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Quinones v. R.W. Thompson Co. Inc.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 26, 2019

WILFREDO QUINONES
v.
R. W. THOMPSON COMPANY, INC.

          Argued December 4, 2018

         Procedural History

         Appeal from the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the Sixth District denying the plaintiff's motion to preclude the defendant from contesting the extent of the plaintiff's injury and denying the plaintiff's motion to correct, brought to the Compensation Review Board, which affirmed the commissioner's decision, and the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

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

          Nicholas C. Varunes, with whom was Christopher Young, for the appellee (defendant).

          Lavine, Keller and Bishop, Js.

          OPINION

          LAVINE, J.

         The plaintiff, Wilfredo Quinones, appeals from the decision of the Compensation Review Board (board) affirming the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the Sixth District, Stephen B. Delaney, denying the plaintiff's motion to preclude the defendant, R. W. Thompson Co., Inc., from contesting the extent of the plaintiff's injury. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the board improperly (1) found there was no error when the commissioner rejected an alleged stipulation that the case be decided on the original record and (2) affirmed the denial of the plaintiff's motion to preclude despite the defendant's failure to file a form 43. We affirm the decision of the board.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. On March 16, 2010, during the course of his employment with the defendant, the plaintiff sustained compensable injuries when the deck of a road paving machine fell on him. He began to receive workers' compensation benefits on March 23, 2010. Although the plaintiff timely filed a form 30C[1] claiming benefits on October 25, 2010, he refiled a form 30C on February 10, 2011, because he lost the return receipts from the postal service related to his first filing. The defendant did not contest the plaintiff's claim by filing a form 43[2] and began paying the plaintiff weekly indemnity payments in the amount of $328.58 from March 23, 2010, until November 8, 2011. On October 17, 2011, the defendant, however, sought to discontinue the benefits it was paying the plaintiff by filing a form 36, [3] alleging that the plaintiff was able to return to work.[4] The form 36 was approved without objection on November 2, 2011. Consequently, the plaintiff received no more compensation benefit payments after November 8, 2011. On February 29, 2012, the plaintiff filed a motion to preclude the defendant from denying him further compensation benefits. Commissioner Clifton Thompson conducted a formal hearing on April 18, 2012. After the hearing, but before the parties submitted post trial briefs, Commissioner Thompson died, and the case was assigned to Commissioner Delaney.[5]

         When the Workers' Compensation Commission (commission) contacted the parties regarding the former commissioner's death, the parties were told that they could have a hearing denovoor request the commission to assign a substitute commissioner to decide the case on the basis of a review of the transcript, exhibits, and as of yet unfiled briefs. The plaintiff objected to a trial de novo in a letter dated May 24, 2012, and stated that a decision should be rendered upon review of the record.[6]The defendant, in a letter dated May 24, 2012, stated that it ‘‘[had] no objection to [the] matter [being] reassigned to a new commissioner for a finding on the papers based on the April 18, 2012 formal hearing transcript and the briefs submitted by the parties.''

         On August 31, 2012, the commissioner scheduled a formal hearing to open the record for articulation of the parties' positions and arguments. On September 7, 2012, the plaintiff filed an objection to the commissioner's order to open the formal hearing. At a formal hearing on October 1, 2012, the commissioner heard the plaintiff's objection, and ruled that he had the authority to open the record and was recalling the plaintiff for further questioning. The plaintiff thereafter filed an appeal to the board on October 19, 2012, challenging the right of the commissioner to open the record and take further evidence. The board issued a decision on January 16, 2014, concluding that the matter was not ripe for review. On May 15, 2014, the commissioner held a formal hearing. On July 11, 2014, he issued his decision denying the plaintiff's motion to preclude. The plaintiff appealed to the board, arguing that the commissioner improperly opened the record in contravention of the parties' stipulation and denied his motion to preclude. On July 29, 2015, the board found that there was no stipulation between the parties, and even if there was a stipulation, the commissioner had the authority to open the record. The board affirmed his denial of the motion to preclude. This appeal followed.

         As a threshold matter, we set forth the standard of review. ‘‘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]. . . . A state agency is not entitled, however, to special deference when its determination of a question of law has not previously been subject to judicial scrutiny. . . . Where . . . [a workers' compensation] appeal involves an issue of statutory construction that has not yet been subjected to judicial scrutiny, this court has plenary power to review the administrative decision.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Day v. Middletown, 59 Conn.App. 816, 819, 757 A.2d 1267, cert. denied, 254 Conn. 945, 762 A.2d 900 (2000). ‘‘We [accord] deference to . . . a time-tested agency interpretation of a statute, but only when the agency has consistently followed its construction over a long period of time, the statutory language is ambiguous, and the agency's interpretation is reasonable.'' State Medical Society v. Board of Examiners in Podiatry, 208 Conn. 709, 719, 546 A.2d 830 (1988).

         ‘‘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 . . . . In seeking to determine that meaning . . . [we] first . . . 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 ....

         ‘‘Moreover, [i]n applying these general principles, we are mindful that the [Workers' Compensation Act (act), General Statutes § 31-275 et seq.] 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.) Kinsey v. World PAC, 152 Conn.App. 116, 124, 98 A.3d 66 (2014).

         ‘‘The powers and duties of workers' compensation commissioners are conferred upon them for the purposes of carrying out the stated provisions of the [act]. . . . It is well settled that the commissioner's jurisdiction is confined by the . . . act and limited by its provisions.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation ...


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