JURISDICTION TO DETERMINE JURISDICTION

In the first week of any civil procedure class in law school, we learn that courts have jurisdiction to determine if they actually have jurisdiction to decide the merits of a case. A lesson one particular Superior Court Judge apparently forgot.

Kirk Hollingsworth was killed while driving a truck for Heavy Transport. Believing the truck company was uninsured, the family filed a wrongful death complaint in Superior Court. The defense response was while Heavy Transport was admittedly uninsured, there was however a related company that had coverage that could apply to the applicant, and therefore they asked the civil case be dismissed while concurrently filing an Application with the WCAB. The Superior Court Judge proceeded dismissed the civil case and ruled the WCAB has exclusive jurisdiction and should address the coverage issue through an arbitration hearing. Plaintiff objected to an arbitration and filed an appeal.

In Hollingsworth v. Superior Court 2019 Cal.App. LEXIS 671, the Court of Appeal confirmed that per the California Supreme Court in Scott v. IAC (1956) 46 CAL. 2d 76, when a civil action and a workers' compensation proceeding are concurrently pending, "the tribunal first assuming jurisdiction" has jurisdiction to determine exclusive jurisdiction. In this case, since Superior Court filing and scheduled hearing had clearly predated any WCAB event, the Superior Court had initial jurisdiction to determine which tribunal the merits of the case.

[COMMENT: The Superior Court Judge should have allowed a hearing to take in some evidence on the the coverage issue as oppose to summarily dismissing the matter, especially in this situation where the known direct employer was admittedly uninsured which could give rise to a civil claim.]