State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Mitchell v. J.B. Retail Inventory Specialists

CASE NO. 3458 CRB-02-96-10

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

MARCH 31, 1998

SHARRON LANE MITCHELL

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

J.B. RETAIL INVENTORY SPECIALISTS

EMPLOYER

and

PEERLESS INSURANCE CO.

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Gerard R. Rucci, Esq., Embry & Neusner, 118 Poquonock Road, P. O. Box 1409, Groton, CT 06340.

The respondents were represented by James J. Moynihan, Esq., Montstream & May, 655 Winding Brook Drive, P. O. Box 1087, Glastonbury, CT 06033-6087.

This Petition for Review from the October 22, 1996 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Second District was heard June 13, 1997 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners James J. Metro and John A. Mastropietro.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from the October 22, 1996 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Second District. She argues on appeal that the trial commissioner erred by dismissing her claim on the ground that this Commission lacked jurisdiction over her case under the Workers’ Compensation Act. We reverse the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant, a resident of Rhode Island, suffered a lower back injury during the course of her employment on October 24, 1994. The injury occurred in Rhode Island; however, the claimant was hired at the employer’s office in Dayville, Connecticut. She worked a total of 29 days for J.B. Retail Inventory before being injured, and took inventory in stores located in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and New York. Each Friday, she would report to the Dayville office to receive her instructions and to complete paperwork. She performed duties in Connecticut for at least part of the day during 19 of the 29 days she worked, although she did not work 50% or more of her total hours in Connecticut.

The trial commissioner found that the place of the employment relationship was Connecticut. He concluded, however, that the interpretation this board gave to § 31-275(9)(B)(vi) C.G.S. in Giordano v. Morganti, Inc., 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 21, 3023 CRB-7-95-3 (Nov. 9, 1995), and in Nicolett v. Alimak Elevator Co., 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 322, 2203 CRB-4-94-11 (June 24, 1996), required him to dismiss the claim for lack of jurisdiction because of the principle of stare decisis.1 The claimant has appealed that decision to this board.2

We first note that the facts found by the trial commissioner cannot be disturbed on appeal, as the claimant did not file a Motion to Correct. The respondents filed such a motion, which was denied, but have not filed any sort of petition for review in this case. Thus, we are limited to the extant factual findings. Seltenreich v. Stone & Webster Engineering Corp., 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 135, 136, 2196 CRB-3-94-10 (Jan. 17, 1996). We may review the conclusions drawn from those findings, however, to ensure that the trier did not incorrectly apply the law to the subordinate facts or draw an unreasonable or illegal inference from them. Crochiere v. Enfield Board of Education, 227 Conn. 333, 347 (1993).

The general rule regarding jurisdiction over workers’ compensation matters is that a state will not run afoul of the requirements of due process if it assumes jurisdiction over people who are injured within state boundaries, principally employed within the state, or supervised from a place of business in the state. Due process will also be satisfied if the state applying its workers’ compensation statutes has the most significant relationship to the contract of employment, if the parties have agreed that their rights should be determined under the state workers’ compensation act, or if the state has “some other reasonable relationship to the occurrence, the parties and the employment.” Simaitis v. Flood, 182 Conn. 24, 33 (1980), citing 1 Restatement (Second), Conflict of Laws § 181.

Logically, states often choose to restrict the application of their workers’ compensation acts to some of these situations only. Here in Connecticut, our Supreme Court has stated that “[t]he remedial purpose of our Workers’ Compensation Act supports application of its provisions in cases 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 v. U.S. Printing Ink, Inc., 218 Conn. 181, 195 (1991); see also Kluttz, supra, 405-406. The Court has also applied the “most significant relationship to the contract of employment” test in determining whether another state’s laws should apply to a given case instead of Connecticut’s statutes. Simaitis, supra, 33-34; see also Cleveland, supra, 196-198 (Shea, J., dissenting), citing O’Connor v. O’Connor, 201 Conn. 632, 650-51 (1986). This board has applied those rules in several recent cases, including Quinn v. Mid-South Industries, 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 34, 2020 CRB-2-94-4 (Nov. 28, 1995); Casagrande v. Federal Express Corp., 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 300, 2247 CRB-5-94 12 (June 20, 1996); Nicolett v. Alimak Elevator Co., 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 322, 2203 CRB-4-94-11 (June 24, 1996); and, most lately, Genden v. American Airlines, 3419 CRB-5-96-9 (decided Feb. 9, 1998).

It is a fundamental principle that the jurisdictional boundaries of this Commission are defined by the Workers’ Compensation Act, as we are an administrative agency with limited statutory authority. Giordano v. Morganti, Inc., 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 21, 24, 3023 CRB-7-95-3 (Nov. 9, 1995). The general definition of “employee” in § 31-275(9)(A)(i) is “any person who has entered into or works under any contract of service or apprenticeship with an employer,3 whether the contract contemplated the performance of duties within or without the state.” This would appear to include the instant claimant on its face. However, Public Act 93-228 § 1(9) created an exception to the definition of “employee” effective July 1, 1993, by codifying § 31-275(9)(B)(vi). That statute excludes from the Act “[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 percent of his employment time, or (II) works for an employer pursuant to an employment contract to be performed primarily in this state.” The issue here thus becomes whether the claimant, a nonresident who was injured after P.A. 93-228 §1 (9) took effect, falls within the scope of this amendment.

We have held that § 31-275(9)(B)(vi) “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.” Giordano, supra, 26. We reasoned that it would be absurd to hold that a nonresident injured outside the state of Connecticut who did not perform the majority of his employment here could collect benefits, whereas an otherwise identical claimant injured within the state of Connecticut would be statutorily ineligible. “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.” Id., 25. Thus, pursuant to Giordano, the instant claimant falls within the ambit of this statute.

We then move on to the next step. The claimant can still be an “employee” under the Act if she satisfies either subsection (I) or (II) of § 31-275(9)(B)(vi). Indeed, we believe that she meets the criteria of subsection (I). The employer in this case has a place of business in Dayville, Connecticut. Although the claimant did not work more than fifty percent of her total hours in Connecticut, during the 29 days she worked, she was in Connecticut for at least some part of 19 of those days. We are inclined to construe the phrase “at least fifty per cent of his employment time” in § 31-275(9)(B)(vi)(I) to mean either 50% or more of the total time employed, or employment during some part of 50% or more of the various days employed. We read the statute this way because it is the most appropriate interpretation of this language given the policies behind P.A. 93-228 and the Workers’ Compensation Act as a whole.

In general, the Workers’ Compensation Act is a remedial statute, and should be “interpreted liberally to achieve its humanitarian purposes.” Gil v. Courthouse One, 239 Conn. 676, 682 (1997). Limitations on benefits that are not clearly specified by the statute should not be applied by the courts. Id., 682-83; see also Cleveland, supra, 193-94 (the Act should be broadly construed to effectuate the purpose of compensating employees for work-related injuries). In Cleveland, our Supreme Court noted a particular concern toward protecting “claimants who, because the various incidents of their employment and their injury are each linked to a different jurisdiction, may be at risk with respect to their eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits.” Id., 194.

The enactment of P.A. 93-228 § 1(9) was a departure from that general principle. It was intended to restrict nonresidents from receiving benefits “if they are employed by an out-of-state employer, or if the contract of employment is out-of-state, and [] the only thing that occurs within the state is that they had an accident in the state. . . . This . . . would enable us to exclude a mere passing through the state as a provision of receiving workers’ compensation benefits.” Kluttz v. Howard, 228 Conn. 401, 408-409 (1994), quoting Conn. Joint Standing Committee Hearings, Labor and Public Employees, 1993 Sess., pp. 1210-11 (comments of Jesse M. Frankl, Chairman, Workers’ Compensation Commission). The amendment was directed at the specific problem of individuals filing claims in Connecticut that, because the claimants’ employers are out-of-state and do not have workers’ compensation insurance coverage in Connecticut, eventually become the responsibility of the Second Injury Fund. The Fund is financed by assessments on Connecticut employers, and is intended to pay for the claims of Connecticut residents when the employer is uninsured. Kluttz, supra, 411 (Palmer, J., concurring); see also § 31-354 C.G.S. The goal of the amendment was to prevent claimants with minimal contacts to Connecticut from drawing compensation from this state’s public coffer.

Clearly, the instant claimant is not an individual with minimal contacts to Connecticut. Her employer is located here, and this state is the place of the claimant’s employment relationship with J.B. Retail Inventory Specialists. She traveled to Connecticut on the majority of the 29 days she was employed, and performed some of her inventories in Connecticut stores. Because of the interstate travel required in her job, it is a fact that the claimant did not spend more than 50% of her work hours in any given state. As the Supreme Court noted in Cleveland, such an individual is at risk of receiving no compensation for her injuries, through no fault or irresponsibility of her own. That type of inequitable and arbitrary result should not be favored. It would do justice to neither the claimant nor the workers’ compensation system of this state.

In our judgment, harmony between the remedial purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act and the specific intent behind P.A. 93-228 § 1(9) would best be achieved by construing broadly the phrase “fifty percent of his employment time” in subsection (I) of § 31-275(9)(B)(vi). Thus, by spending at least part of 19 of her 29 days of employment in Connecticut, the claimant meets the criteria of the statute, and is not excluded from the definition of “employee” in the Act. We reverse the decision of the trial commissioner, and order that this case be remanded to the Second District for further proceedings. As the trial commissioner has retired since the issuance of this decision, a new commissioner shall be assigned to the case.

Commissioners James J. Metro and John A. Mastropietro concur.

1 “Stare decisis, although not an end in itself, serves the important function of preserving stability and certainty in the law. Accordingly, ‘a court should not overrule its earlier decisions unless the most cogent reasons and inescapable logic require it. Maltbie, Conn. App. Proc., p. 226.’ Herald Publishing Co. v. Bill, 142 Conn. 53, 62 (1955).” Kluttz v. Howard, 228 Conn. 401, 406 (1994) (parallel citations omitted); see also Hall v. Gilbert & Bennett Mfg. Co., 241 Conn. 282, 296 (1997). BACK TO TEXT

2 The claimant has also filed a Motion to Submit as Additional Evidence a July 17, 1996 pre-trial decision of the Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Court dismissing the claimant’s claim for compensation for lack of jurisdiction. The respondents object to the Motion to Submit Additional Evidence on the ground that the Rhode Island decision is not final, and that it is irrelevant to the issue of whether this Commission has jurisdiction to consider this case. We withhold ruling on this motion, as our analysis of this case makes the claimant’s additional evidence unnecessary. BACK TO TEXT

3 “Employer,” in turn, is defined by § 31-275(10) as “any . . . corporation . . . within the state using the services of one or more employees for pay, or the legal representative of any such employer . . . .” BACK TO TEXT

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