State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Sachatello v. Town of Montville Police Department

CASE NO. 4869 CRB-8-04-10

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

SEPTEMBER 6, 2005

LISA SACHATELLO, Dependent widow of JOSEPH SACHATELLO, Deceased

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

TOWN OF MONTVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT

EMPLOYER

RESPONDENT-APPELLANT

and

CIRMA

INSURER

RESPONDENT

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Brendan T. Canty, Esq., Kerin & Canty, 193 East Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06855.

The respondent employer was represented by Robert B. Keville, Esq., Suisman, Shapiro, Wool, Brennan, Gray & Greenberg, P.C., The Courtney Building, Suite 200, 2 Union Plaza, P.O. Box 1591, New London, CT 06320.

Respondent CIRMA was represented at the trial level by Robert J. Enright, Esq., McGann, Bartlett & Brown, LLC, 111 Founders Plaza, Suite 1201, East Hartford, CT 06108. They did not participate in the proceedings before the board as they communicated they were not directly involved in the issues on appeal.

This Petition for Review from the September 24, 2004 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District was heard April 15, 2005 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners Stephen B. Delaney and Michelle D. Truglia.

OPINION

JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The respondent, Town of Montville, has filed a timely appeal from the September 24, 2004 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District. We remand the case to the trial commissioner.

The trial commissioner’s decision incorporated the parties’ Stipulation of Facts dated June 17, 2004. According to that stipulation, on January 23, 2003 Joseph Sachatello III was employed as a full time police officer for the respondent employer when he was killed in a motor vehicle accident which arose out of and in the course of his employment. On or prior to that date the decedent was married to Lisa Sachatello (hereinafter “the claimant”) and had one minor son born of the marriage. On January 30, 2003 Mayor Howard R. Beetham of the Town of Montville directed the town to pay the claimant the difference between the workers’ compensation benefit and the weekly rate of pay the decedent was earning at the time of his death. This supplemental payment was terminated on February 12, 2004 by Mayor Joseph W. Jaskiewicz after the town concluded that Mayor Beetham did not have authorization to continue to make payments to the claimant above the weekly compensation rate due to her.

The claimant currently receives base compensation payments. The issue that was presented to the commissioner in the proceedings below was whether the commission had jurisdiction to hear the claimant’s claim “to enforce the payment of the difference between the base compensation rate, and the average weekly rate.” June 17, 2004 Stipulation of Facts, ¶ 9.

The commissioner found, “[b]ased upon the provisions of Chapter 568 and specifically the powers of the commissioners as described in CGS [§] 31-278, specifically the sentence that reads, ‘Each commissioner shall hear all claims and questions arising under this chapter...’, it is found determined and adjudged that this commission has jurisdiction to decide the compensation rate issue as stated in the Stipulation of Facts.” Findings, ¶ 5. The trier further found that “[t]he issue of basic compensation rate and weekly payments are basic compensation issues to be resolved at this commission as per Section 31-278.” Findings, ¶ 6. The commissioner specifically left the issue of the claimant’s entitlement open for further proceedings.

The respondent-employer has appealed these findings. In their view, the claimant is attempting to enforce a private agreement which is outside of the jurisdiction of this Commission. “Being that this agency is an invention of statute, our jurisdiction is precisely commensurate with the authority that the legislature has vested in us. The Workers’ Compensation Act serves as our charter, and its specific terms both create and circumscribe all of our powers, including the license that a commissioner has to hear claims.” Bell v. Lombardo, 4152 CRB-02-99-11, 4065 CRB-2-99-6 (November 27, 2000) citing, Stickney v. Sunlight Construction, Inc., 248 Conn. 754, 760-61 (1999); Castro v. Viera, 207 Conn. 420 (1988). A “commissioner’s subject matter jurisdiction is limited to adjudicating claims arising under the act.” Stickney, supra, 762.

A commissioner may interpret a contract in order to decide a case under Chapter 568 or a related matter that has been statutorily delegated to this commission. (e.g. heart and hypertensions claims under § 7-433c; fines under § 31-288) Bell, supra; Pascarelli v. Moliterno Stone Sales, 3925 CRB-4-98-11 (December 22, 1999). “[A] commissioner does not generally preside over issues of contractual interpretation . . . absent a specific statutory relationship between the case and the Workers’ Compensation Act.” Pascarelli, citing Stickney, supra, 764.

In Hammick v. Hartford, 4608 CRB-1-03-1 (December 29, 2003), a trial commissioner ruled that he had “. . . 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. . . .” In that case the trial commissioner interpreted that agreement in order to determine whether the respondents had a right to a credit or offset against the benefits due to the claimant. We affirmed his ruling and specifically stated that the commissioner was permitted to interpret the agreement’s terms for the limited purpose of resolving the Chapter 568 issues. This case is different from Hammick inasmuch as the benefits mandated under Chapter 568 are already being paid here.

In the claimant’s view she is attempting to enforce an agreement for additional compensation by way of § 31-284(a) C.G.S. Section 31-284(a) states in relevant part, “[n]othing in this section shall prohibit any employee from securing, by agreement with his employer, additional compensation from his employer for the injury or from enforcing any agreement for additional compensation.”

Unfortunately, we cannot tell from the June 17, 2004 Stipulation of Facts whether there was an agreement to enforce in this case. The stipulation simply states that the claimant was seeking “to enforce the payment of the difference between the base compensation rate, and the average weekly rate.” June 17, 2004 Stipulation of Facts, ¶ 9. Furthermore, if there was an agreement to enforce we cannot ascertain the nature of the agreement and whether it involved a Chapter 568 claim. Perhaps the payments were intended as additional compensation under Chapter 568. It may well be that the payments were an act of kindness and generosity more in the nature of a gift or that the payments were intended to fulfill other contractual purposes as opposed to payments for additional compensation under Chapter 568. Due to the ambiguity of what these payments represented, we believe further proceedings are necessary to determine if there was an agreement and if so, the character of what was due under that agreement.

The commissioner correctly noted that § 31-278 directs each commissioner to hear “all claims and questions arising under this chapter.” The language of this statute “suggests that his [the commissioner’s] subject matter jurisdiction is limited to adjudicating claims by an injured worker seeking compensation from his employer under the Act.” Bell, supra. As we explained above, we are unclear as to the nature of the payments the claimant is attempting to enforce, therefore, we cannot tell if the claimant has an agreement to enforce, and if so, whether the nature of that agreement is such that this commission would have enforcement authority.

Therefore, we remand the September 24, 2004 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District for further proceedings and findings consistent with this opinion.

Commissioners Stephen B. Delaney and Michelle D. Truglia concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

Page last revised: September 30, 2005

Page URL: http://wcc.state.ct.us/crb/2005/4869crb.htm

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