State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Kelley v. Venezia Transport Services

CASE NO. 4184 CRB-2-00-2

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

MARCH 8, 2001

NORMAN L. KELLEY

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

VENEZIA TRANSPORT SERVICES

EMPLOYER

and

ORION SPECIALTY SECURITY INSURANCE COMPANY OF HARTFORD

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Melissa M. Olsen, Esq., Embry & Neusner, 118 Poquonnock Road, P. O. Box 1409, Groton, CT 06340-1409.

The respondents were represented by David Davis, Esq., McGann, Bartlett & Brown, 281 Hartford Turnpike, Suite 401, Vernon, CT 06066.

This Petition for Review from the February 1, 2000 Ruling on Motion to Preclude Defense by the Commissioner acting for the Second District was heard September 15, 2000 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners Robin L. Wilson and Leonard S. Paoletta.

OPINION

JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from a February 1, 2000 Ruling on Motion to Preclude Defense that was issued by the Commissioner acting for the Second District. He contends on appeal that the trier erroneously denied his motion because he incorrectly concluded that this Commission lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the instant claim. We find no error, and affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant is a longtime resident of Pawcatuck, Connecticut. The trier found that he was working as a truck driver in 1990 when he contacted the respondent Venezia Transport Services (Venezia), a trucking company located in Limerick, Pennsylvania, to inquire about employment prospects. His application was initially rejected because he did not have ten years of steady work experience. In June 1991, however, the respondent mailed an employment application to his home, and the claimant submitted that application. Shortly afterward, he called Venezia to check on his status, and was told that he would be hired pending a physical examination, a drug test, and his participation in two days of orientation. The claimant testified that when he left Connecticut for the respondent’s Pennsylvania headquarters, he had already quit his job with a previous employer, but had not yet formally been hired by the respondent. Once he arrived, the claimant passed his tests and completed orientation. He was then told that he was officially hired, and he filled out a wage withholding statement.

Venezia commenced its use of the claimant’s services on June 24, 1991, when he began hauling freight throughout the eastern part of the United States in a company-owned truck. He estimated that ten to fifteen percent of his subsequent work time was spent in Connecticut, though he did park the truck at his home in Pawcatuck on weekends, and maintained a Connecticut driver’s license. The company mailed him his paychecks, and occasionally sent notices and work orders to his home. However, all of his job assignments originated from Venezia’s dispatcher in Pennsylvania. The claimant underwent physical examinations at the Limerick office in 1993 and 1995, and also submitted to random drug tests there.

In May 1995, the claimant noticed swelling in his legs and visited the company doctor, who told him to see his regular physician and referred him to a Rhode Island hospital. Eventually, his ailment developed into a staph infection of the right leg, then progressed to venous insufficiency and leg ulcers. In December 1996, his doctor advised him to stop working and spend most of his time with his feet elevated. The claimant contacted the employer to inform them of his condition and tell them that he could no longer work. A few weeks later, he drove for the last time, picking up a load in Palmer, Massachusetts, and delivering it to Philadelphia before returning the truck to Venezia’s Limerick headquarters. Soon afterward, the claimant filed a Form 30C seeking compensation for his vascular injuries. Because he did not receive a disclaimer from the company within 28 days, the claimant sought to preclude the respondents from contesting the compensability of his injury under § 31-294c(b). However, the trial commissioner denied that motion on the ground that the claimant’s employment contract was executed in Pennsylvania, which was also the site of all his subsequent employer-employee contacts of any significance. Therefore, the trier held that this Commission lacked the necessary subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the instant claim or grant the claimant relief. That ruling forms the basis of the instant appeal.

Initially, we note that the facts found by the trial commissioner have not been challenged via a Motion to Correct as per Admin. Reg. § 31-301-4. This severely curtails our ability to scrutinize the facts found as part of our review, and as a practical matter limits us to the existing factual findings. Mitchell v. J.B. Retail Inventory Specialists, 3458 CRB-2-96-10 (March 31, 1998). Though the claimant’s appellate argument partially challenges the trier’s application of the law to the subordinate factual findings, which topic remains subject to full review on appeal with or without a Motion to Correct; Crochiere v. Board of Education, 227 Conn. 333, 347 (1993); he also takes issue with the specific finding that his employment contract was formed in Pennsylvania rather than Connecticut. He contends that he was hired on a probationary basis when he spoke with his employer on the telephone from his home in Connecticut in June 1991, as it was agreed that upon satisfaction of several conditions subsequent, his hiring would be confirmed, and he quit his job in reliance on this putative agreement. See Brief, p. 7.

The essence of any contract is the intent of the parties. Issler v. Issler, 250 Conn. 226, 235 (1999). In this situation, where there was no writing made to memorialize the parties’ commitments, it was up to the trier to determine as a matter of fact whether the parties intended to form a binding agreement over the telephone. Id.; Zenon v. R.E. Yeagher Management Corp., 57 Conn. App. 316, 322 (2000). The trier decided that the claimant understood that he would not be hired until he was in Pennsylvania, even though he quit his previous job before he departed from his home. Findings, ¶¶ B-E. Any revision of that finding would require us to independently interpret the parties’ testimony, which realm is reserved solely for the finder of fact in a workers’ compensation case. Pallotto v. Blakeslee Prestress, Inc., 3651 CRB-3-97-7 (July 17, 1998). This board must refrain on appeal from reassessing the nature of the parties’ intent regarding the formation of the employment contract, as the meaning and credibility of testimony is not an issue of pure legal construction. Also, these findings do not enable us to presume as a matter of law that the parties formed a contract of hire subject to a condition subsequent rather than a condition precedent, as the claimant seems to suggest in his brief. See Reid & Riege v. Brainerd Cashman Insurance Agency, 26 Conn. App. 580, 584 (1992) (discussing conditions precedent and subsequent). Thus, we cannot disturb the trier’s ruling that their agreement was reached while the claimant was in Pennsylvania, and not beforehand.

The remaining issue, of course, is whether the trial commissioner correctly applied the law in the first place. In general, a state may assume jurisdiction over people who are injured within state boundaries, principally employed within the state, or supervised from a place of business in the state without running afoul of the requirements of due process. Mitchell, supra. Due process will also be satisfied if the state has the most significant relationship to the employment contract, if the parties have agreed that the state workers’ compensation act should govern their rights, or if the state “has some other reasonable relationship to the occurrence, the parties and the employment.” Id., quoting Simaitis v. Flood, 182 Conn. 24, 33 (1980)(citing 1 Restatement (Second), Conflict of Laws § 181). Often, states choose to limit the reach of their workers’ compensation acts to some of these situations only. Connecticut is no exception. As an administrative agency with finite statutory authority, this Commission’s jurisdictional boundaries are defined by the limitations incorporated into its enabling act, as well as the precedential holdings of our higher courts. Mitchell, supra; Giordano v. Morganti, Inc., 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 21, 24, 3023 CRB-7-95-3 (Nov. 9, 1995).

The controlling principle in this case is one that was set forth by our Supreme Court in Cleveland v. U.S. Printing Ink, Inc., 218 Conn. 181 (1991), where it declared 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.” Id., 195. In the interest of thoroughness, we should note that the Court has also applied the aforementioned “most significant relationship to the contract of employment” test in determining whether another state’s laws should apply to a particular case in lieu 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). Though, where appropriate, the CRB has considered both of those approaches in its opinions; see, e.g., Mitchell, supra; Burse v. American National Airways, Inc., 3480 CRB-2-96-12 (Nov. 7, 1997); Quinn v. Mid-South Industries, 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 34, 2020 CRB-2-94-4 (Nov. 28, 1995); it is only the trio of criteria mentioned in Cleveland that concerns us today, as the trier specifically found that “[f]ollowing the claimant’s hire in Pennsylvania all of the significant employer-employee contacts occurred in that state.” Findings, ¶ E. The facts of this case would be unlikely to support our imposition of a contrary conclusion as a matter of law.

With respect to the trier’s proper application of the Cleveland doctrine, we have already explained that we must affirm the trier’s factual finding that Connecticut was not the place of the employment contract between the claimant and Venezia. The appellant contends that the trier failed to consider the other two aspects of the Cleveland holding, however, as he did not discuss whether Connecticut was either the place of the claimant’s injury or the place of his employment relation with the respondent. The latter point would seem to be encompassed by the trier’s finding regarding employer-employee contacts in ¶ E. Although Venezia sent the claimant’s paychecks to Connecticut, and presumably did not object to his parking their truck at his home on weekends, the findings also establish that the employer’s office was in Pennsylvania, where the claimant traveled in order to transact significant work-related business. The appellant urges that we liken his case to Genden v. American Airlines, 3419 CRB-5-96-9 (Feb. 9, 1998), in which the trial commissioner found that Connecticut was the place of the employment relation between American Airlines and a pilot who maintained an office in his home for his airline business and flew most of his routes out of Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks. Here, however, the facts were not quite the same, and the trier did not make a similar finding; instead, he found that the most substantial contacts occurred in the state where the employer had its office. We have no cause to disturb that finding on appeal.

As for the situs of the claimant’s injury, we agree that the trier did not make a specific finding in that regard. However, there is no medical or testimonial evidence in the record that would support a finding that the injury should be regarded as having occurred in Connecticut. The claimant listed the place of his injury as Pawcatuck when he filed his Form 30C, but described the injury as a loss of blood circulation in the lower legs from excessive time spent driving long-distance in the company truck. He later testified that only ten to fifteen percent of his work time was spent in Connecticut. July 19, 1999 Transcript, p. 52. There is little dispute that the claimant’s development of circulatory problems was allegedly due to repetitive trauma, and not to a specific accidental injury at one particular location. The medical reports offer no contrary hypothesis. Under these circumstances, it would be irrational to single out any one state as the true location of the claimant’s injury, and the “situs of injury” rationale would be a poor basis upon which to rest the argument that Connecticut should administer this claim under its Workers’ Compensation Act. We thus hold that the trier of fact was not required to include a specific finding in his decision dispelling the notion that the claimant’s injury occurred in Connecticut, because there was no basis in the record upon which that fact could conceivably rest.

The trial commissioner’s decision to dismiss the Motion to Preclude, and the underlying claim, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is hereby affirmed.

Commissioners Robin L. Wilson and Leonard S. Paoletta concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

Page last revised: December 21, 2004

Page URL: http://wcc.state.ct.us/crb/2001/4184crb.htm

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