheme known as the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973 (the Act) (Lab. Code, § 6300 et seq.) to assure "safe and healthful working conditions for all California working men and women" through enforcement of effective regulations. (Lab. Code, § 6300.) The Act is administered by three agencies, including the Standards Board. (Lab. Code, §§ 6302, 6305, 6307.) The Standards Board is appointed by the Governor, and its primary responsibility is to adopt, amend, and repeal occupational safety and health standards. (Lab. Code, §§ 140, subd. (a), 142.3; 6305.) The Standards Board is the only agency in the state authorized to adopt occupational safety and health standards. (Lab. Code, § 142.3, subd. (a)(1).) The DIR is responsible for administering the state plan for the development and enforcement of occupational safety and health standards. (Lab. Code, §§ 50.5, 50.7, subd. (a).) The DIR also administers the workers' compensation system. (Lab. Code, §§ 50, 50.7, 56.)

1. Section 3395 - Heat Illness Prevention Regulation

In 2005, the Standards Board promulgated the heat illness prevention regulation, which applies to all outdoor places of employment. (§ 3395, subd. (a)(1), (2)(A)-(E).) The regulation sets forth standards for access to drinking water and shade, high-heat procedures for employers, and training to recognize the risk factors for heat illness. (Id., subds. (c)-(f).)

Appellants advocated improvements to the existing heat illness prevention regulation, met with state officials, and provided detailed recommendations for improvements to section 3395. (See Lab. Code, §§ 142.2 [consideration of proposed new orders or standards]; 142.3 [adoption, amendment or repeal of standards and orders].) Appellants claim these efforts were "futile," and they were "left with no choice but to ask the Court to require the State to take action to prevent more farm workers from suffering serious heat illness or dying."

2. Complaint Alleges Violation of Article XIV, Section 4 Arising from the Inadequacy of the Heat Illness Prevention Regulation

The operative first amended complaint (complaint) asserts a violation of article XIV, section 4. The complaint alleges there is a constitutional duty on the part of the state to create a workers' compensation system that adequately protects the safety of farm workers in California. The state allegedly has failed to satisfy its constitutional duty by: (1) failing to adopt adequate requirements for monitoring heat stress; (2) failing to impose mandatory requirements on the growers; (3) failing to structure an effective enforcement system; (4) failing to issue citations and impose adequate penalties; and (5) failing to make penalties meaningful. The complaint seeks a declaration that the state, the DIR, and the Standards Board "have failed reasonably and adequately to perform their constitutional duty to create and enforce a system of workers' compensation that makes full provision for securing the safety of farm workers against heat-related illness or death," thereby violating the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. The prayer for injunctive relief seeks a mandate that the state, through the DIR and the Standards Board, create and enforce a system of workers' compensation that "makes full provision for securing the safety of farm workers against heat-related illness or death."

The trial court sustained a demurrer to this cause of action, ordering the dismissal of the state, the DIR, and the Standards Board. Appellants' appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

This appeal presents two constitutional issues affecting the viability of appellants' lawsuit against the state and the named state agencies. First, we must determine whether article XIV, section 4 is self-executing, meaning no legislative action is necessary to enforce that constitutional right. Second, we must also determine whether appellants' request for the courts to declare that the state has not met its constitutional duty, and to mandate that the state adopt additional safety measures to prevent heat-related illnesses among farm workers, violates the separation of powers doctrine. These issues are questions of law. (Greene v. Marin County Flood Control & Water Conservation Dist. (2010) 49 Cal.4th 277, 287.) Our resolution of these issues precludes appellants from stating a cause of action.

1. Article XIV, Section 4 Is Not Self-Executing and Requires Implementing Legislation to Give Effect to the Constitutional Right

As noted, appellants do not challenge the legislative authority of the Standards Board to adopt safety standards or the constitutionality of the heat illness prevention regulation promulgated by the Standards Board. Rather, they attack the state and the named state agencies (DIR, Standards Board) for failing to perform their constitutional duty under article ...


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