New Mexico Court Finds State’s “Farm and Ranch Laborer” Exclusion Unconstitutional

In Rodriguez v. Brand West Dairy, 2015 N.M. App. LEXIS 69 (June 22, 2015), a divided Court of Appeals of New Mexico recently held that the exclusion of coverage afforded to employers of farm and ranch laborers [N.M. Stat. Ann. § 52–1–6(A)], violates the affected workers’ rights to equal protection under the New Mexico Constitution. 

The majority found that injured farm and ranch laborers were similarly situated to other workers in the state who were likewise seeking compensation for work-related injuries. The Court also observed that the statute’s application resulted in the exclusion of workers who performed tasks essential to the cultivation of crops, yet covered workers whose tasks were incidental to farming [e.g., processing crops]. The Court said the statute similarly excluded workers who cared for and trained animals as an intrinsic part of a farm and ranch operation and yet covered other workers performing similar duties outside of farming. The Court reasoned that such disparate treatment was not sufficiently justified. Nor was it rationally related to a legitimate state interest. The exclusion was, therefore, unconstitutional. Chief Judge Vigil dissented in part and concurred in part.

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