Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, in case of Anna Formicola w/o Philip v. City of Philadelphia, No. A-85386.
Christina J. Barbieri, with her, Carl M. Mazzocone, Kates, Livesey & Mazzocone, for petitioner.
Carol A. Mickey, with her, Barbara W. Mather, City Solicitor, Lilton R. Taliaferro, Jr., Assistant City Solicitor, Michael Eiss and Herbert Bernstein, for respondents.
Judges Doyle and Colins, and Senior Judge Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle. Judge Colins dissents.
[ 97 Pa. Commw. Page 276]
Anna Formicola (Claimant) appeals from a decision of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board), which affirmed a referee's denial of her fatal claim petition on the basis of Section 301(c)(1) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Act),*fn1 77 P.S. § 411(1).
Claimant is the widow of Philip Formicola (Decedent), who was employed as an officer of the Philadelphia Police Department between the years 1943 and 1957. On December 4, 1957, Decedent suffered chest pain while making an arrest, and on December 6, 1957, he was hospitalized with a myocardial infarction. Decedent received workmen's compensation benefits for total disability from December 4, 1957 until his death on March 14, 1980.*fn2 Following termination of Decedent's benefits, Claimant filed a fatal claim petition pursuant to the Act. Hearings were held before a referee on December 9, 1981, March 2, 1982, June 3, 1982, July 7, 1982 and October 13, 1982. On January 18, 1983, the referee issued a decision denying Claimant's petition on the basis that more than 300 weeks had elapsed between the date of the allegedly fatal injury and the date of death. This decision was affirmed by the Board on September 15, 1983.
Before both the referee and the Board, Claimant argued that the 1957 myocardial infarction was the cause of Decedent's death in 1980, and that the automatic 300 week limitation in Section 301(c)(1) of the Act resulted
[ 97 Pa. Commw. Page 277]
in a denial of due process and equal protection of the law under the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution. As administrative tribunals, the referee and the Board declined to address Claimant's constitutional arguments and instead simply denied her petition on the basis of Section 301(c)(1). In addition, the referee implied in his findings of fact that death may have been due to Decedent's long-term alcohol abuse rather than his 1957 injury. The referee did not reach a definite conclusion on this issue, apparently because it would not have altered the result of his decision. Before this Court, Claimant renews her constitutional arguments and requests that if we do find in her favor, we remand the case for a determination on the issue of causation.
Claimant's first argument is that Section 301(c)(1) of the Act operates to deny due process of law to the dependents of certain injured employees by imposing an arbitrary and unreasonable cut-off on the eligibility for death benefits at 300 weeks after the occurrence of a work-related injury, thus resulting in an irreversible and irrebuttable presumption that the death of an employee more than 300 weeks following a work-related injury is not the result of that injury. Claimant contends that the only possible rationale for this limitation is administrative efficiency, which, she argues, does not justify the deprivation of property without due process.*fn3
[ 97 Pa. Commw. Page 278]
A party seeking to invalidate a state statute on due process grounds has the burden of demonstrating the lack of a rational connection between the challenged provision and some legitimate state purpose. Kelley v. Johnson, 425 U.S. 238 (1976). The stated and undisputed social purpose of the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act is to strike a balance between the interests of employees and the interests of employers.*fn4 Thus, the constitutional inquiry before us is not whether a more effective measure might be devised, but whether the challenged measure promotes the stated purpose in any degree whatsoever. Jefferson v. Hackney, 406 U.S. 535 (1972). In this connection, a limitation which preserves the workmen's compensation fund for those claimants who are most clearly entitled to compensation will be upheld as not infringing upon due process rights. See Guess v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Link Belt/F.M.C. Corp.), 77 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 319, ...