In re Mendes

Decision Date29 October 2020
Docket NumberSJC-12857
Citation486 Mass. 139,156 N.E.3d 188
Parties Mark MENDES'S CASE.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

John M. Sahady, Fall River, for the claimant.

Richard L. Neumeier, Boston, (John C. White, Boston, also present) for the insurer.

Kathy Jo Cook, Thomas R. Murphy, Kevin J. Powers, & Patrick M. Groulx, for Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.1


The claimant, Mark Mendes, is a Massachusetts resident who entered into an employment contract, performed much of the work, and was injured all outside the Commonwealth. After protracted administrative proceedings in the Department of Industrial Accidents (department), his claim for workers' compensation ultimately was denied and dismissed by the department's reviewing board (board), which determined that the department lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. The claimant appealed from that determination to the Appeals Court, and we granted an application for direct appellate review.

We conclude that, given the significant contacts between the claimant's employment and the Commonwealth, the workers' compensation act (act), G. L. c. 152, confers jurisdiction on the department to adjudicate his claim.2

Background. 1. Workers' compensation act. Originally passed in 1911, see St. 1911, c. 751, the act was a "response to strong public sentiment that the remedies afforded by actions of tort at common law did not provide adequate protections to workers." Neff v. Commissioner of the Dep't of Indus. Accs., 421 Mass. 70, 73, 653 N.E.2d 556 (1995), citing Young v. Duncan, 218 Mass. 346, 349, 106 N.E. 1 (1914). The act provides: "If an employee ... receives a personal injury arising out of and in the course of his employment ... in the business affairs or undertakings of his employer, and whether within or without the commonwealth, he shall be paid compensation by the insurer or self-insurer" as provided for in the act. G. L. c. 152, § 26.

"The act was intended to guarantee that workers would receive payment for any workplace injuries they suffered, regardless of fault; in exchange for accepting the statutory remedies, the worker waives any common-law right to compensation for injuries.... The workers' compensation scheme provides predictability for both employee and employer, balancing protection for workers with certainty for employers" (quotations and citations omitted). Benoit v. Boston, 477 Mass. 117, 122, 75 N.E.3d 1 (2017). It did so by "establish[ing] a scheme of interlinked rights, obligations, and remedies ‘all its own, not previously known to the common or statutory law.’ " Merchants Ins. Group v. Spicer, 88 Mass. App. Ct. 262, 267, 38 N.E.3d 1018 (2015), quoting Ahmed's Case, 278 Mass. 180, 184, 179 N.E. 684 (1932).

Payments to injured workers are made pursuant to insurance policies that employers are required to obtain under the act.3 See G. L. c. 152, § 25A. See Awuah v. Coverall N. Am., Inc., 460 Mass. 484, 494, 952 N.E.2d 890 (2011). Depending on the nature and severity of the injury and the degree of the resulting incapacity, a covered employee4 may be entitled to an array of benefits including compensation for medical bills, lost earnings, and lost earning capacity. See G. L. c. 152, §§ 30, 31, 34, 34A, 35, 36. Where an injured employee's claim for benefits is contested by the insurer, it advances through a series of procedural stages in the department to determine whether the claimant is entitled to benefits, and if so, the type and amounts of those benefits. See generally Murphy v. Commissioner of the Dep't of Indus. Accs., 415 Mass. 218, 223-225, 612 N.E.2d 1149 (1993), S.C., 418 Mass. 165, 635 N.E.2d 1180 (1994) ; G. L. c. 152, §§ 10 - 11C.

Over the years, the Legislature has amended the act to broaden the protections and benefits afforded to injured employees. See, e.g., Sellers's Case, 452 Mass. 804, 812, 814, 898 N.E.2d 494 (2008) (Legislature broadened definition of "average weekly wages," made employer participation in workers' compensation scheme mandatory, and established fund to pay benefits to employees of uninsured employers); Lavoie's Case, 334 Mass. 403, 406-407, 135 N.E.2d 750 (1956) (amendments to G. L. c. 152, § 26, intended to enlarge, not restrict, act's scope). In sum, the act is "a humanitarian measure designed to provide adequate financial protection to the victims of industrial accidents." LaClair v. Silberline Mfg. Co., 379 Mass. 21, 27, 393 N.E.2d 867 (1979).

2. Factual and procedural history. The material facts, taken from the record, are undisputed. Franklin Logistics, Inc. (employer),5 a freight transportation trucking company, employed between 800 and 900 tractor-trailer drivers who transported goods across approximately twenty States east of the Mississippi River.

The employer advertised for drivers nationally; the claimant responded to an advertisement the employer placed in a local Massachusetts newspaper. He completed an online application for a position. After screening the claimant's application, the employer invited him to its Pennsylvania headquarters to participate in a three-day orientation program. In January 2009, the claimant entered into an employment contract with the employer at the employer's Pennsylvania headquarters after successfully completing the program.

As a tractor-trailer driver, the claimant picked up trailers loaded with goods and delivered them throughout the northeast and numerous other States. Although the employer did not own cargo terminals in Massachusetts, it used three facilities belonging to customers in Bondsville, Leominster, and Weymouth where drivers, including the claimant, exchanged empty trailers for trailers loaded with goods to be delivered.

Over the course of his employment, the claimant drove a total of 112,436.2 miles. Of those miles, he drove 31,739.9 miles (28.23%) in Pennsylvania; 13,289.3 miles (11.82%) in Massachusetts; 11,416.4 miles (10.15%) in New York; and 10,754.2 (9.56%) in Connecticut. He drove the remaining 45,236.4 miles (40.2%) in twenty-one other States. In addition, the claimant made 110 trips for which a city in Massachusetts was at least the city of origin, the city where goods were loaded into his trailer for hauling, the destination city where the goods were delivered, or the terminating city. On an employer-generated report of the claimant's driving history with the company, Massachusetts appears more than 150 times as the location of a major trip event. In total, the claimant drove or parked his truck in Massachusetts on approximately 166 of the 356 days during which he was employed by the employer, more than were spent in any other State.

On January 18, 2010, the claimant injured his lower back while attempting to attach a loaded trailer to his truck at a location in Maine. He was diagnosed with a bulging disc that caused him to be physically unable to continue his work as a truck driver.

The claimant filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits with the department.6 Although an administrative judge found that the claimant was disabled physically as a result of the work-related injury and had no earning capacity, the judge dismissed the claim on a procedural ground, determining that Massachusetts lacked jurisdiction over the claim because it was neither the place of injury nor the place of hire.

The claimant appealed from this decision to the board, which recommitted the matter to the administrative judge for further findings. On remand, a different administrative judge7 found that the claimant's "numerous and ongoing contacts with Massachusetts" conferred jurisdiction in Massachusetts.

The matter once again was appealed to the board, this time by the insurer. The board concluded that the administrative judge erred in concluding that the department had jurisdiction over the claim and therefore reversed the decision.8

The claimant appealed from the board's decision to the Appeals Court in accordance with G. L. c. 152, § 12 (2). We granted the insurer's application for direct appellate review.

Discussion. "Subject matter jurisdiction ... among the [Commonwealth's] trial courts and administrative agencies ‘is both conferred and limited by statute.’ " Middleborough v. Housing Appeals Comm., 449 Mass. 514, 520, 870 N.E.2d 67 (2007), quoting Edgar v. Edgar, 403 Mass. 616, 619, 531 N.E.2d 590 (1988), S.C., 406 Mass. 628, 549 N.E.2d 1128 (1990). The act empowers the department to administer the Commonwealth's workers' compensation system. The question of the department's jurisdictional limits, therefore, is one of statutory interpretation. See, e.g., Merchants Ins. Group, 88 Mass. App. Ct. at 267, 38 N.E.3d 1018.

"The interpretation of a statute by the agency charged with primary responsibility for administering it is entitled to substantial deference." Gateley's Case, 415 Mass. 397, 399, 613 N.E.2d 918 (1993). See G. L. c. 30A, § 14 (7) (in reviewing board decisions, we give "due weight to the experience, technical competence, and specialized knowledge of the agency"). "[U]ltimately, [however,] the duty of statutory interpretation is for the courts" (quotation and citation omitted). Moss's Case, 451 Mass. 704, 709, 889 N.E.2d 43 (2008). We review the board's interpretation of the act on a de novo basis. See McDonough's Case, 448 Mass. 79, 81, 858 N.E.2d 1084 (2006) ; Merchants Ins. Group, 88 Mass. App. Ct. at 267, 38 N.E.3d 1018.

1. Jurisdiction under the act. "Our primary duty is to interpret a statute in accordance with the intent of the Legislature." Pyle v. School Comm. of S. Hadley, 423 Mass. 283, 285, 667 N.E.2d 869 (1996). We have noted on previous occasions that the act "is a remedial statute and should be given a broad interpretation, viewed in light of its purpose and to promote the accomplishment of it beneficent design" (quotation and citation omitted). Neff, 421 Mass. at 73, 653...

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