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Court won't dismiss complaint over benefits for undocumented workers


A Michigan trial court on Friday denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging workers compensation regulators are illegally and unconstitutionally denying benefits for occupational injuries based solely on the immigration status of the injured workers.

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in November filed a lawsuit challenging a 2003 state appellate court decision in Sanchez v. Eagle Alloy in which the Court of Appeals concluded that a state law declaring employers are not liable for benefits during periods when a person is not able to find work because of the commission of a crime applies to those not legally authorized to work in the country.

The state Supreme Court denied a petition for review in July 2004.


The state moved to dismiss the latest complaint on the basis that the Immigrant Rights Center did not provide required notice, doesn’t have standing to bring the case, failed to allege an actual controversy and failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

The Court of Claims in a decision handed down Friday said it did not find merit in any of the state’s arguments.

“Plaintiff’s complaint describes a controversy that is not merely hypothetical, but that has resulted in real and tangible injuries to MIRC,” the court said. “According to the complaint, the MIRC’s present legal rights are negatively affected by defendant’s alleged misapplication of Sanchez, and a declaratory judgment is required to guide MIRC’s future conduct to preserve its rights.”

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center is asking a court to strike down the statute denying benefits to injured workers who purportedly committed a crime and to declare it is illegal to deny benefits based only on immigration status. Should the court uphold the statute terminating benefits for committing a crime, MIRC is alternatively asking for a declaration that work comp officials could consider immigration status only if the employer proves immigration status “has resulted in the injured worker committing a crime that keeps the worker from obtaining equivalent wages to those the worker earned prior to the injury.”

The state has 30 days to appeal the decision.

WorkCompCentral is a sister publication of Business Insurance. More stories here.




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