Florida Appeals Court Reverses Lower Court Decision in Housekeeper’s Workers’ Compensation Case

In a recent case, the First District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a benefits dispute between a housekeeper and an employer. The appellee filed a petition for benefits and alleged injury while “house keeping” for the appellant. The appellant moved for a summary final order on the grounds that domestic servants in private homes are expressly excluded from the definition of employment under section 440.02(17)(c)1., Florida Statutes. The Judge of Compensation Claims (JCCs) denied the appellant’s motion, and the appellant appealed.

The appellate decision states that JCCs are “vested only with certain limited quasi-judicial powers relating to the adjudication of claims for compensation and benefits.” Given that, JCCs do not have inherent judicial powers but, instead, only have the power expressly conferred by Chapter 440 in Florida. The appeals court further stated that in order for an individual to be considered an “employee” under the Workers’ Compensation Laws of Florida, chapter 440 states “Employment” is defined as ’“all private employments in which four or more employees are employed by the same employer,”’ but specifically excludes housekeeping services. The statute states, ‘“‘Employment’ does not include service by or as . . . domestic servants in private homes.”’

The appellate opinion further states that in her motion for summary final order, the appellant attached an affidavit stating that she does not operate a business at her private residence, does not employ four or more individuals at her private residence, and does not carry a workers’ compensation insurance policy. Affidavits are allowed to be considered to determine subject matter jurisdiction. Once the appellant filed her motion with her affidavit demonstrating that the OJCC did not have subject jurisdiction, the burden shifted to the appellee to provide an affidavit that did establish subject matter jurisdiction of the JCC. The appellee did not provide an affidavit but instead stated that the appellant’s affidavit was “unauthenticated hearsay” and that “reliance on an affidavit is not a sufficient basis to merit entry of Summary Final Order.”

As there was no dispute as to whether the appellee was providing housekeeping services in a private home as explicitly excluded by Chapter 440 Florida statute from the definition of employment, the appellate court found that the JCC lacked subject matter jurisdiction and should have granted the appellant’s motion for summary final order. Subsequently, the appellate court reversed the JCC decision with directions to enter the summary final order.

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