Peter Benzing worked as a Casa Grande, Arizona firefighter for ten years. In 2018, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. He filed a workers’ compensation claim alleging his cancer is an occupational disease.
When the City denied his claim, Benzing requested a hearing to challenge the denial. He then requested permission for a union representative and State Senator Paul Boyer to attend the hearing. In a letter to the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s Administrative Law Judge, Benzing said he considered the union representative “a part of my extended family and would value his presence at my hearing.”
Boyer was a co-sponsor of two proposed amendments to Arizona’s laws creating a presumption that cancer was caused by the on-the-job exposures encountered by firefighters. Benzing said he requested Boyer’s presence because there were “obvious problems” with the way the existing law was written and Boyer “would only benefit from observing the legal process to better understand why the intention of the law is getting dragged through the courts.”
The City objected to Benzing’s request. Though Casa Grande accepted the benefit of “having the union representative present for moral support,” it saw no similar reason for Boyer’s presence at the hearing. Casa Grande further argued Boyer’s attendance “could be viewed as an improper attempt by the legislative branch to influence hearings at the Industrial Commission.”
The ALJ noted Benzing waived any privacy or confidentiality concerns regarding his personal employment or medical information and that the City had not raised an objection that related to its own privacy or confidentiality interests. The ALJ granted Benzing’s request after concluding Boyer’s “mere presence in the room does not constitute undue influence or the appearance of undue influence.”
The City challenged the ALJ’s ruling in the Arizona Court of Appeals. The City argued that no “statute, rule or regulation allows anyone other than interested parties to attend a hearing over another party’s objection.”
The Court rejected the City’s arguments, noting that Arizona law grants an ALJ broad discretion over hearing procedures. The Court observed that the City “presented no evidence, beyond mere speculation, Boyer’s presence would unduly influence, or appear to unduly influence, the ALJ’s ultimate decision on the merits of Benzing’s claim. The City also failed to provide any legal support for a purported privacy interest in its witnesses’ educational information and work history.
“In contrast, Benzing waived his confidentiality and privacy interests and provided concrete reasons for granting Boyer access to the full claim file and inviting him to the hearing. And the City does not explain how Boyer’s presence will negatively impact its rights and interests while the attendance of Benzing’s union representative will not.
“In the absence of a statutory or regulatory prohibition, the Commission’s ALJs have broad discretion over hearing procedures. On this record, we find no abuse of that discretion.”
City of Casa Grande v. Industrial Commission, 2020 WL 7586955 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2020).
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