‘Posse’ Member Not Covered By Workers’ Compensation

Sandie Taylor was a member of a group known as the “Mounted Posse Program” established by the Sheriff of Riverside County, California. The mission of the posse is to “assist the Department in its mission and operations.” Prospective members are required to undergo and pass a “Live Scan” background check. Once accepted, they are trained in such functions as traffic control and crowd management, crime scene protection, dealing with the public, and first aid. Possible “deployments” include “eyes and ears” patrols at shopping centers, special events, in parks, and on trails, as well as search and recovery and appearances at parades or recruiting events.

The Department’s manual prescribes appropriate tack and rider uniforms or other permitted clothing. Logoed shirts and caps were provided by the County, but members otherwise provided their own clothing and tack. All riders and their horses must regularly be tested for qualification skills, which measure the suitability of both horse and rider. One of the “mandatory pass” elements is exposure to simulated gunfire. The Department often paid for training, although not always, and provided meals during periods of deployment.

Taylor was injured when she was thrown from her horse while she and her horse were undergoing additional training. When the County rejected her workers’ compensation claim on the grounds that she was not an employee, Taylor appealed the denial to the California Court of Appeals.

The Court upheld the County’s position. The Court held that “we think it is obvious that membership in an auxiliary group, which exists at least in part for ceremonial and publicity purposes, is not the same as being engaged in assisting law enforcement in an evolving, and possibly precarious, situation. Here, the Workers’ Compensation Board, which granted Taylor benefits, appears to have been misled by the fact that the group of which Taylor was a member was called a posse, no doubt because members rode horses and the Board was influenced by the connection of the term to myriad Western movies. By the Board’s apparent logic, a volunteer assisting the Sheriff by doing citizen car patrols would not be covered because he or she was not part of a posse, even though the patrol duties were indistinguishable from those sometimes performed by Taylor.

“Nor can it be argued that, at the time of her accident, Taylor was performing active law enforcement service as part of the posse comitatus. She was training her horse to cope with stressful situations so that she might serve in the mounted posse in its various assignments. She was not providing any active law enforcement services, let alone any of those traditionally assumed by the posse comitatus, such as aiding in the apprehension of criminals.

“We are not persuaded by Taylor’s stress on the valuable services that the mounted posse arguably provided to the Sheriff’s Department. All volunteers providing assistance to public entities, whether shelving books at the library or pulling weeds in the park, provide valuable services in supplementing the work of public employees without cost. The statutes simply provide no basis for treating a volunteer to the Sheriff’s Department different from a volunteer at a school or public hospital.”

County of Riverside v. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, 2012 WL 6217634 (Cal. App. 4 Dist. 2012).