Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court Entered August 30, 1995 at No. 1690 C.D. 1994, Affirming the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board Dated June 23, 1994 at Appeal No. A94-0981.
Justice Castille. Madame Justice Newman did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Castille
DECIDED: December 24, 1997
The issue on appeal is whether a workers' compensation claimant who suffers a compensable injury before the effective date of the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Workers' Compensation Act, *fn1 but who is incarcerated for a criminal conviction after the effective date of that amendment, is entitled to compensation benefits during his period of incarceration. Because we find that a claimant cannot receive benefits during his period of incarceration, we affirm the order of the Commonwealth Court suspending appellant's benefits for the time he spent incarcerated for his federal criminal conviction.
The relevant facts concerning this appeal are not in dispute. On April 6, 1992, appellant injured his lower back while in the course of his employment with Trans-Bridge Lines, Inc. ("Employer"). As a result of this injury, appellant began receiving weekly workers' compensation benefits in the amount of $326.55 pursuant to a Notice of Compensation payable dated April 27, 1992.
On July 12, 1993, appellant pled guilty in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to four counts of the federal offense of "transfer of any firearm knowing that such firearm will be used to commit a crime of violence." *fn2 Following the acceptance of appellant's guilty plea, the federal district court sentenced appellant to twenty-seven (27) months imprisonment and ordered appellant to begin serving his sentence on September 1, 1993.
On August 31, 1993, the Workers' Compensation Act of June 2, 1915 (the "Act") was amended. *fn3 One of the amendments was to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act, which provides, in pertinent part, that:
Nothing in this act shall require payment of compensation for any period during which the employe is incarcerated after a conviction.
77 P.S. § 511(2). When the 1993 amendments to the Act were enacted, the General Assembly provided that: "no changes in indemnity compensation payable by this act shall affect payments of indemnity compensation for injuries sustained prior to the effective date of this section." *fn4
On September 1, 1993, one day after the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act became effective, appellant reported to federal prison. On that same date, Employer ceased paying workers' compensation benefits to appellant because of the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act. On October 6, 1993, Employer filed a formal petition to suspend appellant's workers' compensation benefits because of appellant's incarceration. On November 12, 1993, appellant filed a penalty petition against Employer alleging that Employer violated the Workers' Compensation Act by unilaterally suspending payment of his benefits without a valid administrative or court order.
On March 18, 1994, the Workers' Compensation Judge ("WCJ"), after conducting hearings, dismissed Employer's suspension petition because it found that the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act was substantive in nature and that Employer erred by applying this amended provision retroactively to appellant. The WCJ, however, denied appellant's penalty petition because he found that Employer made a good faith challenge in seeking to suspend appellant's benefits since the General Assembly was less than clear on how the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act was to be applied to a situation like that faced by appellant.
On June 23, 1994, the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board ("Board"), without taking any additional evidence, reversed that portion of the WCJ's order dismissing Employer's suspension petition. In doing so, the Board noted that it viewed the purpose of the language of the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act as clarifying the intent of the Act as it existed before the passage of Section 306(a)(2) as to an individual's inability to receive compensation benefits while incarcerated. The Board also interpreted the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act as affecting only those claimants who commenced a jail sentence on or after September 1, 1993 regardless of whether the injuries occurred prior to the effective date of the 1993 amendments (August 31, 1993). Thus, since appellant was imprisoned on September 1, 1993, the Board concluded that appellant's workers' compensation benefits should be suspended pursuant to the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act. The Board also affirmed the WCJ's Conclusion that appellant's penalty petition should be denied.
Appellant then filed a timely appeal to the Commonwealth Court. The Commonwealth Court, in a two-to-one decision, affirmed the Board's order suspending appellant's benefits and denying appellant's penalty petition. In arriving at this decision, the Commonwealth Court majority reasoned that the date crucial to determining the applicability of the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act for payment of benefits to incarcerated claimants was the date a person began serving his prison sentence rather than the date when he began receiving benefits. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court held that the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act applied to any claimant who was incarcerated on or after August 31, 1993. The Dissenting member of the Commonwealth Court panel disagreed with the majority because he believed that the date of incarceration was irrelevant. Instead, since the amendment to Section 306(a)(2) of the Act expressly applied only to injuries which occurred on or after August 31, 1993, the Dissent believed the date when the ...