AJREDIN AJDINI v. FRANK LILL & SON, INC., SC 20836

Compensation Review Board

 

       Workers' Compensation; Whether Employer's Notice of Intention to Contest Liability for Employee's Injury is Deemed "Filed" Upon Mailing.  The claimant allegedly sustained several injuries during the course of his employment with Frank Lill & Son, Incorporated (FLS).  FLS received the claimant's two notices of claim (Form 30C) on May 3, 2019.  In response, the respondents, FLS and its insurer, mailed two notices of intention to contest liability (Form 43) on May 29, 2019, via certified mail in accordance with General Statutes § 31-321, which prescribes the manner of serving notice for purposes of the Workers' Compensation Act.  The commission, however, did not receive the Form 43 notices until June 3, 2019.  General Statutes § 31-294c (b) requires that an employer "file with the administrative law judge" a notice contesting liability within twenty-eight days following the employer's receipt of the employee's notice of claim.  The claimant filed a motion to preclude the respondents from contesting liability for his injuries, contending that their Form 43 notices were untimely under § 31-294c (b).  The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) granted the motion to preclude, and the respondents appealed to the Compensation Review Board (board).  The respondents claimed that the term "file" in § 31-294c should be interpreted as implicitly incorporating the mailbox rule, which is defined in Black's Law Dictionary as follows: "[W]hen a . . . document is filed or served by mail, filing or service is deemed to have occurred on the date of mailing."  In support, they argued that Form 43 itself states that it "must be served upon the [ALJ]" and that the mailbox rule suggests that the date of service is deemed to be the date of mailing.  They thus contended that their Form 43 notices were timely under § 31-294c (b) because they were mailed to the commission on May 29, 2018, which was twenty-six days after the receipt of the claimant's Form 30C notices of claim.  The board affirmed the ALJ's decision, stating that there is no basis in the statutes, regulations, or case law to support the respondents' contention that the date of the mailing should be considered the date of filing.  In so ruling, the board observed that § 31-294c (b) uses the word "file" not "serve" and that Black's Law Dictionary defines "file" as "[t]o deliver a legal document to the court clerk."  In addition, the board noted that the customary usage, as well as the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, all dictate that the meaning of the word "file" is the actual presentation of a document at the relevant agency for inclusion into the official record.  The respondents appealed to the Appellate Court, and the Supreme Court transferred the appeal to itself.  On appeal, the respondents claim that the board erred by failing to apply the mailbox rule in determining the timeliness of their Form 43 notices under § 31-294c and argue in support thereof that there is "unambiguous harmony" between Black's Law Dictionary's definition of the mailbox rule, the statutory construction and intent of § 31-294c and § 31-321, and Forms 30C and 43 promulgated by the commission.