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N.J. Worker’s Case Offers no Basis for Federal Jurisdiction

12 May, 2023 Frank Ferreri

court house 25061 640 1

Jersey City, NJ ( -- You don't have to make a federal case out of it, and if you're looking for some kind of relief under state workers' compensation law, you probably can't.

As a worker learned in Mohamed v. Bagolie, No. 22-3172 (D.N.J. 05/03/23), seeking additional benefits under New Jersey's workers' compensation statute wasn't a means to have his case find its way to a federal judge.

A worker for a steel container corporation experienced a broken femur when a company vehicle struck him at the worksite. After receiving workers' compensation benefits, the worker filed a claim in federal court, objecting to the amount of workers' compensation he received and seeking additional compensation.

In his filing his claim in court, the worker identified as the bases for federal subject matter jurisdiction:

(1) U.S. government plaintiff

(2) Diversity of citizenship

(3) Federal question

Was that the right way to go?

The court explained that federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction to hear claims "arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States ... or certain claims between citizens of different states," which is known as "diversity."

Workers' Comp 101: What is "subject matter jurisdiction"? Black's Law Dictionary describes it as "Jurisdiction over the nature of the case and the type of relief sought; the extent to which a court can rule on the conduct of persons or the status of things." That's different from "personal jurisdiction," which is defined as "A court's power to bring a person into its adjudicative process; jurisdiction over a defendant's personal rights, rather than merely over property interests."

The court rejected the worker's alleged bases for jurisdiction, noting that:

--> The worker initiated the action as a private citizen.

--> The court did not have diversity jurisdiction because the worker's complaint stated that both he and one of the defendants resided in New Jersey. The court emphasized that federal law requires "complete diversity," meaning that in cases with multiple plaintiffs or multiple defendants, no plaintiff can be a citizen of the same state as any defendant.

--> The worker's claims, which sought to recover additional compensation for injuries he experienced during a workplace accident, were governed by the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Act, meaning they did not "arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."

Finding that there was no basis for federal jurisdiction, the court dismissed the worker's case.

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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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