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Rauser v. Pitney Bowes, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 11, 2019

JOHN RAUSER
v.
PITNEY BOWES, INC., ET AL.

          Argued March 19, 2019

         Procedural History

         Appeal from the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the Third District dismissing the plaintiff's claim for certain benefits, brought to the Compensation Review Board, which affirmed the commissioner's decision, and the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Michael Kerin, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Michael M. Buonopane, for the appellee (named defendant).

          Alvord, Keller and Beach, Js.

          OPINION

          KELLER, J.

         The plaintiff, John Rauser, appeals from the decision of the Compensation Review Board (board), affirming the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the Third District (commissioner) dismissing the plaintiff's claim for workers' compensation benefits. The plaintiff claims that the board erred in affirming the commissioner's decision in light of the fact that the commissioner failed to set forth a factual determination with respect to whether, at the time he sustained the injuries for which he sought benefits, he was on the direct route of his business travel.[1] We affirm the decision of the board.

         On the basis of the subordinate factual findings made by the commissioner, we set forth the relevant facts as follows. On or about June 11, 2014, the plaintiff was employed by the defendant Pitney Bowes, Inc., [2] as a director of channel management. He had been employed by the defendant for twenty-eight years. Part of his work related duties required him to develop a rapport with members of the defendant's sales staff in order to understand and evaluate not only what they have sold to the defendant's customers, but to approve or disapprove of their sales methods. On June 8, 2014, the plaintiff and another coworker, both of whom resided in Connecticut, traveled to Spokane, Washington, to meet with local sales staff employed by the defendant. As with prior work related travel of this nature undertaken by the plaintiff to evaluate sales, the defendant paid for expenses related to airfare, lodging, car rental, food, and alcoholic drinks.

         The plaintiff had business meetings with Spokane sales staff on June 9 and 10, 2014. On June 11, 2014, a Spokane based sales representative, Trish Lopez, invited the plaintiff and other supervisory staff to a social gathering at a Spokane bar and restaurant named Fast Eddie's All Purpose Pub (Fast Eddie's). Lopez sent the invitations on behalf of Sean Johnson, who was employed by the defendant as a general financial sales specialist. There was no formal agenda for the event, as there would be for a business meeting, and attendance was considered to be voluntary. The invitation, which Lopez sent by e-mail, specified that the gathering at Fast Eddie's was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. The plaintiff and several of his Spokane colleagues attended the gathering. The plaintiff began consuming alcoholic beverages immediately upon his arrival at or about 5:30 p.m. The plaintiff engaged in what he viewed as joking around with his colleagues, although he acknowledged that several of his jokes and comments were ‘‘inappropriate and beyond the bounds of what [the defendant] would say is acceptable.'' For example, the plaintiff offered to assist two of his female colleagues with work matters in exchange for ‘‘sexual favors.'' Only a small portion of the conversation at Fast Eddie's was devoted to discussing the defendant's interests.

         Lopez had been instructed by one of her superiors, Jonathan Allen, to keep an open tab at Fast Eddie's to cover expenses up to $500, but no later than 8 p.m., whichever occurred first. At 8 p.m., Lopez closed the tab incurred at Fast Eddie's, which totaled $304.78. Later, Lopez was reimbursed for this expenditure.

         After 8 p.m., the plaintiff and some of his colleagues left Fast Eddie's and went to a neighboring restaurant and bar named Borracho Tacos & Tequilera (Borracho). There, the plaintiff consumed even more alcoholic beverages and continued to make comments of a sexual nature to and in the presence of his coworkers. For example, the plaintiff stated to a female coworker that if she would expose her breasts to him, he would ‘‘approve anything'' that she sent to him. While at Borracho, one of his coworkers overheard him making a comment of a sexual nature to at least one other patron who was not an employee of the defendant. By 9:30 p.m., the plaintiff was visibly intoxicated, and, by midnight, the plaintiff's blood alcohol content was estimated to be .202, which significantly impaired his judgment, control, memory, skills, ability to react, and ability to assess risk.[3] Moreover, the plaintiff's blood alcohol content greatly exceeded the legal limit for purposes of operating a motor vehicle in Washington.

         Shortly after midnight on June 12, 2014, the plaintiff, accompanied by Johnson, exited Borracho. While walking outside in the vicinity of Borracho, several men, who were unknown to the plaintiff and Johnson, beat the plaintiff severely.[4] The plaintiff sustained life threatening injuries for which he required immediate hospitalization. Following his release from the hospital, he underwent significant periods of rehabilitation both in Washington and Connecticut. Although the plaintiff's condition has improved, he continues to experience the effects of some of his injuries, including a diminished sense of taste and smell, as well as difficulty in performing some cognitive functions.

         The plaintiff sought workers' compensation benefits related to the injuries he sustained in Spokane. The commissioner held a hearing related to the claim, which the defendant disputed, during which the commissioner considered documentary evidence related to the events at issue, the plaintiff's employment, and his medical treatment following the assault. The commissioner also considered the testimony of the plaintiff and several other witnesses who observed the plaintiff during the events leading up to the assault, including Johnson, Lopez, Desiree Cimarrustti, and Peter Binder. The commissioner went on to consider the testimony of Kevin O'Brien and Robbie Narcisse, both of whom had investigated the relevant events in the course of their employment with the defendant. Additionally, the commissioner considered the testimony of Marc Bayer, a toxicologist who had analyzed the ...


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