State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Pasquariello v. Stop & Shop Companies, Inc.

CASE NO. 4730 CRB-7-03-9

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

SEPTEMBER 3, 2004

EARL O. PASQUARIELLO

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

STOP & SHOP COMPANIES, INC.

EMPLOYER

and

MAC RISK MANAGEMENT

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Norman Voog, Esq., 90 Grove Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877.

The respondents were represented by Clayton Quinn, Esq., Cotter, Cotter & Quinn, LLC, 457 Castle Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.

This Petition for Review from the September 10, 2003, Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District was heard February 27, 2004 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners A. Thomas White and Charles F. Senich.

OPINION

JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The respondents, Stop & Shop Companies, Inc. and Mac Risk Management, have appealed from the September 10, 2003 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District. We reverse the decision of the trial commissioner.

The pertinent facts are not in dispute. The claimant was employed by the respondent-employer when he was injured at work on April 26, 1997. The claimant sustained injuries to his right knee and back which rendered him totally disabled. At that time the claimant was 73 years old and had been collecting Social Security retirement benefits prior to his employment. He continued to collect those benefits through and including the date of the injury. Findings, ¶ 1c; January 14, 2003 Transcript, pp. 20-21. The respondents have not paid total disability payments to the claimant due to § 31-307(e) C.G.S., which requires those payments be offset by the claimant’s Social Security Retirement benefits.

The trial commissioner found the claimant was entitled to temporary total benefits based on the legislative intent of § 31-307(e). The trial commissioner decided that the legislature did not intend to deny temporary total disability benefits to a worker the claimant’s age that was injured while already receiving Social Security Retirement benefits, and whose weekly entitlement to compensation benefits would be totally negated by the Social Security offset. Findings, ¶ I. The respondents appeal this Finding and Award on the basis that the trial commissioner misinterpreted and/or misapplied the plain language of § 31-307(e), that the trial commissioner’s conclusions are legally inconsistent with the subordinate findings, and that the trial commissioner improperly relied upon a Supreme Court decision that had been legislatively overruled by the Connecticut General Assembly. Respondent’s Reasons of Appeal dated December 9, 2003.

The claimant defends the trial commissioner’s finding based on the legislative history. The claimant also claims that § 31-307(e) is unconstitutional as applied to his situation. The claimant acknowledges, however, that the constitutionality of the statute is beyond an administrative agency’s jurisdiction. In Rayhall v. Akim Co., 263 Conn. 328 (2003) our Supreme Court upheld the statute’s constitutionality. As the constitutionality of the statute is beyond our reach that issue will not be addressed in this opinion.

The crux of this case relies on the statutory interpretation of § 31-307(e). In State v. Courchesne, 262 Conn. 537 (2003), our Supreme Court explained the process by which it interprets statutes. “We seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of [the] case, including the question of whether the language does actually apply. In seeking to determine that meaning, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter.” Id., 577, citing Bender v. Bender, 258 Conn. 733, 741 (2001). The court went on to state, “this does not mean, however, that we will not, in a given case, follow what may be regarded as the plain meaning of the language, namely, the meaning that, when the language is considered without reference to any extratextual sources of its meaning, appears to be the meaning and that appears to preclude any other likely meaning. In such a case, the more strongly the bare text supports such a meaning, the more persuasive the extratextual sources of meaning will have to be in order to yield a different meaning.” Courchesne, supra, 577-578.

After State v. Courchesne, supra, was issued the state legislature passed Public Act 03-154 which states, “The meaning of a statute shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered.”

Therefore, we will first look to the language of the relevant statute at issue. Section 31-307(e) states, “Notwithstanding any provision of the general statutes to the contrary, compensation paid to an employee for an employee’s total incapacity shall be reduced while the employee is entitled to receive old age insurance benefits pursuant to the federal Social Security Act. The amount of each reduced workers’ compensation payment shall equal the excess, if any, of the workers’ compensation payment over the old age insurance benefits.” The language of the statute indicates that an employee’s total incapacity shall be reduced while an employee is on Social Security retirement benefits. The statute makes no distinction whether the employee was on Social Security prior to working or later became eligible for such.

Section 31-307(e) was examined by our Supreme Court in Rayhall v. Akim Co., 263 Conn. 328 (2003). Specifically, the court considered the statute’s offset by Social Security retirement benefits and whether the offset was constitutional. Id., 346. The court explained that § 31-307(e) was enacted as part of the broad 1993 Workers’ Compensation Act reforms. “The principal thrust of these reforms was to cut costs in order to address the spiraling expenses required to maintain the system.” Id. The court did not find any specific legislative intent regarding the offset provisions of § 31-307(e). Id., 347. “The only legislative history that expressly addresses the offset merely reflects that the legislature was aware of similar offset provisions in other jurisdictions and that it considered applying the old age social security offset more broadly, but settled on limiting its reach to old age social security benefits applied against total disability benefits.” Id. internal citations omitted. The court reiterated the notion that the legislature is justified in its attempt to limit employers’ and insurers’ Workers’ Compensation costs through a statutory scheme. Id., 348.

The claimant asserts Rayhall, supra, supports the trial commissioner’s finding. Although there is some language in Rayhall that distinguishes the Social Security offset from other non-age based offsets, see Rayhall, 353 and footnote 19, Rayhall stands for the proposition that the Social Security offset is constitutional. The claimant would like us to look at the facts of each claimant’s case and determine what purpose their Social Security benefits served. The claimant would like us to distinguish between different Social Security recipients, i.e. those who received Social Security retirement benefits after an injury and those who received those benefits prior to an injury. In our opinion, Rayhall does not support this approach. This clearly is a distinction that the legislature would have to carve out.

We are supportive of the claimant’s effort to supplement his income after retirement age. However, there is nothing in the language of the statute, the legislative history or in Rayhall, supra, that would lead us to the conclusion that the § 31-307(e) offset can be waived under any circumstance.

Therefore, we reverse the September 10, 2003 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District.

Commissioners A. Thomas White and Charles F. Senich concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

Page last revised: September 8, 2004

Page URL: http://wcc.state.ct.us/crb/2004/4730crb.htm

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