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Balloli v. New Haven Police Department

Supreme Court of Connecticut

December 27, 2016

PETER BALLOLI
v.
NEW HAVEN POLICE DEPARTMENT ET AL.

          Argued October 21, 2016

          Andrew J. Morrissey, with whom was David J. Mor-rissey, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Jason M. Dodge, with whom, on the brief, was Kath- erine E. Abel, for the appellees (defendants).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Robinson and Vertefeuille, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          EVELEIGH, J.

         The sole issue in this appeal is whether the plaintiff, Peter Balloli, who was employed by the named defendant, the New Haven Police Department, [1]had departed his ‘‘place of abode'' when he was injured, thus entitling him to workers' compensation benefits pursuant to General Statutes § 31-275 (1) (A) (i) of the Workers' Compensation Act (act).[2] The plaintiff appeals[3] from a decision of the Workers' Compensation Review Board (board), which affirmed the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the Third District (commissioner) dismissing the plaintiff's claim. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that he is entitled to workers' compensation benefits because he had departed his ‘‘place of abode'' for duty as a police officer. We agree with the plaintiff.

         The following facts, as found by the commissioner, and procedural history are relevant to the disposition of this appeal. The plaintiff was employed by the defendant as a police officer on October 25, 2012. The plaintiff was scheduled to perform an extra duty job as a police officer for the defendant beginning at 7 a.m. on that date.

         The plaintiff moved his vehicle out of his driveway at approximately 5:30 a.m. on that morning so that his son could move another vehicle out of the driveway. After moving his vehicle, the plaintiff parked it in the street directly in front of his house. The vehicle was parked so that the passenger side of the vehicle was facing the house and the driver's side of the vehicle was facing the street. After parking his vehicle on the street, the plaintiff went back into his home and finished getting ready for work.

         At approximately 6 a.m., the plaintiff walked through his breezeway, down the driveway and to the driver's side door of his vehicle, which was still parked on the street. While standing on the street at the driver's side door, the plaintiff dropped his keys. The keys ricocheted off his foot and landed underneath his vehicle. The plaintiff squatted down and twisted to pick up his keys, injuring his lumbar spine.

         The commissioner dismissed the plaintiff's claim, concluding that ‘‘[b]ased on the totality of the evidence submitted . . . the [plaintiff had] not met his burden [of demonstrating] that the . . . injury arose out of and in the course of his employment as he was injured at home prior to commencing his normal commute to work. He had not departed from his ‘place of abode' pursuant to . . . § 31-275 (1) (A) (i) at the time he sustained his back injury and therefore this incident is not compensable.'' The plaintiff appealed to the board, which affirmed the decision of the commissioner. 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 interpretation . . . .'' (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 plaintiff does not challenge the factual findings of the commissioner, but instead asserts that the board improperly affirmed the commissioner's incorrect interpretation of the term ‘‘place of abode'' in § 31-275 (1) (A) (i). Accordingly, the plaintiff's claim raises an issue of statutory construction. ‘‘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.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Ciarlelli v. Hamden, 299 Conn. 265, 277, 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 implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter . . . .'' (Footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Vincent v. New Haven, 285 Conn. 778, 784-85, 941 A.2d 932 (2008).

         Furthermore, ‘‘[i]t is well established that, in resolving issues of statutory construction under the act, we are mindful that 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. . . . Accordingly, [i]n construing workers' compensation law, we must resolve statutory ambiguities or lacunae in a manner that will further the remedial purpose of the act. . . . [T]he purposes of the act itself are best served by allowing the remedial legislation a reasonable sphere of operation considering those purposes.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Sullins v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 315 Conn. 543, 550-51, 108 A.3d 1110 (2015).

         ‘‘It is an axiom of [workers'] compensation law that awards are determined by a two-part test. The [claimant] has the burden of proving that the injury claimed [1] arose out of the employment and [2] occurred in the course of the employment. . . . [E]mployment ordinarily does not commence until the claimant has reached the employer's premises, and consequently an injury sustained prior to that time would ordinarily not occur in the course of the employment so as to be compensable. . . . For a police officer or firefighter, [however] in the course of his employment encompasses such individual's departure from such individual's place of abode to duty . . . .'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) McMorris v. New Haven Police Dept., 156 Conn.App. 822, 830, 115 A.3d 491, cert. denied, 317 Conn. 911, 115 A.3d 1106 (2015).

         The plaintiff's claim, therefore, requires us to determine the meaning of ‘‘place of abode'' as used in § 31-275 (1) (A) (i). Section 31-275 (1) (A) (i) provides as follows: ‘‘For a police officer or firefighter, ‘in the course of his employment' encompasses such individual's departure from such individual's place of abode to duty, such individual's duty, and the return to such individual's place of abode after duty . . . .'' Section 31-275 (1) (A) (i) does not define the term ‘‘place of abode'' and this court has never had an opportunity to address the meaning of that term.

         Both the plaintiff and the defendant rely on the Appellate Court's interpretation of § 31-275 (1) (A) (i) in Perun v. Danbury, 143 Conn.App. 313, 67 A.3d 1018 (2013), to support their positions in the present case. Specifically, the defendant asserts that the Appellate Court adopted a broad definition of the term ‘‘ ‘place of abode' ''in Perun, and that the broad definition would include the area on the public street in front of the plaintiff's house in the present case. On the other hand, the plaintiff asserts that, unlike the plaintiff in Perun, he had crossed the demarcation line of his abode when he entered the public street in front of his house.

         In Perun, the plaintiff, a police officer, slipped and fell on a patch of ice in his driveway as he approached his vehicle to depart for work. Perun v. Danbury, supra, 143 Conn.App. 314. The commissioner granted the plaintiff's claim, finding that the injury occurred during his departure to work. The board reversed the commissioner's decision, relying on § 31-275 (1) (E) and (F). Id., 315. The board concluded that the plaintiff's injury did not arise out of and in the scope of his employment, and was not compensable under § 31-275 (1) (E) (i) because the injury occurred at the plaintiff's place of abode. Id. The Appellate Court affirmed the board's dismissal, reasoning that ‘‘[§] 31-275 (1) (E) and (F) articulate at what point a police officer's or firefighter's course of employment commences and terminates. Section 31-275 (1) (E) provides in relevant part that ‘[a] personal injury shall not be deemed to arise out of the employment if the injury is sustained . . . [a]t the employee's place of abode, and . . . while the employee is engaged in a preliminary act or acts in preparation for work unless such act or acts are undertaken at the express direction or request of the employer.' What constitutes one's ‘place of abode' is defined in § 31-275 (1) (F), and it ‘includes the inside of the residential structure, the garage, the common hallways, stairways, driveways, walkways and the yard . . . .' '' (Emphasis omitted; footnote omitted.) Perun v. Danbury, supra, 317. The Appellate Court further reasoned that ‘‘[r]eading § 31-275 (1) as a whole, we hold that a police officer's or firefighter's commute to and from work is part of his or her ‘course of employment.' The commute, however, according to the legislature, does not begin when the police officer or firefighter breaks the plane of his front door: an injury occurring in a driveway does not occur in the course of employment. In other words, police officers do enjoy so-called ‘portal-to-portal coverage' under the workers' compensation statutes . . . but, [the plaintiff] had not crossed the demarcation line as defined by the legislature when he sustained his injury.'' (Citation omitted.) Id.

         Although we are not bound by the Appellate Court's interpretation of § 31-275 (1) (A) (i), we find that it is instructive. In interpreting § 31-275 (1) (A) (i), consistent with § 1-2z, the Appellate Court looked to other relevant statutory provisions-namely § 31-275 (1) (E) and (F). We agree with this approach. As the Appellate Court has explained, ‘‘[§] 31-275 (1) (E) and (F) articulate at what point a police officer's or firefighter's course of employment commences and terminates.'' Perun v. Danbury, supra, 143 Conn.App. 317.

         First, § 31-275 (1) (E) delineates at what point a police officer's departure from his place of abode begins. Section 31-275 (1) (E) provides that ‘‘A personal injury shall not be deemed to arise out of the employment if the injury is sustained: (i) At the employee's place of abode, and (ii) while the employee is engaged in a preliminary act or acts in preparation for work unless such act or acts are undertaken at the express direction or request of the employer . . . .'' Section 31-275 (1) (E) is ‘‘two-pronged and injuries are not compensable only if both prongs of the statute are met.'' McMorris v. New Haven Police Dept., supra, 156 Conn.App. 831. In other words, a police officer or firefighter must be both engaged in a preliminary act or acts in preparation for work that is not undertaken at the express direction or request of the employer and must be at his or her place of abode in order for the injury to not be compensable.

         Second, § 31-275 (1) (F) provides the definition of ‘‘place of abode'' to be used in § 31-275 (1) (E). Section 31-275 (1) (F) provides as follows: ‘‘For purposes of subparagraph (E) of this subdivision, ‘place of abode' includes the inside of the residential structure, the garage, the common hallways, stairways, driveways, walkways and the yard . . . .'' Section 31-275 (1) (F) does not purport to provide an exhaustive list of the areas that will be considered in ...


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