Buzzworthy Supreme Court Action

It is rare that issues involving workers’ compensation reach the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”). However, on June 21, 2022, the Supreme Court issued an order list identifying cases before the Court. Among the cases provided, were two Minnesota workers’ compensation where the Court declined to grant certiorari – Musta v. Mendota Heights Dental, et al. and Bierbach v. Digger’s Polaris, et al. In both cases, the issue was whether the Controlled Substances Act preempts an order under state workers’ compensation law requiring an employer to reimburse an injured employee for the costs of medical marijuana used to treat a work-related injury. The Minnesota State Supreme Court held in Musta and Bierbach that the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals lacks jurisdiction to decide whether federal law preempts Minnesota law that requires an employer to furnish medical treatment when the treatment for which reimbursement is sought is medical cannabis. The Court also held that the Controlled Substance Act preempts the compensation court’s order mandating the employer to pay for medical cannabis. To date, the issue in Musta and Bierbach has not arisen in Virginia; however, given the above rulings in these two cases, we do have a glimmer of insight regarding the trajectory of such rulings and how the Virginia courts could proceed. It can also be assumed that when the Virginia Supreme Court addresses this issue, it will likely not be the final word on the subject.

In addition to the above, the SCOTUS issued a significant ruling in Xiulu Ruan v. United States on June 27, 2022, that could change how opiate pain medication is prescribed in the future. It was contested whether the jury instruction pertaining to mens rea required to convict under United States Code Section 841 – which makes it a federal crime for a person to knowingly and intentionally manufacture, distribute or dispense a controlled substance – should have been given at trial. The Court ruled in pertinent part:

[A] doctor was convicted under §841 for dispensing controlled substances not “as authorized.” The question before us concerns the state of mind that the Government must prove to convict these doctors of violating the statute. We hold that the statute’s “knowingly or intentionally” mens rea applies to authorization. After a defendant produces evidence that he or she was authorized to dispense controlled substances, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew that he or she was acting in an unauthorized manner, or intended to do so.

The ruling in Ruan will make it considerably harder to prosecute a doctor under the Controlled Substances Act. Essentially, prosecutors will not be able to use the bland statistical approach used in the past of simply showing that a doctor prescribes a significantly larger number of opioids than his peers in the area but must instead prove that the doctor knowingly violated the Controlled Substances Act. The doctor must have issued a prescription knowing that he was doing so without a legitimate medical purpose.

As always, our firm is available to answer any questions or concerns you have and will continue to keep you up to date as these matters evolve.


Of note, the Virginia Worker’s Compensation Commission has released the 2021 Annual Report, inclusive of the following statistics:

    • Claims Received = 34,751
    • Major Workplace Injuries Report = 48, 201
    • First Report of Injury Forms Filed = 253,393
    • Opinions Issued = 3,539
    • Review Decisions Issued = 722
    • Appeals to the Court of Appeals = 56
    • Total Aggregate Value of Settlements = $253,600,035
    • Approved Settlements = 4,839

Please click to review the 2021 Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission Annual Report in its totality.


Should you have any questions about the issues discussed here or other legal issues, please do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Ford Richardson.

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