State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Smith v. SRS Communications Corp.

CASE NO. 4661 CRB-8-03-4

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

MARCH 31, 2004

DAVID SMITH

CLAIMANT

v.

SRS COMMUNICATIONS CORP.

EMPLOYER

RESPONDENT 1

APPEARANCES:

This appeal concerned a fee dispute between an attorney and law firm who represented the claimant in this matter. Interested Party, Appellant, Watstein & Watstein, P.C., was represented by Max Brunswick, Esq., 12 Trumbull Street, New Haven, CT 06511.

Interested Party, Appellee, Daniel B. Scott, Esq., was represented by David S. Rintoul, Esq., Brown, Paindiris & Scott, 2252 Main Street, Glastonbury, CT 06033.

This Petition for Review from the March 26, 2003, Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Sixth District was heard December 19, 2003, before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners Howard H. Belkin and Charles F. Senich.

OPINION

JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. An interested party, Watstein & Watstein, P.C., has appealed from the March 26, 2003, Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Sixth District. We affirm the decision of the trial commissioner.

The pertinent facts are as follows. Attorney Daniel Scott was an associate of the law firm Watstein & Watstein, P.C. through May 9, 2002. When Attorney Scott left the firm of Watstein & Watstein, P.C., several clients chose to remain with Attorney Scott as opposed to remaining with Watstein & Watstein, P.C. This dispute arose out of the distribution of legal fees between Attorney Scott and Weinstein & Weinstein, P.C. The trial commissioner found that he had jurisdiction to resolve fee disputes between the attorneys in these workers’ compensation cases and set forth the matter for a formal hearing in order to determine the fee allocation. Watstein & Watstein, P.C. have appealed this decision. It argues the trial commissioner does not have jurisdiction to make the determination of fee division in this case.

The pertinent statute in this case is § 31-327(b) C.G.S. which states, “All fees of attorneys, physicians, podiatrists or other persons for services under this chapter shall be subject to the approval of the commissioner.” The issue on appeal is whether § 31-327(b) gives a trial commissioner the authority to determine fee disputes between an attorney and his prior law firm when he retains a claimant as a client after his separation from said firm.

Watstein & Watstein, P.C. pointed this board to several cases believed to be relevant to the issue, while arguing Brick v. Cyr, 51 Conn. App. 662 (1999), was dispositive. Brick was a case where the trial commissioner ordered sanctions against an attorney who had neither filed an appearance with this Commission on behalf of his client nor appeared personally on his client’s behalf. This case is distinguishable from the case at bar because the attorneys involved all appeared before the commission and the issue at hand is the division of fees, not sanctions. We agree with Attorney Scott that the case of Contreras v. Montana Bakery, 3819 CRB-7-98-5 (June 16, 1999) is on point. In Contreras, we made an order regarding the division of fees between two attorneys who both represented a claimant. We stated, “The trial commissioner who presides over a case has the authority under § 31-327(b) to approve all attorney’s fees. Closely attendant to this authority is the trier’s power to settle disputes between attorneys regarding entitlement to fees.” We see no reason to depart from that reasoning here.

We note under § 31-327(b), the trial commissioner has the authority to determine only the fee the claimant will pay to each attorney. There is no jurisdiction to determine issues regarding professional responsibility or breach of contract.

Therefore, we affirm the March 26, 2003, Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Sixth District.

Commissioners Howard H. Belkin and Charles F. Senich concur.

1 The issue of the appeal in this case is identical in the issue raised in Smith v. Harrow Industries, 4662 CRB-8-03-4 (March 31, 2004). The issues which were raised solely involved a challenge to the commissioner’s findings on jurisdictional grounds. span class="back">BACK TO TEXT

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