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Holston v. New Haven Police Dept.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

November 22, 2016

REGINALD HOLSTON
v.
NEW HAVEN POLICE DEPARTMENT ET AL.

          Argued September 13, 2016

          Jason M. Dodge, for the appellants (defendants).

          James F. Aspell, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.

          OPINION

          EVELEIGH, J.

         The named defendant, the New Haven Police Department, [1] appeals[2] from the decision of the Workers' Compensation Review Board (board), which affirmed the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the Third District (commissioner), awarding heart disease benefits to the plaintiff, Reginald Holston, pursuant to General Statutes § 7-433c (a).[3]On appeal, the defendant asserts that the board improperly determined that the plaintiff's heart disease claim was timely. Specifically, the defendant claims that the board improperly affirmed the decision of the commissioner that the plaintiff's hypertension and heart disease were separate diseases, each with its own one year limitation period for filing a claim for benefits. We disagree with the defendant and, accordingly, affirm the decision of the board.[4]

         The record reveals the following undisputed facts and procedural history. The plaintiff was hired by the defendant as a police officer in 1996 and remained a regular member of that paid municipal police department at all points relevant to the present case. When he was hired, the plaintiff passed a preemployment physical examination that did not reveal any evidence of hypertension or heart disease.

         On March 10, 2011, the plaintiff suffered a myocardial infarction. The plaintiff underwent an angioplasty and stent implantation following a diagnosis of heart disease. He remained hospitalized for approximately four days after the procedure and was out of work for three or four months. The plaintiff was prescribed several medications for his heart disease. On March 14, 2011, the plaintiff filed a claim for benefits under § 7-433c for hypertension and heart disease. The plaintiff listed the date of injury as March 10, 2011.

         At the hearing before the commissioner, Roy Kellerman, the plaintiff's physician, testified that he began treating the plaintiff in 1995 for an ankle injury. The commissioner found that Kellerman had diagnosed the plaintiff with hypertension in October, 2009, and had conveyed that diagnosis to him. The commissioner concluded, therefore, that the plaintiff's claim for benefits related to hypertension was untimely because it was filed more than one year after he became aware of his diagnosis of hypertension.

         On the basis of the testimony of Kellerman and Martin Krauthamer, a physician obtained by the defendant, the commissioner determined that the plaintiff's preexisting hypertension was a significant contributing factor in the development of his heart disease. The commissioner further found, however, that there were additional significant contributing factors in the development of the plaintiff's heart disease, including his high cholesterol and his gender.

         Accordingly, the commissioner dismissed the plaintiff's claim for benefits related to his hypertension as untimely, but granted his claim for benefits related to his heart disease and myocardial infarction. The defendant appealed to the board, and the board affirmed the decision of the commissioner.[5] This appeal followed.

         ‘‘As a threshold matter, we set forth the standard of review applicable to workers' compensation appeals. The principles that govern our standard of review in workers' compensation appeals are well established. The conclusions drawn by [the commissioner] from the facts found must stand unless they result from an incorrect application of the law to the subordinate facts or from an inference illegally or unreasonably drawn from them. . . . [Moreover, it] is well established that [a]lthough not dispositive, we accord great weight to the construction given to the workers' compensation statutes by the commissioner and [the] board. . . . Cases that present pure questions of law, however, invoke a broader standard of review than is ordinarily involved in deciding whether, in light of the evidence, the agency has acted unreasonably, arbitrarily, illegally or in abuse of its discretion. . . . We have determined, therefore, that the traditional deference accorded to an agency's interpretation of a statutory term is unwarranted when the construction of a statute . . . has not previously been subjected to judicial scrutiny [or to] . . . a governmental agency's time-tested[6] interpretation . . . .'' (Footnote added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Estate of Rock v. University of Connecticut, 323 Conn. 26, 30, 144 A.3d 420 (2016).

         In the present case, the defendant's claim raises an issue of statutory construction. Specifically, the defendant asserts that the board improperly affirmed the decision of the commissioner that the plaintiff's claim for benefits related to his heart disease and myocardial infarction was timely filed because, under § 7-433c, it was a separate disease from the earlier diagnosed hypertension. ‘‘When interpreting the statutory provisions at issue in the present case, we are mindful of the proposition that all workers' compensation legislation, because of its remedial nature, should be broadly construed in favor of disabled employees. . . . This proposition applies as well to the provisions of [§] 7-433c . . . because the measurement of the benefits to which a § 7-433c claimant is entitled is identical to the benefits that may be awarded to a [claimant] under . . . [the Workers' Compensation Act]. . . . We also recognize, however, that the filing of a timely notice of claim is a condition precedent to liability and a jurisdictional requirement that cannot be waived.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Ciarlelli v. Hamden, 299 Conn. 265, 277-78, 8 A.3d 1093 (2010).

         ‘‘When construing a statute, [o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature. . . . In other words, 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 actually does apply. . . . In seeking to determine that meaning, General Statutes § 1-2z directs us first to consider 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. . . . When a statute is not plain and unambiguous, we also look for interpretive guidance to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to ...


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