Jones v. TOWN OF REDDING, 18445.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation296 Conn. 352,995 A.2d 51
Docket NumberNo. 18445.,18445.
PartiesBrian JONES v. TOWN OF REDDING et al.
Decision Date25 May 2010

995 A.2d 51
296 Conn. 352


No. 18445.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued February 8, 2010.

Decided May 25, 2010.

995 A.2d 52

Michael N. Lavelle, with whom, on the brief, was Maria E. Garcia, Bridgeport, for the appellant (named defendant).

Andrew J. Morrissey, Chico, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Scott Wilson Williams, with whom, on the brief, was Maribeth M. McGloin, Fairfield,

995 A.2d 53
for the appellee (defendant Wausau Insurance Company)



The principal issue in this appeal is whether the workers' compensation commission (commission) has continuing jurisdiction under General Statutes § 31-3151 to open and modify an approved voluntary agreement (agreement) for benefits that was premised on a subject matter jurisdictional mistake of law. The named defendant, the town of Redding (defendant),2 appeals3 from the decision of the compensation review board (board), reversing the decision of the workers' compensation commissioner for the seventh district (commissioner), that had, in accordance with the defendant's request, deemed the parties' agreement providing benefits to the plaintiff, Brian Jones, under the heart and hypertension act, General Statutes § 7-433c,4 void ab initio because of a mistaken

995 A.2d 54
assumption regarding the plaintiff's employment status, and also transformed that agreement into one for benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act, General Statutes § 31-275 et seq., contained in chapter 568 of the General Statutes (chapter 568). On appeal, the defendant claims that the board improperly concluded that the commission lacked continuing jurisdiction over the agreement because: (1) the plaintiff's failure to challenge the commissioner's decision deprived the board of jurisdiction to consider that aspect of the decision; and (2) given that the agreement was void ab initio for lack of subject matter jurisdiction since the plaintiff never qualified for benefits under § 7-433c, the defendant properly had sought to void the agreement by filing a motion for modification. We disagree with the defendant and, therefore, affirm the board's decision

The record reveals the following undisputed facts and procedural history. The defendant hired the plaintiff as a police officer in August,1985. Pursuant to § 7-433c, the plaintiff passed a preemployment physical examination that did not reveal any evidence of hypertension or heart disease. In June, 2002, the plaintiff's personal physician diagnosed him with hypertension, and on July 19, 2002, the plaintiff filed a notice of claim against the defendant. On March 13, 2003, the plaintiff and the defendant entered into an agreement stipulating that the parties were subject to the provisions of § 7-433c and establishing the plaintiff's average weekly wage and weekly compensation rate. On March 20, 2003, the plaintiff's treating cardiologist, Joseph Robert Anthony, concluded that the plaintiff had sustained a 35 percent impairment of the heart. The defendant's independent medical examiner, Ronald Raymond, determined, however, that the plaintiff had sustained a 30 percent impairment of the heart, and the parties thereafter reached a compromised rating of 32.5 percent impairment. In accordance with this rating, the parties entered into a supplemental voluntary agreement on November 19, 2003, wherein the plaintiff was awarded 169 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits retroactive to and commencing on March 20, 2003.5

In March, 2003, when the parties entered into the original agreement, they had assumed that the defendant's police department was a "paid municipal police department," as that term is utilized in § 7-433c (a); see footnote 4 of this opinion; thereby conferring jurisdiction on the commission to approve the agreement, which it did, pursuant to General Statutes § 31-296(a).6 On December 8, 2003, however,

995 A.2d 55
the board issued a decision in the case Genesky v. East Lyme, No. 4600, CRB-8-02-12 (December 8, 2003), aff'd, 275 Conn. 246, 881 A.2d 114 (2005),7 concluding that the East Lyme police department was not organized in accordance with General Statutes § 7-274,8 and that, therefore, § 7-433c did not apply to the parties therein. Thereafter, the defendant determined that the organization of its police department was virtually identical to that of the East Lyme police department, and on January 30, 2004, decided to cease payments to the plaintiff and move, pursuant to § 31-315, to modify the agreement that had been entered into by the parties. The defendant sought a revocation of the agreement for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that it was not subject to § 7-433c because "there is no elected or appointed board of police commissioners or any of the other mechanisms for organizing and maintaining a police force as articulated in § 7-274." Specifically, the defendant contended that, because Genesky was a "clarification of the scope of § 7-433c," it represented a "changed condition of fact," which necessitated a modification of the award, pursuant to § 31-315

The commissioner held this matter in abeyance until the outcome of the appeal to this court in Genesky, which had affirmed the board's decision; see footnote 7 of this opinion; after which the matter was presented to the commissioner at a formal hearing on August 17, 2006, upon a stipulation of facts entered into the record. On or about April 11, 2007, the commissioner issued her decision on the defendant's motion to modify the agreement, reaching four legal conclusions, namely, that: (1) the commission retained continuing jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to § 31-315; (2) because of the incorrect assumption that the defendant's police department was a municipal police department organized under § 7-274 and that the plaintiff was, therefore, a "regular member of a paid municipal police department" under § 7-433c (a), the original and supplemental agreements were void ab initio at the time they were presented to the

995 A.2d 56
respective presiding trial commissioners; (3) because General Statutes § 31-294c (a)9 does not require that a claimant recite, in the notice of claim, the specific statutory basis for the claim, under Salmeri v. Dept. of Public Safety, 70 Conn. App. 321, 326-34, 798 A.2d 481, cert. denied, 261 Conn. 919, 806 A.2d 1055 (2002),10 the defendant had received adequate notice of the plaintiff's heart and hypertension claim simply by virtue of the plaintiff's filing of the notice of claim, and because "the parties' stipulated agreements support the assertion that neither party was in disagreement as to the compensability of the claim or the amount of compensation due thereunder," the claim should be administered as though it had been brought pursuant to chapter 568; and (4) consequently, the defendant improperly had terminated the plaintiff's benefits in violation of General Statutes § 31-296(b)11 and, therefore, further proceedings were needed to determine the amount of benefits, including interest and attorney's fees, currently due and payable to the plaintiff

The defendant then appealed from the commissioner's decision to the board, which reversed the decision, concluding that the commission did not have continuing jurisdiction over the agreement under

995 A.2d 57
§ 31-315. The board first determined that its decision in Genesky did not represent a clarification of the scope of § 7-433c, as claimed by the defendant, but, rather, that the scope of the statute previously had been subject to judicial review by the Appellate Session of the Superior Court in Zimmer v. Essex, 38 Conn.Supp. 419, 449 A.2d 1053 (1982). The board also noted that, even if the defendant was correct that Genesky was a clarification of the scope of § 7-433c, opening the agreement was improper because there were no changed conditions of fact, and the equitable considerations contemplated by § 31-315 that permit a trier of fact to extend relief did not apply to mistakes of law in the present case. Further, the board concluded that, because § 31-315 did not apply, the commissioner did not have the authority to void the agreement for lack of jurisdiction when there was no evidence "that the defendant was prevented from contesting the issue of subject matter jurisdiction by fraud, accident, mistake, surprise or improper management of the opposite party." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Thus, the board noted that, at the time the original and supplemental agreements were presented to the respective presiding commissioners, although the parties erroneously had assumed that § 7-433c applied, "given the stipulated facts as presented at the time of signing, the decisions of the respective ... commissioners to approve the agreements were eminently reasonable."12 Accordingly, the board reversed the decision of the commissioner and remanded the matter for additional proceedings.13 This appeal followed.14

On appeal, the defendant first claims that the board did not have jurisdiction to review the commissioner's first two conclusions—namely, that the commission had continuing jurisdiction over the agreement and that such agreement was void ab initio—because the plaintiff had failed to file an appeal or a cross appeal. The defendant also claims that it properly had challenged the agreement by filing a motion to modify because the issue of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time.15

995 A.2d 58
We address each of the defendant's claims in turn.

"As a threshold matter, we set forth the standard of review applicable to workers' compensation appeals. The principles that govern our standard of review in workers' compensation appeals are well established. The conclusions drawn by the commissioner from the facts found must stand unless they result from an incorrect application of the law to the subordinate facts or from an...

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