Dixon v. United Illuminating Co., 15127

Decision Date02 May 1995
Docket NumberNo. 15127,15127
Citation657 A.2d 601,232 Conn. 758
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

William F. Gallagher, with whom were Norma Johnson and, on the brief, Barbara Cox and Donald C. Cousins, Stratford, for appellant (plaintiff).

John M. Letizia, with whom, on the brief, was Edward T. Falsey, Woodbridge, for appellee (defendant).

Richard Blumenthal, Atty. Gen., and William J. McCullough, Asst. Atty. Gen., filed a brief for Atty. Gen. as amicus curiae.


BORDEN, Associate Justice.

The issues in this case concern the scope of the authority of the chairman of the workers' compensation commission (chairman) to transfer a pending claim from one workers' compensation district to another pursuant to General Statutes § 31-280, 1 and more particularly subdivisions (6), (14) and (16) of subsection (b) of that statute. The chairman, Jesse M. Frankl, purportedly acting pursuant to his administrative powers under those subdivisions, transferred this case from the fourth to the third workers' compensation district, without prior notice to the parties. The plaintiff, Jeanine T. Dixon, the widow of the claimant Kenneth T. Dixon, moved for a hearing regarding the circumstances of the transfer and for a stay of the transfer pending that hearing. The chairman denied that motion. The plaintiff appealed from the denial of that motion to the compensation review board (board).

The board, acting pursuant to General Statutes § 31-324, 2 reserved the case for the opinion of the Appellate Court on the following questions: 1. (a) Did the chairman of the workers' compensation commission properly deny claimant's motion for hearing on order of transfer and motion to stay? (b) Was that denial a proper exercise of the chairman's authority pursuant to General Statutes § 31-280, specifically subdivisions (6), (14) and (16) of subsection (b)? 2. Does the compensation review board have jurisdiction over appeals taken from the chairman's exercise of powers conferred to him by General Statutes § 31-280? Or in the alternative: May a party aggrieved by the chairman's ruling on a motion relating to an order of transfer seek review and redress before the compensation review board given the limitations of General Statutes § 31-301 as to the compensation review board's appellate jurisdiction?

This case was reserved to this court by the Appellate Court pursuant to General Statutes § 31-324. Dixon v. United Illuminating Co., 36 Conn.App. 150, 153, 649 A.2d 538 (1994); see Practice Book § 4165.5. Under our resolution of the appeal, it is unnecessary to answer questions 1(a) and (b). We answer question 2, in both of its formulations, in the negative. We also conclude, however, that the chairman's transfer of this case was not a proper exercise of his administrative powers under § 31-280. We therefore vacate the transfer order, and remand the case for further proceedings.

The facts and procedural history are undisputed. The plaintiff's decedent had been an employee of the defendant, the United Illuminating Company. The underlying claim concerned the compensability of the decedent's injury and death, and had been filed in the fourth district, where it had been the subject of several informal conferences before workers' compensation commissioner John A. Arcudi. Further, both the plaintiff and the defendant had noticed depositions of treating physicians, and were in the process of exchanging discovery materials. In addition, the workers' compensation file in this matter discloses the following actions. On February 9, 1994, commissioner Frank J. Verilli issued a notice to the parties for a formal hearing to be held on March 3, 1994. On February 16, 1994, the defendant moved for a continuance of that hearing until after June 2, 1994, claiming that it was premature, that the defendant needed additional time for preparation and discovery, and that there were unresolved discovery disputes outstanding. On February 17, 1994, commissioner Arcudi issued a notice canceling the March 3, 1994 formal hearing and scheduling an emergency informal hearing for February 28, 1994, for the purpose of addressing motions.

By letter dated March 14, 1994, the chairman unilaterally ordered the case transferred from the fourth district to the third district. 3 The plaintiff then moved, in the fourth district, for a hearing "concerning the circumstances of the letter ordering transfer and that the request for transfer be stayed pending hearing and determination of the same." In her motion, the plaintiff represented that the matter was pending in the fourth district before commissioner Arcudi, who had determined or was in the process of determining certain motions and who had indicated that he would assign the matter for a formal hearing in May, 1994. The plaintiff also represented that depositions had been noticed, and that discovery materials were being exchanged by the parties. Citing General Statutes § 31-278, 4 the plaintiff represented further that she had not been notified of a request for, and had not consented to, a transfer, and was unaware of any basis for the disqualification or incapacity of commissioner Arcudi.

The motion was referred to the chairman, who issued a written ruling denying the motion. In that ruling, the chairman explained the factual background that gave rise to the transfer as follows: "In the course of my duties as Chairman, I was approached by a representative 5 of the employer who claimed that the employer was not being treated fairly by the Fourth District in various workers' compensation cases pending in that district. When asked for specific cases, as opposed to general dissatisfactions, the employer identified this particular case.

"In the course of my duties as Chairman, I am often approached by parties, most often claimants, who are dissatisfied with the manner and/or efficiency with which their cases are being processed. When I am satisfied that this agency is not fulfilling its obligation to efficiently process cases or where a litigant in a contested case raises a serious claim of lack of fair treatment, I have in the past ordered that the matter be transferred to another district or that the matter be specially assigned to a commissioner-at-large to handle the disposition of the case. At all times, I have undertaken such transfers and/or special assignment of commissioners pursuant to my administrative powers, as set forth in General Statutes § 31-280(b).... I followed this procedure in the present case." (Emphasis added.)

The chairman then reviewed the extensive administrative powers granted to his office by § 31-280(b), in the light of its legislative history and of the enactment by the legislature of No. 91-339 of the 1991 Public Acts. On the basis of that review, the chairman concluded that "the power to assign commissioners to districts, the power to allocate the resources of the commission to carry out its mission and the power to control the hearing calendars of the compensation commissioners in order to facilitate the timely and efficient processing of cases, all reside in the Chairman. General Statutes § 31-280(b)(1), (6) and (14). In the end, which commissioner hears a claim and where a claim is heard is entirely an administrative matter committed to the sound discretion of the Chairman." (Emphasis in original.)

With respect to the plaintiff's request for a hearing on the chairman's transfer of the case, the chairman reasoned that "to permit the issue of the administrative transfer of a case to be the subject of a formal hearing before a single commissioner as requested by the claimant (or the subject of an appeal to the compensation review board) would defy the administrative structure created by [No. 91-339 of the 1991 Public Acts]. Through those amendments, the legislature wisely recognized that if the Chairman is to be held accountable for the operation of this statewide agency, it is the Chairman, and not the commissioners acting separately (or together) in review of the Chairman's administrative decision, who shall have the final word on the transfer of cases and their assignment for hearing." Accordingly, the chairman denied the motion. The plaintiff's appeal to the board and this reservation of the case followed.

The plaintiff contends that the transfer order was invalid because: (1) the chairman's refusal to grant her motion for a hearing on his summary transfer of the case denied her due process of law 6; (2) the specific provisions of § 31-278, rather than the general administrative powers granted to the chairman under § 31-280(b), govern the transfer of cases from one commissioner to another; and (3) viewing the chairman's order as a ruling on a motion for disqualification of a commissioner for bias, the board has appellate jurisdiction over such a ruling. The defendant claims, to the contrary: (1) that the chairman's denial of the plaintiff's motion for a hearing was a proper exercise of his administrative power under § 31-280(b)(6), (14) and (16), and did not deny the plaintiff due process; and (2) that the board has no appellate jurisdiction over the chairman's exercise of his administrative powers under § 31-280(b).

We agree with the defendant that, when the chairman acts pursuant to his administrative power to transfer a case under § 31-280(b), no hearing is required. We also agree that the board has no appellate jurisdiction over the chairman's exercise of that power. We conclude, however, that in this case, the chairman's transfer was not a valid exercise of his administrative power under § 31-280(b); it was, instead, the functional equivalent of the granting of a motion to disqualify commissioner Arcudi for bias. As such, it did not fall within the chairman's administrative authority.

We begin our analysis by noting our basic agreement...

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4 cases
  • Hall v. Gilbert and Bennett Mfg. Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • June 3, 1997
    ...entry of an award; (2) a decision upon a motion; or (3) an order according to the provisions of § 31-299b. Dixon v. United Illuminating Co., 232 Conn. 758, 775-76, 657 A.2d 601 (1995). The commissioner did not enter an award, nor did he issue an order according to the provisions of § 31-299......
  • Barton v. Ducci Electrical Contractors, Inc., (SC 15953)
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • May 25, 1999
    ...and we previously have reviewed these studies as part of the relevant legislative history. Cf. Dixon v. United Illuminating Co., 232 Conn. 758, 772-73, 657 A.2d 601 (1995). As in Dixon, we again turn to the reports of the committee for evidence of what motivated the legislature to alter the......
  • Conetta v. City of Stamford, 15807
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 11, 1998
    ...the decision to remand the case to another commissioner, and, in an attempt to distinguish this case from Dixon v. United Illuminating Co., 232 Conn. 758, 775, 657 A.2d 601 (1995), the plaintiff argued that it was the chairman, pursuant to General Statutes § 31-280(b), who transferred the c......
  • Moran, Shuster, Carignan and Knierim v. August, 15116
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • May 2, 1995
    ... ... 378, 380-81, 650 A.2d 540 (1994); Van Dyck Printing Co". v. DiNicola, 231 Conn. 272, 274, 648 A.2d 877 (1994) ... \xC2" ... ...
1 books & journal articles
  • 1995 Connecticut Tort Law Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 70, 1995
    • Invalid date
    ...38 Conn.App. 754, 662 A.2d 1345, cert. denied, 235 Conn. 919, 920, 665 A.2d 908 (1995). 298. 37 Conn.App. 392, 655 A.2d 1172 (1995). 299. 232 Conn. 758, 657 A.2d 601 ...

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