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Colello v. Pitney Bowes

CASE NO. 3541 CRB-07-97-02



MAY 14, 1998











The claimant appeared pro se at oral argument.

The respondents were represented by Kevin D. O’Leary, Esq., Cummings & Lockwood, City Place One, 185 Asylum St., Hartford, CT 06103.

This Petition for Review from the February 13, 1997 Order of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District was heard September 19, 1997 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners James J. Metro and John A. Mastropietro.


JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The pro se claimant has petitioned for review from the February 13, 1997 Order of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District. He argues on appeal that the trial commissioner erred by declining to reopen his pending workers’ compensation and ERISA cases. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant was employed by Pitney Bowes, Inc., until October 16, 1992. He alleges that during his employment there, he suffered a heart condition, several small strokes, and other complications caused by work-related stress. The respondents contested the compensability of those conditions. The parties reached an agreement on September 23, 1994 that was approved by Commissioner Robin L. Wilson. In this stipulation, the claimant agreed to accept $55,000 in full settlement of his claims under the Workers’ Compensation Act, without prejudice to the claimant’s federal court action against the respondent Pitney Bowes concerning the circumstances of his dismissal and his entitlement to retirement benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

On November 6, 1995, the claimant (who was then represented by counsel) filed a Motion to Open the stipulation on the ground that the respondents either fraudulently or mistakenly concealed from the claimant pertinent information concerning the claimant’s potential entitlement to Long Term Disability benefits. Allegedly, the respondents allowed the claimant to mistakenly believe that he was entitled to such benefits in order to induce him to settle his workers’ compensation claim for less money, as there would be no point in his pursuing a larger recovery if it would simply offset the claimant’s entitlement to disability benefits. Several months after this motion was filed, the claimant’s counsel withdrew on the ground that “an irretrievable breakdown in the attorney client relationship has occurred.”

Another settlement agreement was executed by the parties on July 2, 1996. In this one, the claimant agreed to settle his civil action against Pitney Bowes for $40,000, payment of $15,000 in attorney’s fees, and the right to participate in the employer’s pharmaceutical plan. In exchange, he agreed to withdraw all of his pending claims against Pitney Bowes, along with his right to reopen the 1994 settlement agreement. The respondents presented this stipulation to a trial commissioner on February 13, 1997, but the claimant had changed his mind by then. However, he had already withdrawn his federal court claim. The commissioner ruled that the claimant had the right to withdraw his consent to the stipulation, but that his approval was not necessary for the claimant to withdraw his federal court action. The commissioner also noted that the claimant had withdrawn his workers’ compensation claim as well. (Transcript, p. 2.) At that point, the respondents withdrew their request that the stipulation be approved. The claimant filed an appeal from the commissioner’s oral ruling.

The pro se claimant did not submit a detailed brief in support of his claim of error. He mentions that the initial settlement was not his own idea, but the idea of his attorney, and explains that he signed the second settlement because he was exhausted from the stress of the negotiating session. He then requests that all of the claims be reopened, including the ERISA claim. The respondents simply note that the claimant was unable to identify any instance of fraud or make any factual allegations in support of reopening his claim at the February 13, 1997 hearing. Without establishing any conditions of fraud or mistake, the commissioner had no basis for reopening the award.

We agree with the respondents insofar as the commissioner’s ruling is concerned. The claimant did not establish any conditions that would have supported reopening or modifying the 1994 stipulation under § 31-315, and the trier was correct in dismissing this claim. See Hines v. Linc Scientific Imaging, 3037 CRB-8-95-3 (April 14, 1997); Jaworski v. Four Seasons Limousine, 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 438, 2200 CRB-7-94-11 (Sept. 5, 1996). There was no evidence in the record before the trial commissioner that supported an alternate outcome.

It appears, however, that the pro se claimant is unclear as to the effect of the 1994 stipulation and the role of this board in overseeing workers’ compensation appeals. By virtue of the 1994 stipulation, the claimant settled the workers’ compensation portion of his claim. That agreement was approved by a trial commissioner pursuant to § 31-296. See Muldoon v. Homestead Insulation, 231 Conn. 469, 480 (1994). The claimant also signed a stipulation in 1996, which was not approved by a commissioner. Thus, the latter agreement is not binding on the claimant as regards his right to reopen his workers’ compensation claim in this forum.

The claimant must understand, though, that this board has no jurisdiction of any kind over the claimant’s ERISA-based action. We cannot negate or undo any action that the claimant has taken in the federal court, e.g., withdrawing his claim, by making an order here. The legal effect of the claimant’s 1996 stipulation as to his federal court action is not for this board to determine in this case. The trial commissioner did not err by declining to approve the stipulation before him and by failing to reopen the claimant’s 1994 approved settlement agreement.

Commissioners James J. Metro and John A. Mastropietro concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

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State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, Stephen M. Morelli, Chairman
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