Figueroa v. C and S Ball Bearing, 15241

Citation675 A.2d 845,237 Conn. 1
Decision Date14 May 1996
Docket NumberNo. 15241,15241
PartiesCarlos FIGUEROA et al. v. C AND S BALL BEARING et al.
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut

Houston Putnam Lowry, Meriden, for appellant plaintiff Veterans Memorial Medical Center.

William J. McCullough, Assistant Attorney General, with whom, on the brief, was Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General, for appellee defendant state of Connecticut. 1

Charlene M. Russo, Hartford, filed a brief, for Aetna Casualty and Surety Company as amicus curiae.


BERDON, Associate Justice.

This appeal from a decision of the compensation review board (board) raises the issue of whether, under the Workers' Compensation Act (act), 2 the workers' compensation commission (commission) has jurisdiction to hear cases brought by a medical provider seeking payment for medical services provided to an injured employee.

The facts of this case are not in dispute. The plaintiff Veterans Memorial Medical Center (plaintiff) provided medical services to a number of individuals who claimed to have been injured in connection with their employment. 3 The plaintiff notified the individuals' respective employers concerning the services provided. Along with the notification, the plaintiff included a bill for its services. A number of these bills were never paid. Thereafter, the plaintiff requested an informal hearing before the commission seeking compensation for each of those outstanding bills. Hearings were scheduled, but then postponed indefinitely by order of the commission's chairperson. 4 The plaintiff then consolidated its outstanding claims and appealed to the board pursuant to General Statutes § 31-301(a). In none of the cases involved in this appeal 5 did the employee in question submit a claim for workers' compensation benefits. On January 20, 1995, the board issued a written decision in which it dismissed the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The board held that the commission "lack[ed] jurisdiction over the res as no claim was asserted by the alleged employees of their right to [workers' compensation] benefits." The board further concluded that "a medical provider [does not have] standing before this commission in the absence of a claim by an injured employee or his dependent(s) for benefits under [the act]. Without, at the very least, an underlying assertion by a claimant to an entitlement of workers' compensation benefits, there is no basis upon which a commissioner would inquire as to the medical services provided." The plaintiff then appealed to the Appellate Court, and the case was subsequently transferred to this court, pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199(c) and Practice Book § 4023. We agree, in part, with the reasoning of the board and affirm its decision.

"Jurisdiction of the subject-matter is the power [of the court] to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings in question belong.... A court has subject matter jurisdiction if it has the authority to adjudicate a particular type of legal controversy.... It is a familiar principle that a court which exercises a limited and statutory jurisdiction is without jurisdiction to act unless it does so under the precise circumstances and in the manner particularly prescribed by the enabling legislation....

"This concept, however, is not limited to courts. Administrative agencies [such as the commission] are tribunals of limited jurisdiction and their jurisdiction is dependent entirely upon the validity of the statutes vesting them with power and they cannot confer jurisdiction upon themselves.... We have recognized that [i]t is clear that an administrative body must act strictly within its statutory authority, within constitutional limitations and in a lawful manner.... It cannot modify, abridge or otherwise change the statutory provisions, under which it acquires authority unless the statutes expressly grant it that power....

"[O]nce the question of lack of jurisdiction of a court is raised, [it] must be disposed of no matter in what form it is presented ... and the court must fully resolve it before proceeding further with the case.... Subject matter jurisdiction, unlike jurisdiction of the person, cannot be created through consent or waiver." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Castro v. Viera, 207 Conn. 420, 427-30, 541 A.2d 1216 (1988).

Under the act, before the commission has jurisdiction to hold a hearing to determine whether a party is entitled to compensation, a written notice of claim must be filed with either the employer or a workers' compensation commissioner; General Statutes § 31-294c(a); 6 or one of the statutory jurisdictional alternatives must be satisfied. General Statutes § 31-294c(c). Pursuant to § 31-294c(c), the commission may acquire jurisdiction if, within the applicable period of time: (1) there has been a hearing or a written request for a hearing or an assignment for a hearing; (2) a voluntary agreement has been submitted within the applicable period; or (3) the employer has furnished the employee, for the respective work related injury, with medical or surgical care as provided in General Statutes § 31-294d. 7 Accordingly, a notice of claim or the satisfaction of one of the statutory exceptions is a prerequisite that conditions whether the commission has subject matter jurisdiction under the act. Collins v. West Haven, 210 Conn. 423, 430, 555 A.2d 981 (1989); see also Rice v. Vermilyn Brown, Inc., 232 Conn. 780, 786, 657 A.2d 616 (1995); Crochiere v. Board of Education, 227 Conn. 333, 348-49, 630 A.2d 1027 (1993); J. Asselin, Connecticut Workers' Compensation Practice Manual (1985) p. 11.


In ascertaining whether the commission's jurisdiction was properly invoked, we first focus on the notice of claim requisite. The plaintiff argues that the act does not restrict who may provide notice of a claim, and that the notices that it sent to the respective employers regarding the services it rendered satisfied the jurisdictional requisite. The question, therefore, becomes whether a medical provider may furnish the requisite notice on behalf of the employee in order to initiate a workers' compensation claim.

Although the statute does not explicitly state that an "employee" shall provide the notice of claim, it is clear from a reading of the act that employees, not medical providers or other third parties, have standing to initiate a claim. "It is a basic tenet of statutory construction that the intent of the legislature is to be found not in an isolated phrase or sentence but, rather, from the statutory scheme as a whole." State v. Breton, 235 Conn. 206, 226, 663 A.2d 1026 (1995). Therefore, "[a] statute should be read as a whole and interpreted so as to give effect to all of its provisions." Pintavalle v. Valkanos, 216 Conn. 412, 418, 581 A.2d 1050 (1990); see also Office of Consumer Counsel v. Dept. of Public Utility Control, 234 Conn. 624, 646, 662 A.2d 1251 (1995); State v. Spears, 234 Conn. 78, 91, 93, 662 A.2d 80 (1995). Furthermore, a statute must be read in light of the purpose it intends to serve. Conservation Commission v. Price, 193 Conn. 414, 426, 479 A.2d 187 (1984).

The act was specifically designed to benefit injured employees. Crochiere v. Board of Education, supra, 227 Conn. at 349, 630 A.2d 1027 ("purpose of the act is to compensate employees for injuries 'arising out of and in the course of employment,' without regard to fault, by imposing a form of strict liability on employers"). In at least two ways, the statutory scheme reflects this intention and requires that the injured employee invoke the commission's jurisdiction by furnishing the required notice if he wishes to take advantage of the act. First, General Statutes § 31-294b focuses directly on the employee by requiring him to report the nature of his injury to his employer ("Any employee who has sustained an injury in the course of his employment shall immediately report the injury to his employer.... If the employee fails to report the injury immediately, the commissioner may reduce the award of compensation proportionately...."). Second, § 31-294c provides that only the dependents or legal representatives of a deceased employee may initiate a claim on an employee's behalf ("a dependent or dependents, or the legal representative of the deceased employee, may make claim for compensation"). In view of the purpose of the act and the legislative scheme, we conclude that a medical provider does not have the statutory authority to furnish the notice required of an employee to invoke the jurisdiction of the commission.

The plaintiff also claims that as a medical provider it independently has standing to initiate a claim under the act. 8 No statutory authority, however, is cited by the plaintiff for this proposition. Rather, the plaintiff cites several decisions of the board. 9 In particular, the plaintiff cites Gonzalez v. Electric Transport (Penske), 13 Conn.Workers' Comp.Rev.Op. 6, 7-8 (1994), wherein the commissioner held that "the medical provider stands in the shoes of the claimant ... [and] has the same right to a hearing and award as does the claimant." Gonzalez and the other decisions cited by the plaintiff do not, however, hold that a medical provider has an independent basis for standing to initiate a claim under the act. The issue presented in each of the decisions cited by the plaintiff concerned the amount of compensation to which the medical provider was entitled. In each of those cases, the issue of compensation due the medical provider was addressed only after the jurisdiction of the commission had been appropriately invoked by either the employee or the employer.

The state concedes that "once jurisdiction has been established, it is clear that the medical provider does have standing before the commission." Professor Arthur Larson, in his treatise on workers'...

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