Gyadu v. WORKERS'COMPENSATION COM'N

Decision Date24 June 1996
Docket NumberNo. 3:96-CV-0043 (GLG).,3:96-CV-0043 (GLG).
Citation930 F. Supp. 738
PartiesBen GYADU, Plaintiff, v. WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION, Workers' Rehabilitation Commission, and John A. Mastropietro, Commissioner, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut

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Ben Gyadu, Waterbury, Connecticut, pro se.

Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General, William J. McCollough, Assistant Attorney General, Lisa Guttenberg Weiss, Assistant Attorney General, State of Connecticut, Hartford, Connecticut, for defendants.

Opinion

GOETTEL, District Judge.

Defendants have moved this Court to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, in which Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendants liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for their alleged failure to provide Plaintiff with certain benefits and rehabilitative services to which he claims entitlement under Connecticut's Workers' Compensation Act, C.G.S.A. §§ 31-275 et seq. Plaintiff also asks this Court to declare certain provisions of the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Act unconstitutional. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is premised upon their sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution; this Court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); Plaintiff's failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); and Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

Plaintiff has filed this action pro se, and, accordingly, we heed the directive of the Second Circuit that, when considering the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, we must construe it liberally, applying less stringent standards than when a plaintiff is represented by counsel. Robles v. Coughlin, 725 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir.1983); Branham v. Meachum, 77 F.3d 626, 628-28 (2d Cir.1996); Serzysko v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 461 F.2d 699 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 883, 93 S.Ct. 173, 34 L.Ed.2d 139 (1972).

FACTS

The following is a synopsis of the facts set forth in Plaintiff's 28-page Amended Complaint, as best as we can discern them. Plaintiff is a workers' compensation claimant, who has received various worker's compensation benefits since sustaining a job-related injury to his hand on August 15, 1986. Plaintiff alleges that he received medical treatment until 1991, when he was released to look for another job within his physical capabilities, pending another surgery. Apparently, Plaintiff has had great difficulty in finding another job, particularly one which would compensate him commensurately with what he was earning prior to his injury. (The Amended Complaint does not indicate what Plaintiff's occupation was prior to his injury). He complains that the Commissioner has encouraged him to look for jobs which he cannot perform, in an effort to get Plaintiff "off the system." Plaintiff alleges that this has caused him a great deal of anxiety, distress, and financial hardship.

Plaintiff, in general, complains of what he describes as the Commission's "arbitrary and capricious" handling of his claims. He alleges that the Commission has made it possible for the insurance carrier to withhold various benefits. As examples, he cites Defendants' failing to take action when the carrier "dishonored its agreement" to pay dependency benefits,1 and when the carrier discontinued his weekly section 308a benefits (C.G.S.A. § 31-308a) for a three-week period in late December of 1995.2 He alleges that the Commissioner gave his blessing to this "illegal action."3 He also challenges the Commissioner's calculation of his weekly benefits "based on an arbitrary figure he chose as the plaintiff's current earnings capability," which resulted in a decrease of $97.00 in Plaintiff's weekly benefits. He contends that the Commission should have increased his weekly benefits when the statutory maximum was increased in 1991 (pursuant to P.A. 91-339, § 29, eff. Oct. 1, 1991), some five years after the date of his injury. He complains about the Commissioner's use of an allegedly incorrect discount rate in calculating the lump sum payment (see C.G.S.A. § 31-302) of a portion of his benefits.4 And, he contends that he has been denied proper rehabilitative services and job search benefits under section 31-308, C.G.S.A., thus requiring him to take out student loans5 and exhaust other benefits.6 The only one of these adverse actions that Plaintiff has appealed through the administrative appeals process set forth in the Workers' Compensation Act is the Commission's denial of a dependency allowance.

In this case, Plaintiff seeks as equitable relief, inter alia, an order that would require the Defendants to provide the Court with specific strategies which they would pursue to find "ways and means to help plaintiff secure a gainful employment whose income would, at least commensurate with the plaintiff's income 10 years ago ...;" to adjust Plaintiff's weekly benefits; to pay the cost of Plaintiff's training, including his student loan; to provide on-the-job training assistance; to "recover" his "specific award" for the "permanent partial loss of the use of his master hand," which award he exhausted in his search for a job because of Defendants' denial of benefits; to refund three weeks of weekly benefits that were withheld; and to pay the dependency allowance which was denied to Plaintiff. He also demands that this Court "make the defendants state that not until they assist the plaintiff in any way possible to secure a gainful employment, they should continue to support plaintiff."

As money damages, he asks this Court award damages to compensate Plaintiff for loss of income and to reasonably compensate him for injuries he has suffered because of Defendants' actions.

In addition, he challenges as unconstitutional (a) Defendants' actions which denied Plaintiff section 308, C.G.S.A. § 31-308, benefits; (b) the law or regulation which made Defendants take this action; (c) section 31-308a, C.G.S.A., which he alleges allowed the Commissioner to encourage the carrier to withhold and discontinue benefits without due process and allowed the Commissioner to use an arbitrary and capricious means to determine Plaintiff's weekly benefits; (d) the informal hearing process as a violation of due process; (e) the law that establishes the maximum weekly compensation rate,7 "as it subjects prior injury high income earning claimants, as the plaintiff, to unfair and unequal treatment and therefore injustices;" and (f) section 31-284, the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers' Compensation Act, applicable to employers, as a violation of due process.

As noted above, in seeking this relief, he attempts to invoke this Court's federal question jurisdiction under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff has previously filed a similar complaint8 in state court, which was dismissed due to Plaintiff's failure to exhaust the administrative remedies provided in the Workers' Compensation Act. Gyadu v. Chairman, Workers Compensation Commission, No. 122258, 1994 WL 711199 (Superior Court, Judicial District of Waterbury, Conn., Memorandum of Decision Dec. 9, 1994). The Superior Court correctly noted that the Compensation Act contains an elaborate administrative procedure for the resolution of claims for compensation under the Act. Compensation Commissioners have the authority to hear all matters arising under the Act with respect to the entitlement to benefits. C.G.S.A. §§ 31-278, 31-297, 31-297a, 31-298. Their decisions are then subject to review by the Compensation Review Board. C.G.S.A. §§ 31-301(a), 31-280b(b). Additionally, the parties may seek further review of any question of law by the state appellate court. C.G.S.A. § 31-301b. Accordingly, the Superior Court dismissed Plaintiff's state court complaint, finding that Plaintiff's claims seeking redress for the denial of an increase in benefits in accordance with the increase in the statutory maximum, for the denial of certain rehabilitative services, and the application of the allegedly incorrect discount rate to his application for a lump sum portion of his benefits fell within the scope of the administrative remedies provided by the Compensation Act and, therefore, were committed to the administrative review procedures therein.

Because of the constitutional claims now asserted by Plaintiff in his Amended Complaint, our task is not quite so easy. In ruling on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, we consider each of the Plaintiff's Claims separately.

I. Plaintiff's Claims for Equitable Relief

A careful review of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint indicates that what Plaintiff is primarily seeking in this federal forum is equitable relief from various decisions of the Compensation Commissioner. This is not the function nor province of this Court. We do not sit as an alternative forum to the administrative appeals process set forth in the Workers' Compensation Act. A workers' compensation claimant, unhappy with the outcome of a compensation hearing, may not come into this Court to obtain review of that decision absent some legitimate basis for invoking the federal jurisdiction of this Court.

The Second Circuit has recently addressed the permissible scope of the abstention doctrine in the case of Tribune Co. v. Abiola, 66 F.3d 12, 15-17 (2d Cir.1995), an action brought by a newspaper against its union employees, their unions, attorneys and doctors, alleging a conspiracy to submit fraudulent workers' compensation claims. The Second Circuit began its analysis with a discussion of the Supreme Court's decision in Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943). Burford involved predominantly state law claims, as well as a Fourteenth Amendment challenge to the Texas Railroad Commission's grant of an oil drilling permit, which the Court characterized as a "simple proceeding in...

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