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All opinions are subject to modification and technical correction prior to official publication in the North Carolina Reports and North Carolina Court of Appeals Reports. In the event of discrepancies between the electronic version of an opinion and the
print version appearing in the North Carolina Reports and North Carolina Court of Appeals Reports, the latest print version is to be considered authoritative.
BENNIE VEREEN, JUNIOR, Plaintiff, v. NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF
Filed: 15 February 2005
Tort Claims Act; Workers' Compensation--prisoner injured while doing work assignment-
-jurisdiction of Industrial Commission
After dismissing plaintiff prisoner's action under the Tort Claims Act arising out of his
injury received in the course of a North Carolina Department of Corrections work assignment,
the Industrial Commission did not have jurisdiction to ex mero motu enter an order with respect
to any workers' compensation claim which plaintiff may have, and the portion of the opinion and
award ordering defendant to file a Form 19 Employer's Report of Injury to Employee form is
vacated, because: (1) while N.C.G.S. § 143-291 confers jurisdiction upon the Commission over
plaintiff's action commenced pursuant to the Tort Claims Act, such jurisdiction is independent of
the Commission's jurisdiction over claims governed by Chapter 97 of the Workers'
Compensation Act; (2) N.C.G.S. § 97-10.1 and § 97-13(c) provide that workers' compensation is
the exclusive remedy for prisoners working for the State; and (3) N.C.G.S. § 97-13(c) provides
that a prisoner such as plaintiff may not file a workers' compensation claim until after he is
released from prison provided he is still suffering disability as a result of the accident, and only
upon plaintiff's release can it be determined if plaintiff is entitled to workers' compensation.
Appeal by defendant from opinion and award entered 15 July
2003 by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. Heard in the
Court of Appeals 6 December 2004.
No brief for pro se plaintiff-appellee.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Associate Attorney General,
Iain M. Stauffer, for the State.
MARTIN, Chief Judge.
Defendant, the North Carolina Department of Correction,
(NCDOC) appeals from an opinion and award of the North Carolina
Industrial Commission. Plaintiff appeared pro se before the Deputy
Commissioner and the Full Commission and did not file a brief in
The evidence before the Commission tended to show thatplaintiff, Bennie Vereen, Jr., was incarcerated on 2 July 1997 at
the Mitchell Correctional Institute (MCI). At the time plaintiff
was incarcerated, he had no pre-existing back or knee problems.
Plaintiff was paid one dollar a day for his work at MCI's clothing
warehouse. When he arrived at work on 19 January 2000, he stepped
into some cleaning solvent used to clean the floor, slipped and
fell. Plaintiff experienced pain in his lower back and knee and
was subsequently treated for a herniated disc at L5-S1 as well as
a partially torn ACL. Despite six weeks of physical therapy,
plaintiff continues to suffer symptoms and may have permanent
Plaintiff filed a claim for damages under the Tort Claims Act,
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-291 et. seq. The case was heard before the
Deputy Commissioner on 30 October 2002 and a decision and order was
issued dismissing plaintiff's action with prejudice. Upon appeal
to the Full Commission, the Commission concluded that because
plaintiff was injured in the course of a NCDOC work assignment
while a prisoner, the exclusive remedy for his injury was the
Workers' Compensation Act and that he could file a claim for any
continuing disability within one year of his release from prison.
The Commission dismissed plaintiff's Tort Claims Act action with
prejudice, but ordered NCDOC to file a Form 19, Employer's Report
of Injury to Employee, with the Industrial Commission within 30
days from the date of the order. NCDOC appealed.
The sole question raised by NCDOC's appeal is whether the
Commission had jurisdiction to order defendant to file a Form 19Employer's Report of Injury to Employee. We hold that it did not
and vacate such portion of the Commission's Opinion and Award.
[T]he North Carolina Industrial Commission is not a court of
general jurisdiction; the Commission is a quasi-judicial
administrative board created by the legislature to administer the
Workers' Compensation Act and has no authority beyond that provided
by statute. Cornell v. Western & S. Life Ins. Co.
, 162 N.C. App.
106, 108, 590 S.E.2d 294, 296 (2004). The Commission is also
vested with statutory jurisdiction to determine claims brought
against the State pursuant to the Tort Claims Act. N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 143-291(a) (2003); Guthrie v. State Ports Authority
, 307 N.C.
522, 535, 299 S.E.2d 618, 625 (1983).
Pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-10.1 and § 97-13(c),
workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy for prisoners
working for the State. Richardson v. N. C. Dept. of Correction
345 N.C. 128, 131, 478 S.E.2d 501, 503 (1996). N.C. Gen. Stat. §
97-13(c) provides in pertinent part:
Whenever any prisoner assigned to the State
Department of Correction shall suffer
accidental injury . . . arising out of and in
the course of the employment to which he had
been assigned, . . . if the results of such
injury continue until after the date of the
lawful discharge of such prisoner to such an
extent as to amount to a disability as defined
in this Article, then such discharged prisoner
. . . may have the benefit of this Article by
applying to the Industrial Commission as any
other employee; provided, such application is
made within 12 months from the date of the
discharge; and provided further that . . . the
period of compensation shall relate to the
date of his discharge rather than the date of
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-13(c) (2003). The statute provides that aprisoner, such as plaintiff here, may not file a workers'
compensation claim until after he is released from prison, provided
he is still suffering disability as a result of the accident. Only
upon plaintiff's release can it be determined if plaintiff is
entitled to workers' compensation under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-13(c).
See Horney v. Pool Co.
, 267 N.C. 521, 527, 148 S.E.2d 554, 559
With respect to a claim for benefits under the Worker's
Compensation Act, the jurisdiction of the Commission is invoked .
. . when a claim for compensation is filed, Letterlough v.
, 258 N.C. 166, 168, 128 S.E.2d 215, 217 (1962), and the
Commission may not ex mero motu
institute a proceeding. Id
While N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-291 confers jurisdiction upon the
Commission over plaintiff's action commenced pursuant to the Tort
Claims Act, such jurisdiction is independent of the Commission's
jurisdiction over claims governed by Chapter 97 of the General
Statutes, the Workers' Compensation Act. Having dismissed
plaintiff's tort claim, the Commission had no jurisdiction to ex
enter an order with respect to any workers' compensation
claim which plaintiff may have, because plaintiff cannot file such
a claim until his release from custody with continuing disability
resulting from his accident. Therefore, the Commission's order
must be vacated. We note, however, that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-92(e)
imposes other sanctions for an employer's failure to file the
report required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-92(a).
The portion of the Commission's Opinion and Award requiring
defendant to file Form 19 is vacated. Vacated.
Judges CALABRIA and GEER concur.
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