CHRISTOPHER CLARK v. TOWN OF WATERFORD, COHANZIE FIRE DEPARTMENT et al., SC 20630

Compensation Review Board

 

Workers' Compensation; Heart and Hypertension Benefits; Whether Appellate Court Incorrectly Determined That Definition of "Member" in General Statutes 7-425 (5) Was Inapplicable to General Statutes 7-433c. The defendant town hired the plaintiff as a part-time firefighter in 1992 and as a full-time firefighter in 1997. In 2017, the plaintiff underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He thereafter sought heart disease benefits under General Statutes 7-433c, which provides in relevant part that a "uniformed member of a paid municipal fire department" who began employment before July 1, 1996, shall receive compensation and medical care for any condition or impairment caused by heart disease or hypertension. The defendant took the position that the plaintiff was not entitled to benefits under 7-433c because he was not a full-time firefighter until 1997 and therefore did not qualify as a "member" of the town fire department for purposes of eligibility under the statute. The defendant argued that the term "member" as used in 7-433c is controlled by the definition set forth in General Statutes 7-425 (5), as both statutes are found in part II, which is captioned "Retirement," of chapter 113, which is captioned "Municipal Employees," of the General Statutes. Section 7-425 provides that "[t]he following words and phrases as used in this part, except as otherwise provided, shall have the following meanings" and defines "member" in relevant part as "not includ[ing] any person who customarily works less than twenty hours a week." The defendant therefore contended that the plaintiff was not a "member" while he was a part-time firefighter for purposes of heart and hypertension benefits eligibility under 7-433c. The plaintiff in turn argued that he was entitled to benefits because 7-433c does not distinguish between full-time and part-time members of a paid municipal fire department, the definition of "member" in 7-425 (5) does not apply, and he otherwise met the eligibility requirements set forth in 7-433c. The trial commissioner determined that the plaintiff was entitled to benefits under 7-433c, and the Compensation Review Board affirmed the award. The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court (206 Conn. App. 223), which affirmed the Compensation Review Board's decision. The Appellate Court agreed with the plaintiff that the definition of "member" in 7-425 (5) pertains only to participation in the Municipal Employees Retirement Fund (fund) and therefore does not apply to 7-433c and its separate heart and hypertension benefits scheme for disabled firefighters and police officers and their survivors. The Appellate Court applied the tenets of statutory construction to conclude that 7-425 (5) and 7-433c do not concern the same subject matter and that reading them together in the manner advocated by the defendant would produce an absurd result, where 7-425 states that its definitions apply "except as otherwise provided" and where the statutes that govern the Municipal Employees Retirement Fund expressly apply to municipalities that choose to participate in the fund while 7-433c requires a municipality to provide heart and hypertension benefits regardless of its participation in the fund. In this certified appeal by the defendant, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court incorrectly determined that the definition of the term "member" in 7-425 (5) is inapplicable to 7-433c.