Marone v. City of Waterbury

Decision Date10 March 1998
Docket NumberNo. 15659,15659
Citation707 A.2d 725,244 Conn. 1
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesVincent MARONE v. CITY OF WATERBURY.

Robert G. Golger, Trumbull, for appellant (plaintiff).

Charles E. Oman III, Assistant Corporation Counsel, with whom, on the brief, were James J. Moynihan and Mary C. Pokorski, Assistant Corporation Counsel, for appellee (defendant).

Frank A. May, Glastonbury, filed a brief for the city of Hartford et al. as Amici Curiae.

Before CALLAHAN, C.J., and BORDEN, BERDON, NORCOTT, KATZ, PALMER and McDONALD, JJ. 1

KATZ, Associate Justice.

The principal issue in this appeal is whether the plaintiff is entitled to retroactive recalculation of disability benefits awarded pursuant to what is commonly referred to as the Heart and Hypertension Act (act), General Statutes §§ 7-433c and 7-433b (b), 2 following this court's decision in Szudora v. Fairfield, 214 Conn. 552, 573 A.2d 1 (1990), in which we expanded the definition of maximum cumulative "weekly compensation" available under § 7-433b (b) to include overtime payments. Id., at 559, 573 A.2d 1. Prior to the decision in that case, the plaintiff here had been receiving benefits in an amount equal to his base compensation. He now seeks retroactive recalculation of that award in accordance with Szudora.

The following facts are pertinent to this appeal. The plaintiff, Vincent Marone, a Waterbury police officer, was diagnosed on September 9, 1980, as suffering from hypertension that resulted in a 10 percent disability of his cardiovascular system. He reached maximum medical improvement on April 15, 1982, and retired on that date with a pension of $272.59 per week. On July 14, 1983, the plaintiff was awarded disability benefits pursuant to § 7-433c in an amount equivalent to the base pay for his position. The award was retroactive to April 15, 1982. On April 17, 1990, this court decided Szudora. In September, 1993, the defendant, the city of Waterbury, voluntarily adjusted Marone's benefit cap to include overtime pay. 3 On June 21, 1994, the plaintiff requested a recalculation, in accordance with Szudora, of his weekly compensation from April 15, 1982, the date he became entitled to disability benefits. On July 12, 1995, the workers' compensation commissioner for the fifth district (commissioner) declined to apply Szudora retroactively because (1) the plaintiff's case was not pending at the time Szudora was decided, and (2) retroactive application would impose a new and significant burden on municipalities and taxpayers. On July 20, 1995, the plaintiff petitioned for review of the commissioner's decision. The compensation review board board) affirmed the commissioner's decision on January 10, 1997, determining that: (1) retroactive application of Szudora was inappropriate under Chevron Oil Co. v. Huson, 404 U.S. 97, 92 S.Ct. 349, 30 L.Ed.2d 296 (1971); 4 (2) the action was no longer pending; and (3) such a result would be unduly burdensome to municipalities. Without explaining the basis for its reasoning, the board further stated that Szudora could be applied prospectively to the plaintiff's future benefits and that such a claim would be cognizable by the workers' compensation commission (commission). 5 The plaintiff appealed from the judgment of the board to the Appellate Court, and we transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 4023 and General Statutes § 51-199(c).

The plaintiff argues that Szudora should be applied retroactively and that his benefits should, therefore, be recalculated to include overtime payments because: (1) judicial decisions are presumed to apply retroactively; (2) the circumstances of this case do not satisfy the three part test outlined in Chevron Oil Co. so as to overcome the presumption of retroactivity because the legislative history and remedial purpose of the act indicate that the Szudora decision was clearly foreshadowed, retroactive application of Szudora will further the remedial purpose of the act, and the equitable considerations weigh in favor of allowing the plaintiff the measure of benefits to which he became entitled from the date of his injury; and (3) the commissioner mistakenly relied on Adams v. New Haven, 39 Conn.Supp. 321, 464 A.2d 70 (1983), for the proposition that § 7-433c should not be applied retroactively. 6

The defendant argues that in affirming the commission's decision to reject the plaintiff's claim of retroactive benefits the board correctly applied Chevron Oil Co. because Szudora was a case of first impression and the decision had not been clearly foreshadowed, a recalculation would not further the remedial purposes of the act because the plaintiff had not, in fact, earned overtime compensation while employed, and retroactive application of Szudora to cases such as this one would be extremely burdensome to municipalities. The defendant further argues that even if Szudora should apply retroactively, it is inapplicable to the present case because it was not pending when Szudora was decided.

The amici curiae, the cities of Bridgeport and Hartford, argue that the plaintiff is not entitled to a recalculation of his benefits because: (1) reopening the original award based on a change of law such as that represented by Szudora would violate General Statutes § 31-315, 7 which governs the commission's power to modify workers' compensation awards; (2) the equitable doctrines of laches and estoppel prevent retroactive application of Szudora; and (3) the public policy favoring finality of judgments forbids the recalculation of awards in nonpending cases.

Determining whether the plaintiff is entitled to a recalculation of his benefits requires the resolution of two separate but related questions. First, we must determine whether the original award was a pending matter for the purpose of recalculation of benefits. If it was pending, we must next decide whether the presumption in favor of retroactivity has been overcome according to the terms of our decision in Szudora and the criteria set forth in Chevron Oil Co. If we were to conclude that retroactive application of Szudora is appropriate, we would then order a recalculation of the plaintiff's benefits to April 15, 1982, to include overtime. Second, we must determine whether the interpretation of § 7-433b (b) in Szudora constitutes proper grounds, pursuant to § 31-315, for modifying the original award and, if so, whether and to what extent such a modification should be applied retroactively. We agree with the defendant, the commission and the board that the 1983 award was not a pending matter when Szudora was decided. We also agree with the amici curiae that the commission lacked the statutory authority to modify the award on the basis of our decision is Szudora, either prospectively or retroactively. 8 Thus, we need not determine whether Szudora requires the retroactive recalculation of benefits with regard to a claimant whose case was pending when Szudora was decided.

I

We must first determine the standard of review applicable to this appeal. Decisions of administrative agencies are generally accorded considerable deference by this court. 9 Lieberman v. State Board of Labor Relations, 216 Conn. 253, 263, 579 A.2d 505 (1990). This is particularly true where the issue on appeal involves questions of fact. See Six v. Thomas O'Connor & Co., 235 Conn. 790, 798-99, 669 A.2d 1214 (1996); Tomlinson v. Board of Education, 226 Conn. 704, 712-13, 629 A.2d 333 (1993); Crochiere v. Board of Education, 227 Conn. 333, 347, 630 A.2d 1027 (1993). It is the function of the courts, however, rather than of administrative agencies, to "expound and apply governing principles of law." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Lieberman v. State Board of Labor Relations, supra, at 262, 579 A.2d 505; see National Labor Relations Board v. Brown, 380 U.S. 278, 291, 85 S.Ct. 980, 988, 13 L.Ed.2d 839 (1965). The question presented by this appeal concerns the applicability of a decision by this court altering the manner in which benefits are determined to a claimant whose workers' compensation award has already been adjudicated. This question implicates both the finality of the award and the commission's statutory authority to modify it.

We generally accord "deference to ... time-tested agency interpretation of a statute, but only when the agency has consistently followed its construction over a long period of time, the statutory language is ambiguous, and the agency's interpretation is reasonable." State Medical Society v. Board of Examiners in Podiatry, 208 Conn. 709, 719, 546 A.2d 830 (1988); see also Schieffelin & Co. v. Dept. of Liquor Control, 194 Conn. 165, 174, 479 A.2d 1191 (1984). The plaintiff has not claimed that the commission's time-tested interpretation of the law allows retroactive recalculation of the 1983 award. "[W]hen a state agency's determination of a question of law has not previously been subject to judicial scrutiny ... the agency is not entitled to special deference." Starr v. Commissioner of Environmental Protection, 236 Conn. 722, 736, 675 A.2d 430 (1996). The finality of workers' compensation awards and the scope and extent of the commission's power to modify those awards are issues that the commission and this court have addressed in the past. See, e.g., Besade v. Interstate Security Services, 212 Conn. 441, 445, 562 A.2d 1086 (1989) (workers' compensation awards, although subject to modification, are final judgments); Kalinick v. Collins Co., 116 Conn. 1, 4-5, 163 A. 460 (1932) (commission lacks power to modify award based on mistake of law). To the extent that issues of law have been previously decided by this court, the commission is bound to apply them. The question of law at issue in this appeal is, therefore, one to which the customary deference accorded the agency's determinations is not appropriate. SLI International v. Crystal, 236 Conn. 156, 170, 671 A.2d 813 (1996); ...

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