Murray v. Black Tie Limousine
In Murray v. Black Tie Limousine, No. 3306 CRB-3-96-3 (August 21, 1997), the commissioner dismissed a claim for benefits after the claimant's attorney failed to appear at the formal hearing. The attorney subsequently filed a motion to open pursuant to 31-315, which the commissioner granted. The respondent employer and insurer appealed to the board, arguing that 31-315 applies only in those cases involving an award of compensation or a voluntary agreement, not those in which an order of dismissal was entered. The board disagreed with the respondents' interpretation for several reasons.
First, the board noted that the plain language of the statute grants the commissioner the same power as any court to open or to modify a judgment in addition to the authority to open an award or voluntary agreement. Furthermore, the board relied on the last sentence of 31-315, which provides that the commissioner shall retain jurisdiction over "claims for compensation, awards and voluntary agreements" during the entire compensation period. Last, the board observed that 31-301, which provides an avenue for the direct appeal from an award by the commissioner, does not mention dismissal orders. If the board accepted the respondents' argument, the bizarre result of leaving the claimant without any right to appeal would occur. The board concluded that "it is apparent from a common-sense reading of the statute that 'award' encompasses dismissal orders as well as orders to pay compensation." Murray v. Black Tie Limousine, supra, No. 3306 CRB-3-96-3.