State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Smedley v. State of Connecticut/Department of Mental Retardation

CASE NO. 4461 CRB-5-01-11

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

OCTOBER 25, 2002

EILEEN SMEDLEY

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

STATE OF CONNECTICUT/DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL RETARDATION

EMPLOYER

SELF-INSURED

RESPONDENT-APPELLEE

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Edward T. Dodd, Jr., Esq. Law Offices of Dodd, Lessack, Ranando & Dalton, 700 West Johnson Avenue, Cheshire, CT 06410.

The respondent was represented by Michael J. Belzer, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, 55 Elm Street, P. O. Box 120, Hartford, CT 06141-0120.

This Petition for Review from the November 8, 2001 Memorandum of Decision of the Commissioner acting for the Fifth District was heard May 31, 2002 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of Chairman John A. Mastropietro, and Commissioners Amado J. Vargas and Jesse M. Frankl.

OPINION

JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The claimant in the instant matter appeals from the Commissioner acting for the Fifth District’s November 8, 2001 Memorandum of Decision. In that Memorandum of Decision the trial commissioner concluded that the claimant’s receipt of a State of Connecticut Disability Retirement benefit in the amount of $275.00 per week made her ineligible for benefits pursuant to § 31-308a.

The instant matter was decided on the basis of a Stipulation of Facts submitted to the trial commissioner.1 The underlying facts in this matter as stipulated to by the parties are as follows. The claimant sustained a compensable back injury on August 8, 1987. At the time of her injury, the claimant’s average weekly was $297.00 and her compensation rate was $198.57. As a result of the August 8, 1987 injury, the claimant sustained a 25% permanent partial disability of her back. The claimant was unable to return to her prior position and in 1999 she was awarded a Disability Retirement pension which pays her $275.00 per week. Prior to February 7, 1999 the claimant was paid 165 weeks of benefits pursuant to § 31-308a.

The claimant-appellant asks this panel to consider whether the trial commissioner erred in considering the claimant’s receipt of State Disability Retirement Benefits in the determination of claimant’s eligibility for § 31-308a benefits. The issue presented is a question of law. It is also a question previously considered by this tribunal in Iannarone v. State, 4138 CRB-7-99-10 (June 15, 2001)2. We believe Iannarone is sufficiently analogous, and thus, provides binding precedent for the decision we reach today. We appreciate that the claimant would have us use the instant matter as an opportunity to revisit our holding in Iannarone. However, we cannot ignore the principle of stare decisis. “The doctrine of stare decisis counsels that ‘a court should not overrule its earlier decisions unless the most cogent reasons and inescapable logic require it.’” Hall v. Gilbert & Bennett Mfg. Co., 241 Conn. 282, 296 (1997), Jolly, Inc. v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 237 Conn. 184, 196, 676 A.2d 831 (1996).

The facts in Iannarone were that the claimant sustained compensable injuries to his cervical and lumbar spine. These injuries resulted in a 30% permanent loss and 20% permanent loss to each respective body part. The claimant was unable to return to his prior job with the State and was only able to perform light work. Thereafter, the claimant was awarded a State of Connecticut Retirement Disability Pension. Due to his physical limitations the claimant was only able to work part-time. In Iannarone, the commissioner found that there was a significant difference between the amount that the claimant was able to earn and the amount which an employee in a similar position to that held by the claimant at the time of his injury, earned. However, when the amount that the claimant received pursuant to his retirement disability pension was factored into the § 31-308a calculation, the claimant could not be viewed as having sustained any diminution in earnings. Thus, if the claimant’s disability retirement pension was not factored into the computation of the claimant’s § 31-308a benefits, the claimant would have sustained an earnings difference. In Iannarone, supra, the Compensation Review Board held it was proper for the commissioner to include the amounts claimant received from his disability pension as part of the calculation of “wages currently earned” by the claimant. The Compensation Review Board stated:

We would be remiss if we were to ignore that the wage replacement benefits sought here by the claimant are meant to replenish a former income source (his job with the state) that is already being replenished in part by a pension from that same entity. Therefore, the fact that the pension does not reflect a work capacity on the part of the claimant is not the only logical consideration here. We must look at the entire picture in this context, which is the purpose of workers’ compensation and wage differential benefits. If the claimant were to collect this pension in addition to the full difference (or two-thirds of the difference) between the wages he would have been earning but for the injury and the wages he is in fact able to earn from his job at the jewelry store, he would likely be taking home more money per week than he would have if he had never been injured at all. There is little chance that the legislature would have envisioned such a result in a compensation case. Compare Carriero v. Naugatuck, 243 Conn. 747, 757 (1998) (explaining that intent of § 7-433b benefit ceiling was to limit total payments to retired municipal police officer to the amount being paid to his working counterpart). Accordingly, we believe that the trial commissioner made a fair and reasonable decision by including the claimant’s state disability pension in the “amount he is able to earn” under § 31-308a, on the bases of statutory construction and policy alike. (Emphasis ours)

Id.

In addition to the policy concerns referred to above, the Iannarone panel also relied on § 31-314 provision that:

In fixing the amount of any compensation under this chapter, due allowance shall be made for any sum which the employer has paid to any injured employee or to his dependents on account of the injury, except such sums as the employer has expended or directed to be expended for medical, surgical or hospital service.

We fully appreciate the claimant-appellant’s argument that § 31-308a sets out the criteria to be considered in a claim for § 31-308a benefits. It is the claimant’s contention that § 31-308a’s language refers to the claimant’s loss of earnings and that her receipt of disability retirement benefits cannot be characterized as “earnings.”

In Iannarone, supra, the Compensation Review Board provided its policy analysis as to why a claimant’s receipt of retirement disability payments should be factored into consideration of the claimant’s entitlement to benefits under § 31-308a. However, even if we were to construe § 31-308a as suggested by the claimant i.e., the sum received by the claimant as part of her disability retirement cannot be considered as earnings, § 31-314 permits the employer to take a credit for any sums paid on account of injury.

We think the language in § 31-314 is unambiguous. We find no merit to claimant’s argument on appeal that as § 31-314 is captioned “advance payments” such payments cannot be applied to sums owed or awarded pursuant to § 31-308a. The meaning to be given a statute is found in its language. Reference to the caption heading maybe useful where the language of a statute is ambiguous.

[T]he heading of a subdivision is not an element proper for consideration in the interpretation of a statute unless the provision under review is of doubtful meaning. Further, a subdivision heading does not restrict the scope of an explicitly worded statute to the body of the subdivision to which the heading is a prefix. Mad River Co. v. Wolcott, 137 Conn. 680, 688, 81 A.2d 119; note, 37 A.L.R. 927, 1086; 50 Am.Jur., Statutes, § 315.

Algonquin Gas Transmission Co. v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 162 Conn. 50, 55 (1971).

We think the language in § 31-314 is unambiguous and thus, we need look no more deeply into its intended meaning than its actual language. Application of § 31-314 is thus, not limited to instances where payments are made as an advance against a benefit to which the claimant may be entitled, although that is certainly one instance where the statute may be put into play.

We also think application of § 31-314 in instances like the one at hand is consistent with our courts’ general rule against permitting “double recovery” in damages. Nichols v. Lighthouse Restaurant, Inc., 246 Conn. 156, 164 (1998); Pokorny v. Getta’s Garage, 219 Conn. 439, 454 (1991); Gurliacci v. Mayer, 218 Conn. 531, 570 (1991).

For all the above reasons and as we find the instant matter factually indistinguishable from those in Iannarone, supra, we are compelled to reach the same result. We therefore affirm the Commissioner acting for the Fifth District’s November 8, 2001 Memorandum of Decision dismissing the claimant’s claim for benefits pursuant to § 31-308a.

Commissioners Amado J. Vargas and Jesse M. Frankl concur.

1 Upon review of the record forwarded to the Compensation Review Board, it became apparent that certain documents submitted in earlier proceedings were not available. Therefore, by agreement of the parties copies of the following documents were submitted in lieu of originals:

The documents are:

1. Agreement dated April 23, 2002 in which counsel for both parties aver that the attached documents represent the file for the above named claimant.

2. June 16, 1998 308a Order of Comm. Donald H. Doyle, Jr., Fifth District.

3. April 16, 1998 Order of Comm. Linda B. Johnson, Fifth District.

4. February 25, 1998 Order of Comm. John A. Mastropietro, Fifth District.

5. June 18, 1996 308a Order of Donald H. Doyle, Jr., Fifth District.

6. Voluntary Agreement approved Nov. 2, 1990, Fifth District.

7. Patrick R. Duffy, M.D.’s Patient’s Progress Report dated May 25, 1990.

8. Voluntary Agreement approved Feb. 17, 1989.

9. Brief of the Respondent State of Connecticut dated March 11, 2002.

10. Claimant Appellant’s Brief dated March 11, 2002.

11. November 8, 2001 Memorandum of Decision Comm. Darius J. Spain 5th District.

12. Claimant’s Brief dated August 2, 2001.

13. December 3, 2001 Notice of Appeal.

14. Petition for Review dated and received November 16, 2001 filed by Claimant’s counsel, Atty. Edward T. Dodd, Jr.

15. Reason of Appeal dated November 16, 2001 filed by Claimant’s counsel, Atty. Edward T. Dodd, Jr. Additionally we note that the claimant-appellant has not challenged any of the factual findings contained in the Commissioner’s November 8, 2001 Memorandum of Decision. BACK TO TEXT

2 Prior to oral argument the parties were contacted and reminded that Chairman John Mastropietro was the trial commissioner in the Iannarone case resulting in the precedent Compensation Review Board opinion under consideration today. The parties were asked if they had any objection to Chairman Mastropietro’s participation in the instant appeal. Both parties waived any objection to Chairman Mastropietro’s participation. BACK TO TEXT

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