CASE NO. 4608 CRB-1-03-1
COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION
DECEMBER 29, 2003
MAURA K. HAMMICK
CITY OF HARTFORD
TRAVELERS PROPERTY CASUALTY
The claimant was represented by Jonathan M. Abels, Esq., 26 North Main Street, West Hartford, CT 06107.
The respondents were represented by William Brown, Esq., McGann, Bartlett & Brown, 281 Hartford Turnpike, Suite 401, Vernon, CT 06066.
This Petition for Review from the December 27, 2002 Ruling Re: Jurisdiction of the Commissioner acting for the First District was heard June 20, 2003 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners James J. Metro and Howard H. Belkin.
JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from the December 27, 2002 Ruling Re: Jurisdiction of the Commissioner acting for the First District. She contends on appeal that the trial commissioner erred by ruling that this Commission has jurisdiction to consider the terms of a collective bargaining agreement in determining the respondents’ rights to a credit or offset against the benefits due the claimant. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision, with an explanation of our jurisdictional limitations to interpret the collective bargaining agreement.
The trial commissioner’s decision incorporated the parties’ Stipulation of Facts dated September 9, 2002. According to that stipulation, the claimant, a police officer, suffered a compensable injury to her ankle on March 10, 1997. The City of Hartford provides salary continuation to police officers through a collective bargaining agreement between the claimant’s union and the city. Salary continuation payments are a union-negotiated benefit, and are made in lieu of temporary total disability benefits under § 31-307 of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Under the bargaining agreement, the duration of an officer’s salary continuation is based on length of service. The parties disagree whether the claimant is entitled to 18 or 24 months of salary continuation, i.e., whether she qualifies as an officer with more than 15 years of service, thus entitling her to the 24-month benefit. The claimant had received between 18 and 24 months of salary continuation as of the stipulation date. The respondents contend that she has been paid in full for her indemnity benefits, but the claimant disagrees.
The parties attempted to submit as issues for adjudication (1) whether this Commission has jurisdiction to interpret a contractual provision in the collective bargaining agreement and to make a finding regarding the number of months of entitlement, and (2) whether the claimant’s indemnity benefits have been paid in full, taking into consideration § 31-314 C.G.S. (“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”). The trial commissioner made no other findings of fact. He ruled that this Commission has jurisdiction to construe the collective bargaining agreement insofar as it may apply to the claimant’s claim for indemnity benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, and that jurisdiction should be taken over the merits of the workers’ compensation claim, as well as any credits and offsets that may be asserted by the respondents. The claimant has petitioned for review from that decision.
The Workers’ Compensation Commission is a statutorily-created agency of the State of Connecticut, and is charged with the duty of administering Chapter 568 of the Connecticut General Statutes, along with certain related provisions that the legislature has specifically identified. Hunnihan v. Mattatuck Mfg. Co., 243 Conn. 438, 443-44 (1997); Bell v. Thomas Lombardo & Charles Holt d/b/a N & E Private Investigation & Security, 4152 CRB-2-99-11, 4065 CRB-2-99-6 (Nov. 27, 2000). Administrative agencies such as this Commission are tribunals of limited jurisdiction. Stickney v. Sunlight Construction, Inc., 248 Conn. 754, 760 (1999). Our adjudicative authority is entirely dependent on the validity of the statutes that vest us with power, and we have no general authority to confer jurisdiction upon ourselves. Id.; Castro v. Viera, 207 Conn. 420, 428 (1988). “A commissioner may exercise jurisdiction to hear a claim only under the precise circumstances and in the manner particularly prescribed by the enabling legislation.” Discuillo v. Stone & Webster, 242 Conn. 570, 576 (1997).
In order for a workers’ compensation commissioner to resolve a claim for benefits that is properly before him or her under the Act, it sometimes becomes necessary for the trier to interpret statutes codified outside the Act, or to consider legal issues beyond the realm of workers’ compensation. Bell, supra. “If the commission is to function effectively in the manner contemplated by the legislature, it must be able to interpret other acts when necessary in order to resolve cases originating under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Any other result would be inconsistent with the remedial public policy underlying the Workers’ Compensation Act.” Hunnihan, supra, 447.
The boundary of this Commission’s authority to consider external statutes, cases and documents whose interpretation is incidental to the determination of a claimant’s entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits has become better defined in recent years. For example, where the central issue is a coverage dispute between two insurers that involves only contractual principles, and the employee’s claim for benefits has already been settled, this Commission does not have the power to reopen an agreement in order to adjudicate that derivative dispute. Stickney, supra, 762, 768. However, where a claimant is in the process of attempting to obtain benefits, a commissioner may decide whether an insurer is bound by the acts of its agent, or whether evidence outside our official records indicates the existence of an active insurance policy—both common-law issues—insofar as workers’ compensation insurance coverage might be found to have existed on the applicable date of injury. Bell, supra; DiBello v. Barnes Page Wire Products, 3970 CRB-7-99-2 (March 2, 2000), aff’d on other grounds, 67 Conn. App. 361 (2001).
With regard to the interpretation of contracts such as collective bargaining agreements, a similar analysis is appropriate. A workers’ compensation commissioner may interpret a collective bargaining contract only insofar as its terms must be explicated in order to resolve a Chapter 568 issue. Regan v. Torrington, 4456 CRB-5-01-11 (Oct. 25, 2002); Pascarelli v. Moliterno Stone Sales, 3925 CRB-4-98-11 (Dec. 22, 1999)(due to ERISA pre-emption, § 31-284b C.G.S. cannot be invoked as a means of securing pension and annuity increments for privately-employed claimant; residual claim was based solely on collective bargaining agreement, and did not belong before a workers’ compensation commissioner). The trial commissioner’s duty is to determine what benefits are due a claimant under Chapter 568, and to ascertain the amount that has actually been paid. See, e.g., Sbona v. Middletown, 3449 CRB-8-96-10 (April 23, 1998), aff’d, 55 Conn. App. 906 (1999)(per curiam); Boulay v. Waterbury, 27 Conn. App. 483, 486-87 (1992); Regan, supra (trier concluded from evidence that respondents had based payment of benefits during total disability period on accumulated sick time, but did not go beyond his authority by interpreting collective bargaining agreement or ordering reinstatement of sick days). If additional benefits beyond those prescribed by Chapter 568 are potentially owed to a claimant under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, it is not the province of this Commission to make such a determination by interpreting that contract. Id., 487.
In the context of the instant case, the trial commissioner possesses the authority to find facts as they concern the claimant’s compensable injury, her disability status, and the benefits for which she is qualified under Chapter 568. The trier may then consider any available evidence in assessing whether the respondents have fulfilled their payment obligations under the Workers’ Compensation Act. To that end, the trial commissioner may take notice of the collective bargaining agreement or any salary continuation payments that the respondents have already made pursuant to that agreement, insofar as such sums might constitute payments to the claimant on account of the injury within the meaning of § 31-314 C.G.S. The amount of any such payments would be material to this workers’ compensation claim, as the employer would be entitled to “due allowance” for them under § 31-314. It is relevant to note that there does not appear to be any dispute over the amount of the checks that the respondents have issued so far, based on the Joint Stipulation of Facts and certain remarks that were made at the September 9, 2002 formal hearing. See Transcript, p. 8. Any dispute seems to center on what the claimant is ultimately owed under the collective bargaining agreement.
Meanwhile, the claimant’s underlying entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits is in no way dependent on whether she qualifies for 18 or 24 months of salary continuation under a separate union-employer contract. That contractual benefit exists independently of the Workers’ Compensation Act, and is not part of the statutory framework of protection given to the claimant by the Act. Accordingly, there is no jurisdictional basis for the trial commissioner to interpret the contract in order to make a decision on that issue. Any such question would belong in another forum.
The trial commissioner’s decision is accordingly affirmed.
Commissioners James J. Metro and Howard M. Belkin concur.