ST. PAUL TRAVELERS COMPANIES, INC. v. SYLVIA N. KUEHL et al.,
Judicial District of Hartford
Workers' Compensation; Standing; Whether Workers' Compensation Insurance Carrier Lacked Standing to Challenge the Constitutionality of Public Act 05-230, Which Permitted the Refiling of Certain Claims for Workers' Compensation Survivor's Benefits that had been Dismissed as Untimely. On June 26, 1991, Guenther Kuehl, while allegedly working within the scope of his employment with Z-Loda Systems Engineering, Inc. (Z-Loda), sustained injuries due to an automobile accident. After he died on November 14, 1992, his widow, Sylvia Kuehl, sought survivor's benefits pursuant to General Statutes § 31-306 of the Workers' Compensation Act. Her claim was dismissed as untimely under General Statutes § 31-294c, and, consequently, she instituted a legal malpractice action against her attorney, Rosalind Koskoff, and her attorney's law firm, Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder, P.C. Thereafter, she allegedly agreed to withdraw the legal malpractice action on the condition that the law firm obtain an amendment to § 31-294c that would permit her to refile her claim for survivor's benefits. The state legislature later amended § 31-294c by passing Number 05-230, § 2, of the 2005 Public Acts, which permitted the refiling of claims for survivor's benefits that had been dismissed as untimely in cases involving deceased employees who had been injured in June of 1991, and who had died in November of 1992. Subsequently, the workers' compensation insurance carrier for Z-Loda, St. Paul Travelers Companies, Inc. (St. Paul), filed the present declaratory judgment action against Sylvia Kuehl, challenging the constitutionality of Public Act 05-230. After Koskoff and her law firm intervened in the action, they filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that St. Paul lacked standing to bring the declaratory judgment action because it failed to allege that it suffered any specific injury as a result of the legislature's passage of Public Act 05-230. They further claimed that the matter was not ripe for adjudication because Sylvia Kuehl had not yet obtained an award of survivor's benefits that she could collect from St. Paul. St. Paul countered that it was already expending resources defending Sylvia Kuehl's resurrected claim, that it had standing to initiate the declaratory judgment action as the workers' compensation insurance carrier for Z-Loda and that it will suffer future harm if Sylvia Kuehl prevails in the workers' compensation forum. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, finding that St. Paul had already suffered an injury that was not merely hypothetical and that the lack of certainty as to the precise scope of damages did not prevent St. Paul's claim from being justiciable. Thereafter, the court rendered summary judgment in favor of St. Paul, holding that Public Act 05-230 created an unconstitutional public emolument because it served no public purpose and was clearly designed to benefit Sylvia Kuehl individually. It emphasized that this conclusion was supported not only by the narrow language of the public act, but also by the evidence that demonstrated that Koskoff's law firm offered to obtain passage of such legislation in exchange for the withdrawal of Sylvia Kuehl's legal malpractice action. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the trial court properly denied the intervenors' motion to dismiss.