Reid v. Speer, AC 36663

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Decision Date28 December 2021
Docket NumberAC 36663



No. AC 36663

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 28, 2021

Submitted on briefs November 10, 2021

Procedural History

Appeal from the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the Second District finding that the plaintiff was an employee of the named defendant subject to coverage under the Workers' Compensation Act and granting the plaintiff's motion to preclude the defendants from contesting liability as to his claim for certain workers' compensation benefits, brought to the Compensation Review Board, which affirmed the commissioner's decision, and the named defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

Sheri A. Speer, self-represented, filed a brief as the appellant (named defendant).

Lance G. Proctor, filed a brief for the appellee (plaintiff).

Alexander, Clark and Palmer, Js.




The self-represented defendant Sheri A. Speer appeals from the decision of the Compensation Review Board (board) affirming the finding and award of preclusion rendered by the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the Second District (commissioner), in favor of the plaintiff, Jeremy M. Reid.[1] On appeal, the defendant challenges several of the commissioner's findings and also claims that filing a form 43 to contest liability for the plaintiff's injury would have constituted a criminal act punishable pursuant to General Statutes § 31-290c, due to her alleged knowledge that his claim was fraudulent. We affirm the decision of the board.[2]

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff filed a form 30C on May 5, 2010, alleging that he had sustained a compensable injury to his right shoulder while employed by the defendant.[3] This injury allegedly had occurred on December 31, 2009, when he had been shoveling snow at one of the defendant's properties. The defendant did not respond to the plaintiff's filing in any manner, including the filing of a form 43 within twenty-eight days.[4] On August 20, 2010, the plaintiff filed a motion to preclude the defendant from contesting liability.[5]

After informal and formal hearings, the commissioner determined that, although the plaintiff initially had been an independent contractor, the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant had evolved into one of an employee-employer. The plaintiff's alleged injury, therefore, fell within scope of the Workers' Compensation Act (act), General Statutes § 31-275 et seq. The commissioner also granted the plaintiff's motion to preclude. As a result, the defendant was precluded from contesting liability[6] for the plaintiff's claimed injury to his right shoulder and from contesting the extent of any resulting disability. The commissioner further ordered the plaintiff to provide a list of benefits claimed and noted that, if the parties were unable to reach an agreement as to the benefits owed to the plaintiff, a formal hearing would ensue. At that hearing, the plaintiff would be required to prove his claims as to compensability, the extent of his disability and entitlement to benefits;[7] however, as a result of the granting of the motion to preclude, the defendant would be ‘‘barred from offering exculpatory evidence into the record, from examining witnesses, from commenting on evidence offered by the [plaintiff] or making argument.''[8]This appeal, initially filed in 2014, followed.[9]

We begin by setting forth the relevant legal principles. ‘‘The purpose of the [act] is to compensate the worker for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment, without regard to fault, by imposing a form of strict liability on the employer . . . . The [act] compromise[s] an employee's right to a [common-law] tort


action for work related injuries in return for relatively quick and certain compensation. . . . The act indisputably is a remedial statute that should be construed generously to accomplish its purpose. . . . The humanitarian and remedial purposes of the act counsel against an overly narrow construction that unduly limits eligibility for workers' compensation. . . . Further, our Supreme Court has recognized that the state of Connecticut has an interest in compensating injured employees to the fullest extent possible . . . .

‘‘The principles that govern our standard of review in workers' compensation appeals are well established. . . . The board sits as an appellate tribunal reviewing the decision of the commissioner. . . . [T]he review [board's] hearing of an appeal from the commissioner is not a de novo hearing of the facts. . . . [T]he power and duty of determining the facts rests on the commissioner . . . . [T]he commissioner is the sole arbiter of the weight of the evidence and the credibility of witnesses . . . . Where the subordinate facts allow for diverse inferences, the commissioner's selection of the inference to be drawn must stand unless it is based on an incorrect application of the law to the subordinate facts or from an inference illegally or unreasonably drawn from them. . . .

‘‘This court's review of decisions of the board is similarly limited. . . . 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 inference illegally or unreasonably drawn from them. . . . [W]e must interpret [the commissioner's finding] with the goal of sustaining that conclusion in light of all of the other supporting evidence. . . . Once the commissioner makes a factual finding, [we are] bound by that finding if there is evidence in the record to support it.'' (Citations omitted; emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Jones v. Connecticut Children's Medical Center Faculty Practice Plan, 131 Conn.App. 415, 422-24, 28 A.3d 347 (2011); see also Leonetti v. MacDermid, Inc., 310 Conn. 195, 205-206, 76 A.3d 168 (2013).

On appeal, the defendant first challenges certain factual findings made by the commissioner.[10] Specifically, she contends that the commissioner erred in finding that (1) the plaintiff was injured in the course of his employment and was unable to work, (2) an employer-employee relationship existed, and (3) a sufficient quantity of snow existed that required the plaintiff to engage in the act of shoveling.

We carefully have reviewed the record before us and conclude that the defendant cannot prevail on her challenges to the fact-finding[11] and credibility determinations[12] made by the commissioner. The commissioner expressly found that the alleged injury suffered by the plaintiff while shoveling snow at the defendant's property,


if proven, would constitute a compensable injury under the act, assuming that he was an employee of the defendant.[13] The commissioner further found that, at the time of this alleged injury, the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant.[14] See, e.g., DeJesus v. R.P.M. Enterprises, Inc., 204 Conn.App. 665, 694-97, 255 A.3d 885 (2021); Rodriguez v. E.D. Construction, Inc., 126 Conn.App. 717, 727-28, 12 A.3d 603, cert. denied, 301 Conn. 904, 17 A.3d 1046 (2011). Evidence exists in the record to support these findings. Cognizant of our limited role, we conclude that the defendant's challenges to the facts found by the commissioner are without merit.

Next, the defendant claims that, under these facts, she could not file a form 43 to contest liability and, therefore, the court improperly granted the plaintiff's motion to preclude. Specifically, she contends that the filing of a form 43, when she allegedly knew the plaintiff's claim to be fraudulent, would have constituted a criminal act punishable pursuant to § 31-290c.[15] Specifically, she contends that, had she filed a form 43, she would have ‘‘intentionally aided, abetted and facilitated fraudulently obtained payments [for the plaintiff].'' We are not persuaded by this novel interpretation of § 31-290c.[16]

In her brief to this court, the defendant offers no support for her argument that the mere act of filing a form 43 would have constituted criminal conduct. Our Supreme Court has explained that § 31-290c ‘‘criminalizes the behavior of a person who makes a claim or obtains an award based in whole or part on a material misrepresentation or intentional nondisclosure of material fact, and it also confers the right to bring a cause of action for statutory theft pursuant to General Statutes § 52-564.'' Leonetti v. MacDermid, Inc., supra, 310 Conn. 217-18; see also Dowling v. Slotnik, 244 Conn. 781,...

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