Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare, in the case of Ralph T. Hardiman, SS No. 211-30-4218, Claim No. 171247, dated October 7, 1987.
David W. Costello, with him, Clark A. Mitchell, Mitchell & Mitchell, for petitioner.
James S. Marshall, Assistant Counsel, for respondent, Department of Public Welfare.
Judges Craig and McGinley, and Senior Judge Narick, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig. Judge MacPhail did not participate in the decision in this case.
[ 121 Pa. Commw. Page 122]
Claimant Ralph T. Hardiman petitions for review of an action of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) that he characterizes as a termination of his disability benefits under the Act of December 8, 1959, P.L. 1718, as amended, 61 P.S. §§ 951 and 952 (Act 534), without a hearing. DPW contends that the case involves not a termination but rather an initial denial of these benefits, on the ground that Mr. Hardiman had not fulfilled the requirements of DPW's procedures for awarding Act 534 benefits.
This case presents the issue of whether DPW's requirement that a claimant for Act 534 benefits first obtain a favorable workers' compensation decision before receiving Act 534 benefits is consistent with the intent of Act 534.
Because no hearing has yet been held in this matter, no facts have yet been found. Mr. Hardiman alleges that on July 15, 1987, when he was employed as a psychiatric aide at Woodville State Hospital, he was injured when a patient struck him on the left side of his face while he was taking a patient census. Mr. Hardiman reported the incident to his supervisor, and together they completed a Form STD-344, "Employer's Report of Occupational Injury or Disease."
As a result of his injury, Mr. Hardiman was unable to work; however, for almost three months the department paid him an amount equal to his regular salary. A doctor examined Mr. Hardiman several times, and Mr. Hardiman authorized the release of medical information to his employer. By letter dated October 7, 1987, the Director of Personnel of the Woodville State Hospital informed Mr. Hardiman that his Act 534 benefits had been suspended pending a final decision on his workers' compensation claim, and that he had been placed on "Leave Without Pay With Benefits" effective October 6,
[ 121 Pa. Commw. Page 1231987]
. At that point Mr. Hardiman had not filed a workers' compensation claim.
Mr. Hardiman filed a claim for workers' compensation on October 14, 1987. On October 15, Mr. Hardiman's attorney wrote to the Benefits Coordinator of DPW in Harrisburg asserting that the suspension of Mr. Hardiman's Act 534 benefits without a hearing violated his client's right to due process of law, and requesting that DPW reinstate those benefits.
By letter dated October 29, 1987, DPW's Employee Services Coordinator responded to Mr. Hardiman's attorney stating (1) that DPW's position was that Act 534 benefits can be paid only if and when it had been established that an employee's injury was work-related, (2) that whether an injury was work-related was a matter to be determined under the Workmen's Compensation Act and was not within DPW's scope of authority, and (3) that if, after a determination by the State Workmen's Insurance Fund (SWIF) that an employee was eligible for workers' compensation, DPW were to determine that Act 534 benefits were due because of the circumstances of the work-related injury, then DPW would pay Act 534 benefits retroactively. The letter stated further that there was no lack of due process because a determination of Act 534 benefits could not be made while the "primary benefit" was uncertain, and that a consideration of Act 534 at this stage was premature. Mr. Hardiman received a letter from the Director of Personnel at Woodville State Hospital, dated November 2, 1987, informing him that her letter of October 7, 1987, had been in error: "No ACT 534 benefits were suspended since no ACT 534 benefits had been awarded."
Mr. Hardiman filed a petition for review in our original jurisdiction and a motion for peremptory mandamus on October 27, 1987. By order of November 20,
[ 121 Pa. Commw. Page 1241987]
, this court denied DPW's motion to strike the claimant's petition and motion, noting that the petition appeared to be addressed to our appellate jurisdiction and scheduling a hearing on the mandamus motion. Because Mr. Hardiman returned to work on November 11, 1987, he has stated in his brief that his need for special relief in the form of peremptory mandamus has been rendered moot.
Act 534 provides in pertinent part:
Any employe of a State penal or correctional institution under the Bureau of Correction of the Department of Justice and any employe of a State mental hospital or Youth Development Center under the Department of Public Welfare, who is injured during the course of his employment by an act of any inmate or any person confined in such institution or by any person who has been committed to such institution by any court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or by any provision of the 'Mental Health Act' . . . shall be paid, by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, his full salary, until the disability arising therefrom no longer prevents his return as an employe of such department, board or institution at a salary equal to that earned by him at the time of his injury.
All medical and hospital expenses incurred in connection with any such injury shall be paid by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania until the disability arising from such injury no longer prevents his return as an employe of such department, board or institution at a salary equal to that earned by him at the time of his injury.
[ 121 Pa. Commw. Page 125]
During the time salary for such disability shall be paid by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania any workmen's compensation received or collected for such period shall be turned over to the Commonwealth and paid into the General Fund, and if such payment shall not be so made, the amount so due to the Commonwealth shall be deducted from any salary then or thereafter becoming due and owing. (Emphasis added.)*fn1
DPW begins its argument with the unexceptionable proposition that an applicant for Act 534 benefits bears the burden of proving initial eligibility for those benefits, and that the applicant therefore must ...