Dowling v. Slotnik

Decision Date26 May 1998
Docket NumberNo. 15711,15711
Citation244 Conn. 781,712 A.2d 396
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesVictoria DOWLING v. Sol V. SLOTNIK et al.

Sol V. Slotnik, pro se, and, on the brief, Diane Reverand, pro se, appellants (named respondent et al.).

Brenden P. Leydon, Stamford, for appellee (claimant).


CALLAHAN, Chief Justice.

The principal issue in this appeal is whether a claim for a work-related injury by the claimant, an illegal alien, is within the jurisdictional confines of the Workers' Compensation Act, General Statutes § 31-275 et seq. We conclude that it is.

The following facts and procedural history are uncontroverted. On February 14, 1994 the respondents, Sol V. Slotnik and Diane Reverand, 1 who are husband and wife, hired the claimant, Victoria Dowling, as a live-in housekeeper and nanny for their two sons. At that time, the claimant informed the respondents that she was an illegal alien. She also exaggerated her prior work experience on her application for employment. In return for her services, the respondents agreed to pay the claimant a gross weekly salary of $400 and provide her with health insurance, room and board, use of an automobile and an allowance toward the cost of a private telephone. The respondents did not obtain workers' compensation insurance coverage for the claimant, as required by General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 31-284, 2 or provide the agreed upon health insurance coverage.

On February 28, 1994, while going to the respondents' mailbox, which was located at the end of their driveway, the claimant slipped and fell on ice that had accumulated in the driveway, seriously injuring her right arm and hand. The claimant thereafter brought a timely claim for workers' compensation benefits. 3 The workers' compensation commissioner for the fourth district (commissioner) determined that, despite her status as an illegal alien, the claimant was an "employee" as defined by General Statutes § 31-275(9), 4 and that her claim consequently was within the jurisdiction of the workers' compensation commission (commission). The commissioner found that the fall had caused the claimant to suffer right brachial plexopathy and reflex sympathetic dystrophy as well as right ulnar neuropathy. The commissioner also found that the claimant's injuries had arisen out of and during the course of her employment and, therefore, were compensable pursuant to § 31-284(a). The commissioner further found that those injuries had caused the claimant to be totally disabled between June 24, 1994, and August 30, 1995, and that the compensation rate applicable to her claim was $325.25 per week. 5 The commissioner ordered the respondents to pay: (1) $20,125.22 in disability benefits for the period from June 24, 1994, through August 30, 1995; (2) disability benefits for the period from August 31, 1995, forward, subject to further medical documentation of the claimant's disability; (3) interest on past due disability benefits at the rate of 12 percent per annum and the claimant's attorney's fee; 6 (4) a $10,000 fine to the second injury fund for failing to secure compensation coverage for the claimant as required by § 31-284; 7 (5) any reasonable medical expenses incurred by the claimant as a result of the fall; 8 and (6) the claimant's testimonial expenses. 9

The respondents appealed from the order of the commissioner to the compensation review board (board) pursuant to General Statutes § 31-301. 10 The board affirmed the commissioner's order. Acting pro se, Slotnik appealed from the decision of the board to the Appellate Court pursuant to General Statutes § 31-301b. 11 The claimant subsequently filed a motion in the Appellate Court seeking dismissal of Reverand's appeal for her failure to file properly. The Appellate Court issued an order granting the claimant's motion to dismiss Reverand's appeal unless a corrected appeal was filed on or before May 29, 1997. On May 28, 1997, both respondents, acting pro se, filed a corrected appeal. We transferred the corrected appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 4023, now Practice Book (1998 Rev.) § 65-1, and General Statutes § 51-199(c).

On appeal, the respondents claim that the commissioner improperly determined that the claimant had sustained a compensable injury. Specifically, the respondents argue that: (1) the commission's authority was preempted, under the circumstances of this case, by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986; 12 (2) the commission lacked jurisdiction over the claimant's claim because illegal aliens are not included in the group of "persons" eligible for workers' compensation benefits; (3) the commission lacked jurisdiction over the claimant's claim because the employment agreement between the claimant and the respondents, having been tainted by the illegality of the claimant's immigration status, does not constitute a "contract of service," and, consequently, the claimant is not an "employee" as defined in § 31-275(9); (4) the commission lacked jurisdiction over the claimant's claim because the employment agreement between the claimant and the respondents was invalidated by misrepresentations the claimant made in her employment application and, therefore, does not constitute the requisite "contract of service," and, consequently, the claimant is not an "employee" as defined in § 31-275(9); and (5) the commissioner's order is violative of the respondents' due process and equal protection rights under the United States and Connecticut constitutions. The respondents further claim that the commissioner abused his discretion by ordering the respondents to pay a $10,000 fine to the second injury fund for failing to procure workers' compensation coverage for the claimant.


Before reviewing the merits of the respondents' claims, we address a challenge raised in the claimant's brief to our jurisdiction over Reverand's appeal. The claimant argues that Reverand's appeal is not properly before this court because the Appellate Court lacked authority to permit the respondents to file a corrected appeal. In effect, the claimant contends that the Appellate Court lacked authority to allow Reverand to file a late appeal. We disagree.

"We note at the onset that ... a claim that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction [may be raised] at any time. Subject matter jurisdiction involves the authority of the court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented by the action before it.... The objection of want of [subject matter] jurisdiction may be made at any time ... and the court or tribunal may act on its own motion, and should do so when the lack of jurisdiction is called to its attention.... The requirement of subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived by any party and can be raised at any stage in the proceedings.... If at any point, it becomes apparent to the court that such jurisdiction is lacking, the appeal must be dismissed." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Anonymous, 240 Conn. 708, 718, 694 A.2d 766 (1997); see Lewis v. Gaming Policy Board, 224 Conn. 693, 698-99, 620 A.2d 780 (1993); Statewide Grievance Committee v. Rozbicki, 211 Conn. 232, 245, 558 A.2d 986 (1989); State v. Malkowski, 189 Conn. 101, 104, 454 A.2d 275 (1983).

Section 31-301b authorizes a party aggrieved by a final decision of the board to appeal from the board's decision to the Appellate Court. See Cleveland v. U.S. Printing Ink, Inc., 218 Conn. 181, 184-85, 588 A.2d 194 (1991). Practice Book § 4165, now Practice Book (1998 Rev.) § 76-1, provides in relevant part that "[t]he practice and procedure for appeals to the appellate court (1) from a decision of the compensation review board ... shall conform to the rules of practice governing other appeals." Practice Book § 4009(a), now Practice Book (1998 Rev.) § 63-1(a), provides in relevant part that "a party shall have twenty days from the [date notice is given of the board's decision] ... to file an appeal...." It is undisputed that Reverand's appeal was not filed properly until after the twenty day limit established by § 4009(a) had expired. The twenty day time limitation established by § 4009(a), however, is not a " 'constitutionally or legislatively created condition precedent to the jurisdiction of [the appellate] court.' " Ambroise v. William Raveis Real Estate, Inc., 226 Conn. 757, 763, 628 A.2d 1303 (1993); see Kelley v. Bonney, 221 Conn. 549, 558-59, 606 A.2d 693 (1992); Connelly v. Doe, 213 Conn. 66, 69-70 n. 5, 566 A.2d 426 (1989). Furthermore, Practice Book § 4183, now Practice Book (1998 Rev.) § 60-2, explicitly provides that "the court having appellate jurisdiction from the time the appeal is filed, or earlier ... may, on its own motion ... (6) order that a party for good cause shown may file a late appeal...." We eschew "mechanistic interpretation[s] of our appellate rules in recognition of the fact that an unyielding policy requiring strict adherence to an appellate limitation period--no matter how severe or unfair the consequences--does not serve the interests of justice." Banks v. Thomas, 241 Conn. 569, 586, 698 A.2d 268 (1997). Practice Book § 4183(6) vested the Appellate Court with authority to permit Reverand to pursue a late appeal, and, consequently, her appeal is properly before this court.


We turn now to the respondents' substantive claims. We note that ordinarily we would not address the respondents' claim that the commission's authority to award workers' compensation benefits to the claimant was preempted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (Immigration Reform Act) until after the respondents' remaining jurisdictional claims had been resolved, because if the commission lacked jurisdiction over the claimant's claim for benefits, we would not need to consider the respondents' federal preemption claim. Because, however, the respondents'...

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