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Szudora v. Town of Fairfield

Supreme Court of Connecticut

April 17, 1990

Joseph SZUDORA
v.
TOWN OF FAIRFIELD.

Argued March 1, 1990.

Donal C. Collimore, Asst. Town Atty., for appellant (defendant).

David J. Morrissey, Naugatuck, for appellee (plaintiff).

Before PETERS, C.J., and SHEA, CALLAHAN, GLASS and HULL, JJ.

PETERS, Chief Justice.

This appeal concerns the calculation of the benefits ceiling that General Statutes § 7-433b(b) [214 Conn. 553] imposes on the compensation to which disabled members of municipal police and fire departments are entitled under General Statutes § 7-433c, the Heart and Hypertension Act. [1] On the basis of

Page 2

stipulated facts, a [214 Conn. 554] workers' compensation commissioner determined that the plaintiff, Joseph Szudora, was not entitled to receive benefits that cumulatively exceeded 100 percent of the base salary of other police officers employed by the defendant, the town of Fairfield. The plaintiff successfully appealed this determination to the compensation review division, which concluded that the ceiling contained in § 7-433b(b) required consideration not only of base pay but also of overtime payments to similarly situated working members of the defendant's police department. The defendant thereafter appealed to the Appellate Court, and we transferred its appeal here pursuant to Practice Book § 4023. We find no error.

As stipulated, the plaintiff was a regular member of the police department of the defendant town, who had passed the requisite physical examination at the time of his employment. During the term of his employment, the plaintiff had substantial overtime and other earnings that exceeded his base salary. The plaintiff thereafter[214 Conn. 555] developed symptoms of heart disease and hypertension and, having become totally disabled, was forced to retire. A compensation commissioner awarded him benefits under § 7-433c and related medical benefits, including a special award of 195 weeks of compensation for a 25 percent permanent partial impairment of his cardiovascular system at the rate of $381 per week. In addition to his compensation award under § 7-433c, the plaintiff has been receiving benefits from the Fairfield police pension. The defendant has limited the plaintiff's combined benefits, under § 7-433c and his pension, to 100 percent of the base salary of other town police officers, exclusive of overtime or other earnings.

The compensation review division concluded, contrary to the compensation commissioner, that the defendant has taken too narrow a view of the statutory ceiling on the plaintiff's benefits. Although it did not adopt the plaintiff's view that his benefits should be "capped" by his own average weekly earnings over the four year period

Page 3

Before his retirement, the review division disagreed with the defendant's view that the proper measure for the "cap" is the base salary of other police officers in the same position as that formerly held by the plaintiff. Section 7-433b(b) describes the benefits ceiling as "one hundred per cent of the weekly compensation" being paid to comparable officers. The review division construed "weekly compensation" as the "average earnings, including overtime" of comparable police officers, calculated on a periodic basis. Lacking the appropriate statistical data to complete such a comparison for this plaintiff, the review division remanded the case for further proceedings.

The defendant's appeal maintains that overtime earnings are not a proper component in the calculation of "weekly compensation" for the purposes of the benefits "cap" contained in § 7-433b(b). Before we reach [214 Conn. 556] the merits of this claim, [2] we must decide, as a jurisdictional matter, whether this appeal is properly here.

It is axiomatic that appellate review of disputed claims of law and fact ordinarily must await the rendering of a final judgment by the compensation review division. Matey v. Estate of Dember, 210 Conn. 626, 629-30, 556 A.2d 599 (1989); Schieffelin & Co. v. Department of Liquor Control, 202 Conn. 405, 409-12, 521 A.2d 566 (1987); Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 202 Conn. 150, 156-57, 520 A.2d 186 (1987); Rapasi v. Jenkins Bros., 16 Conn.App. 121, 122-23, 546 A.2d 965, cert. denied, 209 Conn. 817, 550 A.2d 1085 (1988). The finality of the decision of the review division is called into question in this case because of the review division's order of a remand for further administrative proceedings. The test that determines whether such a decision is a final judgment turns on the scope of the proceedings on remand: if such further proceedings are merely ministerial, the decision is an appealable final judgment, but if further proceedings will require the exercise of independent judgment or discretion and the taking of additional evidence, the appeal is premature and must be dismissed. Matey v. Estate of Dember, supra, 210 Conn. at 630, 556 A.2d 599.

The review division ordered a remand for the computation of "the average earnings, including overtime, of all Fairfield officers employed during the compensable[214 Conn. 557] period in the same position" that the plaintiff held. The proceedings contemplated on remand are therefore confined to the arithmetical task of compiling the requisite fiscal data, a task the review division characterized as "not ... too difficult." At oral argument, counsel for both parties agreed with the review division's assessment that compliance with its remand order would require the defendant to undertake only a ministerial, noncontroversial compilation of salary information retrievable from an existing computer data bank. We therefore conclude that the decision of the review division was a final judgment.

Our review of the merits of the review division's interpretation of § 7-433b(b) proceeds from well established principles. In order to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature, we must examine the language of the statute in light of the purpose that it was designed to achieve. Mahoney v. Lensink, 213 Conn. 548, 563, 569 A.2d 518 (1990); Beloff v. Progressive Casualty Ins. Co., 203 Conn. 45, 54-55, 523 A.2d 477 (1987); Rhodes v. Hartford, 201 Conn. 89, 93, 513 A.2d 124 (1986). The text of ยง 7-433b(b) provides no definition for the term "weekly compensation," which it sets as the statutory ...


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