Martinez-McCord v. State of Connecticut
The standard of whether recusal of a trial commissioner is required is whether the commissioner believes he or she is unable to render a fair and impartial decision due to their personal opinions of the claimant or their counsel. Marilyn Martinez-McCord sought temporary total disability benefits alleging that she suffered from RSD, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, in her right arm resulting from a compensable injury. The trial commissioner denied the claim. Martinez-McCord appealed arguing that the trial commissioner should have recused herself because the commissioner allegedly was biased against the claimant as a result of having previously heard the claim from the claimant and ruling against her. The Compensation Review Board affirmed the finding and dismissal rejecting the claimant's contention that the finding and dismissal must be vacated and the matter remanded for a trial de novo before a different trial commissioner. The commissioner did not believe she was unable to render an impartial judgment and the record reflected no circumstances unrelated to the evidence in the record which would have acted to impair the commissioner's independent judgment. The trial commissioner relied in great measure on the opinions of the commissioner's examiner. These opinions were adverse to the claimant. The commissioner's examiner is ordinarily accorded great weight in resolving contested medical issues. This would have generally led to the dismissal of the claim no matter which commissioner decided the case. The board noted that since the early days of workers' compensation in Connecticut, the recusal of trial commissioners has been disfavored except when a trial commissioner determined on his or her own that their impartiality was at issue. Citing the 2011 Connecticut Supreme Court case of State v. Rizzo, the board concluded that only if the findings lacked factual foundation would the ultimate decision constitute the sort of extreme or unusual result where a lack of recusal denied the claimant due process. The claimant needed to prove to the trial commissioner's satisfaction that her condition had changed since the prior adjudication that she was not temporarily totally disabled as a result of RSD and did not do so.