Obregon v. Indus. Comm’n of – 2/28/2008

March 11, 2008

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A.R.S. § 23-1028 Only Prevents a Workers’ Compensation Claimant from Receiving Those Benefits Obtained Fraudulently, Not All Benefits.

In 2003, Alfonso Obregon filed a workers’ compensation claim for an injury suffered at work.  He initially received temporary total and temporary partial disability benefits, and ultimately was awarded permanent partial disability benefits of $167.30 per month.  In May 2006, he was found guilty under A.R.S. § 23-1028 for making false statements in order to obtain temporary partial disability benefits in 2004.  The State Compensation Fund (“SCF”) subsequently suspended all of Obregon’s benefits, including those that he had obtained without fraud, citing A.R.S. § 23-1028.  TheICA agreed with the SCF’s interpretation of the statute, and Obregon petitioned for a special action review.

TheArizonaAppeals Court set aside theICA’s decision, holding that A.R.S. § 23-1028 only applies to benefits fraudulently obtained.  That statute states that an individual who makes a false statement in order to obtain “compensation, benefit or payment” is guilty of a class 6 felony and “shall . . . forfeit all right to such compensation, benefit or payment.”  The Court found that “such compensation, benefit or payment” refers only to those benefits obtained by fraud, because interpreting the statute otherwise would fail to give any meaning to the word “such.”  The Court also explained that “[a]bsent specific statutory language, we will not construe a statute to require a forfeiture of workers’ compensation benefits to which a claimant is otherwise entitled.”  The Court did not find any language in A.R.S. § 23-1028 clearly expressing a legislative intent that all benefits be forfeited.  Finally, the Court rejected the SCF’s argument that the legislature’s statement of intent supported its interpretation of the statute, explaining that the statement of intent was unrelated to the forfeiture aspect of the statute. 

Chief Judge Gemmill authored the opinion; Presiding Judge Weisberg and Judge Hall concurred.