State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Giordano v. Morganti, Inc.

CASE NO. 3023 CRB-7-95-3

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

NOVEMBER 9, 1995

LOUIS GIORDANO

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

MORGANTI, INC.

EMPLOYER

and

ITT SPECIALTY RISK SERVICES

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by James C. Thompson, Jr., Esq., Wickwire Gavin, P.C., 8100 Boone Blvd., Suite 700, Vienna, VA 22182.

The respondents were represented by Jason M. Dodge, Esq., Pomeranz, Drayton & Stabnick, 95 Glastonbury Blvd., Glastonbury, CT 06033-4412.

This Petition for Review from the March 17, 1995 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District was heard August 25, 1995 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners Roberta Smith Tracy and Michael S. Miles.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from the March 17, 1995 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner for the Seventh District. He argues on appeal that the trial commissioner erroneously dismissed his claim for lack of jurisdiction. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The trial commissioner found that the claimant, a resident of Lynchburg, Virginia, was employed by Morganti, Inc., a Connecticut corporation. The employer had interviewed the claimant in Connecticut, and mailed him a contract for the performance of supervisory services. The claimant signed that contract at his home in Virginia on March 16, 1994. Subsequently, the claimant resided in Connecticut for 2½ weeks while he trained at the employer’s Danbury office. He then flew to West Africa to assume his supervisory duties. During the claimant’s employment, the company withheld Connecticut state taxes from the claimant’s paychecks, which were mailed from Danbury. In April of 1994, the claimant suffered an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment while working in São Tomé, West Africa.

The trial commissioner concluded from these facts that Virginia was the place of the employment contract, and Connecticut was the place of the employment relationship. He decided, however, that the 1993 amendment to § 31-275 C.G.S. regarding non-resident employees precluded him from finding that Connecticut had jurisdiction based on the place of the employment relationship alone. Thus, he dismissed the claim for lack of jurisdiction. The claimant filed a timely petition for review, which we now consider.1

An attempt by this board to interpret the effect of the 1993 amendment to § 31-275 would be inadvisable without a thorough understanding of the law that was in place at the time of the statute’s enactment. In the past, our courts had held that an employee injured in the course of his employment was entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits under the Connecticut Act as long as his employment contract had been executed in Connecticut. Morin v. Lemieux, 179 Conn. 501, 503 (1980). Our Supreme Court had also extended our act to a claimant injured in Waterbury who was working under an out-of-state contract made with “distinct and sole reference to a Connecticut employment;” Banks v. Howlett Co., 92 Conn. 368, 371 (1918); and had stated that our act would apply to a claimant injured in Connecticut and working under an out-of-state contract if a right to compensation in the foreign jurisdiction for his injury was not part of the employment contract. Hopkins v. Matchless Metal Polish Co., 99 Conn. 457, 464 (1923).

In 1980, our Supreme Court decided that a claimant who had been injured in Tennessee, but lived and worked in Connecticut, and had received benefits under the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act, was not barred by Tennessee law from suing a co-worker in negligence for her injuries under § 31-293 C.G.S. Simaitis v. Flood, 182 Conn. 24 (1980). The Court rejected both the claimant’s argument that Connecticut law applied because it was the place of the employment contract, and the defendant’s argument that Tennessee law should apply because it was the place of the tort. Instead, the Court held that the proper choice of law rules to apply were those traditionally used in workers’ compensation conflicts cases. Id., 31. The Court favorably cited several approaches, including the interests analysis approach used by the United States Supreme Court in Thomas v. Washington Gas Light Co., 448 U.S. 261 (1980), the due process- oriented approach used in the second Restatement of Conflict of Laws, and the employment relation approach used in Professor Larson’s workers’ compensation treatise. Simaitis, 31-34; Restatement (Second), 1 Conflict of Laws § 181; 4 Larson, Workmen’s Compensation Law § 87.40. No single approach was specifically chosen, as all compelled the result that the plaintiff could maintain her negligence suit against her co-worker.

The next significant development was our Supreme Court’s opinion in Cleveland v. U.S. Printing Ink, Inc., 218 Conn. 181 (1991). The claimant there was a New Jersey truck driver who worked for a New Jersey corporation, but spent 35 to 40 percent of his employment time in Connecticut, where he was injured in 1986. He collected benefits under New Jersey workers’ compensation law, and then sought to collect benefits under the Connecticut Act. Again, this presented a conflict of laws issue to the Court, which distinguished the situations in which it is permissible for a state to apply its workers’ compensation laws from those situations where the state statute actually applies. Id., 191-92; Restatement (Second), supra, § 181. The Court chose to apply a conflict of laws rule that broadly construed our Act in light of its remedial purpose, making it applicable “where an injured employee seeks an award of benefits and Connecticut is the place of the injury, the place of the employment contract, or the place of the employment relation.” Cleveland, supra, 195.

Justice Shea dissented, arguing that the Court had earlier adopted the rule that “[t]he rights and liabilities of the parties with respect to an issue in tort are determined by the local law of the state which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship to the occurrence and the parties . . . .” Id., 196; see O’Connor v. O’Connor, 201 Conn. 632, 650-51 (1986); Restatement (Second), supra. The dissent contended that this test also applied to workers’ compensation cases, and that in this case, New Jersey’s relationship was more significant than Connecticut’s to the issue at hand. Furthermore, the majority had sub silentio overruled Simaitis’ holding that “the substantive law of the state with the most significant relationship should control and that the interest of a state in the employment relationship is more significant than any interest arising from the site of an accident.” Cleveland, supra, 197. In place of this rule, the dissent argued that the majority had substituted a rule allowing a claimant to maximize his benefits to the extent permitted by any forum with subject matter jurisdiction. Id.

At the time of the Cleveland decision, § 31-275(10) defined “employer” to mean “any person, corporation, firm, partnership, voluntary association, joint stock association, the state and any public corporation within the state using the services of one or more employees for pay . . . ,” while § 31-275(9) defined “employee” to include (with certain exceptions not relevant here) anyone who “[h]as entered into or works under any contract of service or apprenticeship with an employer, whether the contract contemplated the performance of duties within or without the state.” These definitions delineated boundaries to the jurisdiction of this Commission, as it is an administrative agency with limited statutory authority. See Thomas, supra, 281-82.

Effective on July 1, 1993, another exception was added to the definition of “employee” excluding “[a]ny person who is not a resident of this state but is injured in this state during the course of his employment, unless such person (I) works for an employer who has a place of employment or a business facility located in this state at which such person spends at least fifty per cent of his employment time, or (II) works for an employer pursuant to an employment contract to be performed primarily in this state.” § 31-275(9)(B)(vi). In Kluttz v. Howard, 228 Conn. 401 (1994), our Supreme Court noted that this change was intended as an adoption of the dissent in Cleveland, supra, which “would enable us to exclude a mere passing through the state as a provision of receiving workers’ compensation benefits.” Kluttz, supra, 409, citing Conn. Joint Standing Committee Hearings, Labor and Public Employees 1993 Sess., pp. 1210-11 (comments of Jesse M. Frankl, chairman of this Commission). Although this exception could not be retroactively applied to the claimant in Kluttz, Id., 409; see also Crouch v. Hayner Hoyt Corp., 1824 CRB-1-93-8 (decided June 20, 1995); Giardino v. Roberts Express, Inc., 1863 CRB-6-93-10 (decided June 9, 1995); it was in effect at the time of the injury at issue here, and the trial commissioner applied it to the facts of this case.

Given that the 1993 amendment was intended to codify the dissent in Cleveland, and that it speaks on its face only to non-resident claimants injured in Connecticut, we have considered the possibility that some grounds for jurisdiction have remained unaffected by it. For example, the Cleveland dissent objected to the implicit overruling of Simaitis, supra, which had advocated both the “most significant relationship” and the “place of employment relationship” criteria for resolving workers’ compensation conflicts of law. By adopting the position of that dissent, it could be argued that the legislature intended the “place of employment relationship” test to continue as a valid jurisdictional basis. One could also argue that the 1993 amendment to § 31-275 only applies when a claimant’s injury occurs in Connecticut, and that our jurisdiction over out-of-state injuries must continue to be determined by Cleveland. The Kluttz court declined to reexamine that case, recognizing that its precedential value was going to be limited by the new amendment. Id., 406.

Although arguments such as these have some logic to them, they ignore the fact that a ridiculous application of the law would result if they were heeded by this board. To wit: if the claimant in this case had been injured in the state of Connecticut, he would be ineligible for compensation because the 1993 amendment would specifically exclude him from coverage. He is not a state resident, and neither spends at least fifty percent of his employment time in Connecticut, nor works pursuant to a contract to be performed primarily in this state. Yet, by leaving this state and being injured somewhere else, are we to believe that the claimant should suddenly qualify for benefits under our Act? There is no possibility whatsoever that the legislature could intend such a bizarre result.

Clearly, the legislature did not believe it necessary to specifically discuss out-of-state injuries in order to exclude those like the claimant. The whole point of the 1993 amendment was to prevent claimants with tenuous connections to this state from claiming benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act merely because they were injured here. To take away Connecticut as the lex loci delictus would hardly strengthen the claimant’s case for jurisdiction, even if our courts have declined to rely solely on the place of the injury in analyzing conflict of law problems. We will not wield our license to construe the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act with careless hands, favoring readings of the Act that create ridiculous dichotomies in the law. See Borent v. State, 33 Conn. App. 495, 499 (1994) (courts accord deference to our construction of § 31-294, which section has jurisdictional implications). Bizarre results are never favored over reasonable constructions of statutes that accomplish an evident legislative intent. State v. Uretek, Inc., 207 Conn. 706, 719 (1988). We will not ignore that legal tenet in this case.

We therefore hold that the 1993 amendment to the definition of “employee” in § 31-275 prevents a nonresident claimant from collecting benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act unless he or she works for an employer with a place of employment in Connecticut at which the employee spends at least fifty percent of his or her time, or unless he or she works for an employer pursuant to an employment contract to be performed primarily in this state. Although claimants suffering out-of-state injuries are not discussed in the amendment itself, we hold that they are also included in the effect of the amendment by implication. Thus, the trial commissioner’s dismissal of the claim for compensation in this case is affirmed.

Commissioners Roberta Smith Tracy and Michael S. Miles concur.

1 The respondents have filed a motion to dismiss the claimant’s appeal on the ground that Reasons of Appeal were not filed pursuant to Administrative Regulation § 31-301-2. Although it is true that the claimant did not file a separate document entitled “Reasons of Appeal” with this board, the claimant’s petition for review contained a list of questions presented and a discussion of the legal argument supporting his position. The respondents were thus informed of the grounds of the claimant’s appeal. We hold that the requirement of § 31-301-2 was adequately satisfied by the claimant, and we deny the motion to dismiss. BACK TO TEXT

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State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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