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Wiblyi v. McDonald's Corp.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 6, 2016


          Argued April 6

         Appeal from Workers' Compensation Review Board.

          John B. Cantarella, for the appellants (defendants).

          Jennifer B. Levine, with whom was Harvey L. Levine, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Lavine and Mullins, Js.


          DiPENTIMA, C. J.

         The defendant McDonald's Corpo-ration[1] appeals from the decision of the Workers' Compensation Review Board (board) finding error in the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner (commissioner). On appeal, the defendant claims that the board improperly concluded, as a matter of law, that the equitable doctrine of laches was not available as a defense to the motion to preclude filed by the plaintiff, John M. Wiblyi, Jr.[2] We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the decision of the board.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff filed a form 30C on June 28, 2000, [3] alleging that he had sustained an injury on September 8, 1999, while in the course of his employment.[4] Specifically, he claimed to have injured his knee after tripping over boxes on the floor. The defendant filed a form 43[5] on August 3, 2000, contesting liability for the injury. Specifically, the defendant stated ‘‘that [the] injury did not arise out of or in the course and scope of employment with [the defendant]. No medical documentation exists which supports causal relationship, disability and treatment recommendations. Delay in reporting incident. No medical treatment sought. Therefore, [defendant intends] to contest liability to pay compensation.''[6]

         After an extended time period, on February 25, 2010, the plaintiff filed a motion to preclude the defendant from contesting liability. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that the defendant had ‘‘failed to file notice contesting liability on or before the twenty-eighth day after it received written notice of claim.'' He further maintained that, as a result, the defendant conclusively was presumed to have accepted the compensability of his alleged injuries.

         On October 11, 2012, the defendant filed an amended objection to the motion to preclude. It set forth the following reasons for its objection: (1) the notice of the claim was insufficient to trigger an investigation; (2) the notice of the claim was served improperly for the purposes of the motion to preclude; (3) there was no prima facie medical report that an injury had occurred; (4) waiver; (5) laches; (6) fraud; and (7) the defendant had filed a proper denial of benefits pursuant to General Statutes § 31-294c. In the attached memorandum of law, the defendant argued that the plaintiff did not seek treatment to be paid by the defendant until approximately February, 2008. It further claimed that the treatment sought by the plaintiff included bilateral knee replacement. With respect to its laches defense, the defendant contended that the plaintiff's delay of nearly ten years before filing the motion to preclude constituted an inexcusable delay. It also claimed that there had been significant proceedings in the two years prior to the filing of the motion to preclude. Further, the defendant argued that it suffered prejudice from the delay because (1) witnesses were unavailable, (2) evidence was lost or destroyed and (3) it had expended significant resources throughout the course of the proceedings.

         On August 21, 2013, the defendant filed a memorandum of law in opposition to the motion to preclude. It objected on the following bases: ‘‘(1) Improper Service of the Motion to Preclude; (2) a timely denial was filed under [§] 31-294c (b); and (3) Laches.'' The defendant iterated that there had been an inexcusable delay and that it had suffered prejudice as a result of said delay.

         On September 19, 2013, the commissioner denied the plaintiff's motion to preclude. In his decision, the commissioner found that the plaintiff had filed a timely notice of claim on June 28, 2000, and that the defendant had not filed its form 43 within twenty-eight days of receipt of the notice of claim.[7] The commissioner also found that the claim had been dormant for many years and that many of the ‘‘original handlers of the claim . . . are no longer available and some documents no longer exist.''

         The commissioner denied the motion to preclude and ordered the case to proceed on the merits. Specifically, the commissioner stated: ‘‘Based on the totality of the circumstances, I hereby deny the motion to preclude. I am persuaded by the [defendant's] position on this issue, particularly as to the laches and prejudice claim, as this motion to preclude was filed eleven years after the filing of the [September 8, 1999] injury claim.''[8]

         The plaintiff appealed to the board from the denial of his motion to preclude. On October 3, 2014, the board issued a decision concluding that the commissioner had erred as a matter of law by applying the equitable doctrine of laches in the context of a motion to preclude, a creature of statute. The board reasoned that the Workers' Compensation Commission is limited by its enabling legislation and must act within its statutory authority. It then examined § 31-294c (b), which sets forth the framework for the filing of a motion to preclude. The board noted that the statute does not provide for a defense of laches. ‘‘Given that the remedy of claim preclusion, as set forth in the provisions of § 31-294c (b) . . . is clearly statutory in nature, we find that the [commissioner] was prohibited as a matter of law from denying the motion to preclude on the basis of the equitable doctrine of laches.'' After noting that statutory language must be given the intent as expressed in the words used by the legislature, the board remanded the matter for additional proceedings to determine whether the statutory requirements for granting a motion to preclude have been satisfied. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the defendant argues that the board improperly concluded the equitable doctrine of laches was not applicable as a defense to a motion to preclude filed pursuant to § 31-294c (b).[9] It further contends that both elements of laches were satisfied in this case, and therefore the decision of the commissioner should have been affirmed. We conclude that the board properly determined, as a matter of law, that the defense of laches is inapplicable in this case. Therefore the defendant's appeal must fail.

         As an initial matter, we set forth the general principles underlying the Workers' Compensation Act (act), General Statutes § 31-275 et seq. ‘‘The purpose of the [act] is to compensate the worker for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment, without regard to fault, by imposing a form of strict liability on the employer . . . . [The act] compromise[s] an employee's right to a common law tort action for work related injuries in return for relatively quick and certain compensation. . . . The act indisputably is a remedial statute that should be construed generously to accomplish its purpose. . . . The humanitarian and remedial purposes of the act counsel against an overly narrow construction that unduly limits eligibility for workers' compensation. . . . Further, our Supreme Court has recognized that the state of Connecticut has an interest in compensating injured employees to the fullest extent possible . . . . The purposes of the act itself are best served by allowing the remedial legislation a reasonable sphere of operation considering those purposes.'' (Citation ...

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