New Case on Survivor’s Benefits

A widow who failed to file a claim for survivor’s benefits within one year of the date of the decedent’s death and was thereby precluded from receiving any benefits, was able to get §31-294c amended to extend the filing date to accommodate the particular circumstances of her case. The commissioner refused to hear the matter based on his lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the case, claiming that the amended statute constituted an unconstitutional emolument. The commissioner further advised the widow-plaintiff to file an action seeking a declaratory judgment as to whether the statutory amendment was constitutional. The trial court held that it was an unconstitutional emolument which was designed to benefit the widow individually in violation of §1 of the Connecticut Constitution. The amendment allowed a widow to file a survivor’s claim 13 years after the date of death, if the decedent was injured in June 1991 and died in November, 1992.
The widow did not appeal the trial court’s finding that the amendment constituted an unconstitutional emolument. Rather she raised jurisdictional challenges based on lack of standing and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff, St. Paul’s, had standing vis a vis its legal interest in being protected from having to defend against a stale claim. The high court further held that while it is generally true that the administrative agency must be given the opportunity to address the claim on its merits, it is settled law that a commissioner cannot rule upon the constitutionality of a statute; therefore, this case presents the rare exception, the futility exception, to the general rule that one must exhaust his administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief.