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Zorn v. Smith Potatoes
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT				Reporter of Decisions
Decision:		1997 ME 223
Docket:		WCB-96-345
Argued:		September 2, 1997
Decided :		November 24, 1997

Panel:	WATHEN, C.J., and  ROBERTS, CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA and LIPEZ, JJ.


JENNIFER ZORN v. CARL R. SMITH POTATOES and COMMERCIAL UNION INSURANCE



CLIFFORD, J.
	
	[¶1]  The employee, Jennifer Zorn, appeals from a decision of the
Workers' Compensation Board denying her petition for award based on the
determination that her employer, Carl R. Smith Potatoes (Smith), is exempt
from the requirement to secure the payment of workers' compensation
pursuant to 39-A M.R.S.A. § 401(1) (Supp. 1996).  Concluding that the Board
correctly construed the statutory provision, we affirm.
	[¶2]  Zorn was injured on October 7, 1993, while employed as a
seasonal laborer by Smith, a family agricultural business that raises and sells
potatoes and other crops.  Smith employs fourteen to eighteen workers on a
seasonal basis and has one year-round employee.  Smith does not maintain
workers' compensation insurance, but has an employer's liability insurance
policy in the amount of $500,000, with coverage for medical payments of
not less than $100,000. 
	[¶3]  Zorn filed a petition for award with the Workers' Compensation
Board in 1995 and an action in Superior Court against Smith seeking to
recover damages for the injury.  The Board concluded that Smith was
exempt from the obligation of securing payment of workers' compensation
pursuant to 39-A M.R.S.A. § 401(1) (Supp. 1996) and that the Board lacked
jurisdiction over the injury.  39-A M.R.S.A. § 401(1) provides, in pertinent
part:

	1. Private employers.  Every private employer is subject to
this Act and shall secure the payment of compensation in
conformity with this section and sections 402 to 407 with
respect to all employees, subject to the provisions of this
section.

A private employer who has not secured the payment of
compensation . . . is not entitled, in a civil action brought by an
employee . . . for personal injuries or death arising out of and in
the course of employment, to the defense set forth in section
103.  The employee of any such employer may, instead of
bringing a civil action, claim compensation from the employer
under this Act.

The following employers are not liable under this section for
securing the payment of compensation in conformity with this
section . . . with respect to the employees listed, nor deprived
of the defenses listed in section 103:

. . .

B. Employers of employees engaged in agriculture or
aquaculture as seasonal or casual laborers, if the employer
maintains coverage by an employer's liability insurance
policy with total limits of not less that $25,000 and medical
payment coverage of not less than $1,000.

(1) As used in this subsection, 'casual' means
occasional or incidental.  'Seasonal' refers to laborers
engaged in agricultural or aquacultural employment
beginning at or after the commencement of the
planting or seeding season and ending at or before
the completion of the harvest season; and

C. Employers of 6 or fewer agricultural or aquacultural
laborers, if the employer maintains an employer's liability
insurance policy with total limits of not less than $100,000
multiplied by the number of agricultural or aquacultural
laborers employed by that employer and medical payment
coverage of not less than $1,000.
	
(1) In computing the number of agricultural or
aquacultural laborers under this paragraph,
immediate family members of unincorporated
employers, immediate family members of bona fide
owners of at least 20% of the outstanding voting
stock of an incorporated agricultural employer and
seasonal and casual workers are not included.  For
purposes of this subparagraph, 'immediate family
members' means parents, spouse, brothers, sisters
and children.

(2) This exemption does not apply if the employer
has employed more than 6 agricultural or
aquacultural laborers in regular and concurrent
manner, as computed under subparagraph 1, at any
time during the 52 weeks immediately preceding
the injury.

The burden of proof to establish an exempt status under this
subsection is on the employer claiming the exemption.

39-A M.R.S.A. § 401(1) (emphasis added), amended by P.L. 1997, ch. 359
(effective May 31, 1997).  
	[¶4]  Zorn contends that Smith does not qualify for the exemption of
subsection B because it employs one year-round employee, and that it does
not fall within the exemption of subsection C because it employs more than
six laborers.  We disagree.  Subsection C expressly states: "In computing the
number of agricultural or aquacultural laborers under this paragraph, . . .
seasonal and casual workers are not included."  39-A M.R.S.A. § 401(C)(1).{1} 
Smith does not employ more than six non-seasonal laborers, and therefore
falls squarely within the exemption of subsection C.{2}
	[¶5]  Zorn also contends that if Smith is exempt from the duty to
secure workers' compensation and she is unable to seek benefits for her
injury pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act, she will be denied her
constitutionally protected rights of equal protection of the laws.  U.S. Const.
amend. XIV; Me. Const. art. I, § 6-A.   We disagree.  Zorn concedes that the
statute does not implicate a suspect class or interfere with a fundamental
right; therefore, "the challenged classification need only be 'rationally
related to a legitimate state interest.'"  Berry v. H.R. Beal & Sons, 649 A.2d
1101, 1102 (Me. 1994) (citations omitted).  We will defer to the legislature
as to whether the language of a particular statute is the best way to achieve a
legitimate legislative purpose, id., and will uphold a legislatively enacted
classification "if facts may be reasonably conceived to justify the distinction." 
Dishon v. Maine State Retirement Sys., 569 A.2d 1216, 1217 (Me. 1990)
(quoting McNicholas v. York Beach Village Corp., 394 A.2d 264, 269 (Me.
1978)).
	[¶6]  Acts of the legislature are presumed constitutional, and the
burden is on Zorn to show that the statute is arbitrary and without
reasonable basis.  Berry, 649 A.2d at 1102.  The exemption protects smaller
agricultural businesses that make use of seasonal workers from the burden of
purchasing workers' compensation insurance, while at the same time
requiring those businesses to carry employers' liability insurance.  That
exemption is neither arbitrary nor without rational basis.  Zorn's equal
protection claim is without merit.
	The entry is:
Decision of the Workers' Compensation Board affirmed.
  
Attorneys for employee: Laurie Ann Miller, Esq., (orally) N. Laurence Willey, Jr., Esq. Ferris, Dearborn & Willey P O Box 609 Brewer, ME 04412-0609 Attorney for employer: Jon A. Haddow, Esq., (orally) Farrell, Rosenblatt & Russell P O Box 738 Bangor, ME 04402-0738
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} Subsection 401 was recently amended in 1997. P.L. 1997, ch. 359 (effective May 31, 1997). Because our result would be the same pursuant to either version of the statute, it is not necessary to address whether section 401, as recently amended, applies to this appeal. {2} Because Smith is exempt pursuant to section 401(1)(C), we do not address section 401(1)(B), pursuant to which Smith also contends that it is exempt.