2016 WL 1132744 (Mash. Pequot Tribal Ct.)
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Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court.
CRAFT WORLDWIDE HOLDINGS, LLC d/b/a Craftsteak and Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise.
March 10, 2016.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND A JUDGMENT OR FOR RECONSIDERATION
EDWARD B. O’CONNELL, J.
*1 By a decision dated December 17, 2015, the Court found in the plaintiff’s favor in a negligence suit brought against Craft Worldwide Holdings, LLC (“Craftsteak”) and the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise (“Gaming Enterprise”) for injuries sustained when the plaintiff tripped over a raised floor light in a passageway leading out of a casino restaurant. The Court entered a judgment for the plaintiff against the Gaming Enterprise in the amount of $289,189.95, with $169,189.95 allocated for actual damages and $120,000.00 allocated for pain and suffering.1
The Gaming Enterprise now moves to alter or amend the judgment to reflect a collateral source/equitable setoff for those portions of the plaintiff’s medical bills paid by insurance or written off by treatment providers. Specifically, the Gaming Enterprise requests this Court to reduce the plaintiff’s actual damages2 by $58,179.01 which reflects the amount of plaintiff’s medical bills that were either paid by insurance providers or written off by treatment providers.
For the following reasons, the Court considers that the Mashantucket Pequot Tort Claims (Gaming Enterprise) Act provides that “actual damages” should be determined without reduction for medical expenses paid by insurance or written off by treatment providers.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tort Claims (Gaming Enterprise) Act provides that in any judgment entered under the law “the court may enter an award for actual damages.” 4 M.P.T.L. ch. 1 § 4(a). The term “actual damage” is defined as “the ascertainable loss of money or property sustained as a result of an injury without any reduction for collateral sources.” 4 M.P.T.L. ch 1 § 1(g).
It is clear from the plain language of section 1(g) that collateral sources are included in actual damages. What is less clear from examining section 1(g) is what qualifies as a collateral source—the term “collateral sources” is not defined in Title 4 or elsewhere in Mashantucket law. To fully resolve this issue, the Court must determine the meaning of the term “collateral sources” within the context of 4 M.P.T.L. ch. 1 § 1(g).
After reviewing the legislative history of Title 4 and relevant caselaw, the Court finds that the proper interpretation of the term “collateral sources” includes medical write-offs. Until further guidance is provided by the legislature, this Court holds that actual damages may not be reduced by insurance payments or medical write-offs.
A. Statutory Amendments to Title IV and the Rogers–Sullivan Split
In 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council (“Tribal Council”) enacted the “Sovereign Immunity Waiver Ordinance,” codified in the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Laws as Title 4—Tort Claims (Gaming Enterprise). On October 17, 2000, Tribal Council enacted TCR101200–03 of 07 which, inter alia, deleted a provision that mandated the Tribal Court to apply Connecticut law in its decisions under Title 4.3 The resolution also amended the statutory definition of “actual damages” to define it as “the ascertainable loss of money or property sustained as a result of an injury.”4 These amendments to Title 4 led to a split in Tribal Court decisions on the issue of whether actual damages include collateral sources.
*2 In Rogers v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, 4 Mash.Rep. 254 (2005), the Tribal Court (Londregan, J.) rejected the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff’s recovery should be reduced by any payments the plaintiff received from insurance. The Court noted that before Title 4 was amended and the mandate to apply Connecticut law was removed, it followed Connecticut law that required reduction of actual damages for collateral sources. Rogers, 4 Mash.Rep. at 256–57. However, with this mandate removed, the court reverted to the common law rule that “a defendant was not entitled to be relieved from paying any part of the compensation due for injuries proximately resulting from his act where payment comes from a collateral source, wholly independent of him.” 4 Mash.Rep. at 257 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). This common law doctrine is known as the collateral source rule.5 The Rogers court refused to deduct from the plaintiff’s award any monies received from a collateral source.
In Sullivan v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, 4 Mash.Rep. 288 (2005), the Tribal Court (O’Connell, J.) declined to follow Rogers and held that actual damages did not include a Medicare write-off. The court came to this conclusion by interpreting the statute as it was then written. The court held that the then definition of actual damages—“ascertainable loss of money or property as a result of an injury”—could not be expanded to include a Medicare write-off as an “ascertainable loss.” The Sullivan court specifically noted that “the term ‘collateral source’ appears nowhere in Title IV” in either a positive or negative fashion. Sullivan, 4 Mash.Rep. at 298. Upon reviewing the language of the statute, the Court concluded that “the explicit and detailed provisions regarding the calculation and award of damages ... under Title IV clearly reflect the Tribe’s intention that it not be bound by common law principles of tort damages, such as the collateral source rule.” Id. at 300.
The Sullivan court decision was appealed to the Mashantucket Pequot Court of Appeals in Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise v. Sullivan, 4 Mash.App. 25 (2006). On Mr. Sullivan’s cross-appeal, the Court of Appeals addressed the split in Tribal Court created by Rogers and Sullivan on the issue of whether “actual damages” include collateral sources. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Sullivan court, and rejected Mr. Sullivan’s argument that the common law collateral source doctrine should apply to the Medicare write-off at issue. The Court of Appeals upheld the Sullivan court’s statutory interpretation: the amount in dispute (the Medicare write-off) was ascertainable, but it was not a loss.
Importantly, the Court of Appeals did not make a ruling on whether or not a write-off qualifies as a collateral source. The Court of Appeals acknowledged that “whether the amount written off itself is a collateral source is a separate question” and noted that other jurisdictions are split on this issue. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise v. Sullivan, 4 Mash.App. at 32–33. Instead, the Court of Appeals limited its holding to affirming the lower court’s statutory interpretation of “actual damages” as it was then defined. The Court of Appeals stated:
*3 [W]e need not venture into this thicket of competing arguments [on whether or not a medical write-off is a collateral source]. Unlike most of these other jurisdictions, we have a statutory definition of damages here ... which we are convinced precludes an interpretation of the Medicare write-off as a collateral source for purposes of determining damages. The touchstone is that the Mashantucket legislature has tied the appropriate award to that which was the actual “loss of money or property” and a write-off or discount doesn’t fit that description. To hold otherwise would undermine the specific direction of the legislative branch, which we cannot do.
Id. at 33.
B. Legislative Response
On May 29, 2007, the Tribal Council enacted TCR052907–06 of 09 which, inter alia, amended the statutory definition of “actual damages” to its present-day form. Actual damages is now defined as “the ascertainable loss of money or property sustained as a result of an injury without any reduction for collateral sources.” 4 M.P.T.L. ch. 1 § 1(g) (emphasis added).
As discussed above, “collateral sources” is not defined and the Court must determine the appropriate meaning of the term. “In construing legislation, the court’s fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature ... Legislative intent is determined by the language actually used in the legislation.” Cole v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, 1 Mash.Rep. 433, 437, 2 Mash. 52 (1996). “A cardinal rule of statutory construction is to interpret statutes in such a manner as to give effect [to] the apparent intention of the Tribal Council.” Quarti v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, 5 Mash.Rep. 436, 441–42 (2012). “In seeking to discern that intent, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same subject matter.” McGill v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, 1 Mash.Rep. 196, 200, 1 Mash. 163 (1996) (citations omitted). With these principles in mind, the Court now addresses the 2007 legislative response to Sullivan.
The legislative history of the 2007 amendments does not discuss the rationale in changing the definition of actual damages. However, the Court cannot ignore the fact that the amendments occurred six months after the Court of Appeals ruled on the doctrine of collateral sources, and those amendments had the effect of revising the Sullivan Court of Appeals’ interpretation of the term “actual damages.” It would defy common sense not to acknowledge that the Sullivan decision influenced the Tribal Council in making these amendments. Moreover, the Sullivan decision pertained, in relevant part, to medical write-offs. If the Sullivan decision was the catalyst for the amendments, then it logically follows that the term “collateral sources” was intended by the Tribal Council to include medical write-offs. At issue in Rogers and Sullivan were insurance payments and medical write-offs, respectively. Both cases discussed the disputed amounts in the context of the collateral source rule, explicitly using the term “collateral source.” It appears clear that the legislative intent regarding the term “collateral sources” was to include both insurance payments and medical write-offs.
*4 Although the Court of Appeals noted that other jurisdictions are split on whether write-offs—opposed to insurance payments—qualify as collateral sources, the Tribal Council amended Title 4 to codify a collateral source rule that made no distinction between any type of collateral source. “The legislature knows how to use limiting terms which it chooses to do so ... [and] [t]his court cannot, by judicial construction, read into legislation provisions that are not contained therein.” Genesky v. Town of East Lyme, 275 Conn. 246, 283, 881 A.2d 114 (2005) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
These developments in the law—the amendments to Title 4, the Rogers–Sullivan split, the legislative reaction to the Sullivan decision, and the lack of any limiting language in the statutory definition of the term “collateral sources”—all support the interpretation that the phrase “without any reduction for collateral sources ” necessarily includes medical write-offs.
C. Post–Amendment Mashantucket Caselaw
The Tribal Court has had several opportunities to calculate actual damages under the current statutory definition of actual damages that codifies the collateral source rule. Mashantucket caselaw supports a holding that section 1(g) requires actual damages to be calculated without reduction for collateral sources, be it third party insurance payments or medical write-offs.
With respect to insurance payments, this Court has held that actual damages are not to be reduced by medical expenses paid by third parties. In Hill v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, in response to the Gaming Enterprise’s contention that some of the plaintiff’s medical expenses were covered by insurance payments, the Court stated, “[i]nasmuch as actual damages are to be determined ‘without any reduction for collateral sources,’ 4 M.P.T.L. ch. 1 § 1(g), the court does not make any adjustment for any such payments.” 6 Mash.Rep. 7, 14 (2012). With respect to medical write-offs, this Court has held that actual damages are likewise not to be reduced by medical write-offs. In Misuraca v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, the court took a bright line approach with medical write-offs: “To the extent that the $8,682.47 in write-offs might be classified as collateral sources, the Tort Claims law clearly and explicitly provides that they are not to be applied to reduce the Plaintiff’s actual damages.” 6 Mash.Rep. 71, 72 (2013). The Misuraca court stated further on:
Neither the statute pertaining to the determination of actual damages, 4 M.P.T.L. ch. 1 § 1(g), nor the statute pertaining to the limitation on awards for pain and suffering, 4 M.P.T.L. ch. 1 § 4(d), provides that awards for actual damages or pain and suffering be reduced by amounts attributable to write-offs or collateral sources. On the contrary, both statutes expressly and explicitly preclude such an adjustment.
Id. at 73.
The Court hereby follows Hill and Misuraca and holds that section 1(g) requires actual damages be determined without reduction for insurance payments or medical write-offs.6
II. THE GAMING ENTERPRISE’S EQUITY ARGUMENT
*5 The Gaming Enterprise argues that it is entitled to a credit/setoff in actual damages in the interests of justice and to mitigate economic waste and that this Court should grant a setoff as a matter of equity. To support its argument, the Gaming Enterprise relies on Mashantucket appellate caselaw and Connecticut law. The Court considers its holding that the reference to “collateral sources” in section 1(g) includes insurance payments and medical write-offs to be dispositive. However, the Court will, in the interests of judicial economy, address the Gaming Enterprise’s equity argument.
A. As to cases cited in support of equity argument:
The Gaming Enterprise contends that the Mashantucket Pequot Court of Appeals in Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise v. Sullivan, 4 Mash.App. 25 (2006), affirmed the Tribal Court’s collateral source reduction “as a matter of equity.” See Def.’s Reply to Pl.’s Opposition 2–3. The Court rejects this contention and finds that the Court of Appeals in Sullivan did not decide the case as a matter of equity, but rather decided the case as a matter of statutory analysis.
As discussed above, the Court in Sullivan held that the then definition of actual damages—“ascertainable loss of money or property as a result of an injury”—could not be expanded to include a Medicare write-off as an “ascertainable loss.” On appeal, the Mashantucket Pequot Court of Appeals stated that the issue of whether a medical write-off should be included in the calculation of actual damages was “plainly a question of law.” Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise v. Sullivan, 4 Mash.App. at 31. The Court of Appeals upheld the Tribal Court’s statutory interpretation of actual damages as it was then defined.
The Gaming Enterprise’s argument mischaracterizes the Court of Appeals’ decision and posits that it was based on principles of equity.7 Simply put, the Court of Appeals did not decide the issue in Sullivan as a matter of equity. Rather, it decided the issue by examining the then-present statutory definition of “actual damages.”
The Gaming Enterprise next cites Connecticut cases to support its argument that it is inequitable, unjust, or an economic waste to allow the plaintiff to recover damages that have been written-off. The Court finds the Connecticut cases unpersuasive for two reasons.
First, “although this Court often looks to federal and state case law (Connecticut in particular) for guidance in the absence of Mashantucket case law, guidance from other jurisdictions is of limited value when the underlying federal or state laws and rules are different or conflict with Mashantucket law.” Waterman, 2015 WL 9673869, at *7.8 Connecticut law is the opposite of Mashantucket law with respect to the collateral source rule. As the Waterman court noted, “Connecticut law rejects the collateral source rule while Mashantucket law supports the collateral source rule.” Id. Connecticut’s collateral source rule is codified in statute9 and requires the trial court to reduce the entire amount of the economic damage award by the statutorily-defined collateral sources. So, of course there are going to be Connecticut cases that support the proposition that actual damages should be reduced by collateral sources, including medical write-offs. That is the law in Connecticut, but it is not the law in Mashantucket.
*6 Second, as discussed above, Title 4 was amended to remove the mandate that the Tribal Court apply Connecticut law in tort claims involving the Gaming Enterprise. Even if this Court could be persuaded to ignore the clear difference in Connecticut and Mashantucket law on the collateral source rule, the Court would also have to ignore 4 M.P.T.L. ch. 1 § 7(a), which states: “This Law shall govern all tort claims against the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise or arising at the Gaming Enterprise Site. When interpreting this law, the court shall follow tribal law and precedent and may be guided by the common law of other jurisdictions.”10 (emphasis added).
B. As to the merits of the equity argument:
The Gaming Enterprise is correct in pointing out that there are significant policy considerations involving collateral sources. See Def.’s Reply to Pl.’s Opposition 6. The Court acknowledges that plaintiffs in some cases will receive what can be characterized as a “windfall” or “double recovery.” The Court further acknowledges that there are competing arguments on the equities of the collateral source rule. However, any argument based on equity and policy is better suited for Tribal Council, not the Tribal Court. “When the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, the court may not by construction substitute its own idea of what might be a wise provision.” Catinello v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, 1 Mash.Rep. 348, 350, 1 Mash. 272 (1996). “Here, the lawmakers have spoken and with clarity. Even if [the Court] did believe that it produced a result that [the Court] would [find] inequitable—and [the Court does] not suggest that [it does]—[the Court is] required to do nothing else than apply the rule as written. That is what judges do.” Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise v. Sullivan, 4 Mash.App. at 33. The Court “must take the law as it finds it. It is not the province of a court to supply what the Tribal Council chose to omit.” Jones v. Mashantucket Employment Rights Office, 6 Mash.Rep. 270, 278 (2015). The Court must decline the Gaming Enterprise’s invitation to rewrite the law in order to reduce the plaintiff’s actual damages to reflect a collateral source/equitable setoff for those portions of the plaintiff’s medical bill paid by insurance or written off by treatment providers.
As this court observed in Lin eight years ago, now that Title 4 has been amended to provide actual damages be determined without any reduction for collateral sources, “[h]opefully, future discussions of collateral sources will be relegated to footnotes.” Su Ching Lin v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, 5 Mash.Rep. 10, 19 n. 3 (2008).
For the foregoing reasons, the Defendant’s Motion to Alter or Amend a Judgment or for Reconsideration is denied.11
The Court entered judgment for Craftsteak on the finding that Craftsteak did not own, manage, or control the premises or floor lights that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
The Gaming Enterprise challenges only the amount of “economic damages” (award for actual damages) and does not seek a credit/setoff for the “noneconomic award” (award for pain and suffering). To avoid confusion, the Court will utilize the term “actual damages” rather than terms such as “special damages” or “economic damages.” “Actual damages” is the term provided in the Mashantucket law. See 4 M.P.T.L. ch. 1 § 4.
The following language was deleted: “Any claim brought under this ordinance shall be determined by the Tribal Court in accordance with tribal law and the principles of law applicable to similar claims arising under the laws of the State of Connecticut.” Applicable law is now determined by 4 M.P.T.L. ch. 1 § 7(a).
The TCR removed the phrase “provided that such injury is covered by the liability insurance of the Gaming Enterprise without regard to any deductible amount contained in the insurance policy.”
Note: The collateral source rule is sometimes stated in the negative, i.e. damages should be reduced by collateral sources.
In Waterman v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, No. MPTC–CV–PI–2013–191, 2015 WL 9673869 (Mash. Pequot Tribal Ct. Dec. 22, 2015), the Tribal Court addressed what it perceived as a conflict in the approaches taken by the Tribal Court in Su Ching Lin v. Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, 5 Mash.Rep. 10 (2008), and Misuraca. The Waterman court’s misconception is understandable. Lin was a bifurcated case. Although the damages decision, 5 Mash.Rep. 10 (2008), was issued after the 2007 amendments, it pertained to a cause of action that accrued several years before the 2007 amendments were adopted. See Lin liability decision at 4 Mash.Rep. 393 (2006). The Lin damages decision applied the pre-amendment definition of “actual damages” because that was the controlling law at the time the claim accrued. Lin did not undertake to construe or apply the current definition of actual damages. Thus, it does not conflict with the Misuraca analysis.
The precedential value of the Court of Appeals decision in Sullivan with respect to section 1(g) has been diminished due to the previously discussed statutory amendments.
Although the Waterman court inaccurately perceived a conflict between Lin and Misuraca, see FN 6 above, the analysis between Connecticut’s collateral source statute and the Mashantucket’s section 1(g) is insightful and relevant here.
CONN. GEN.STAT. § 52–225a (collateral source rule), CONN. GEN.STAT. § 52–225b (collateral source defined).
The common law rule of Connecticut would not support the Gaming Enterprise’s position here either. “Prior to the enactment of § 52–225a in 1985, Connecticut adhered to the common-law collateral source rule, which provides that a defendant is not entitled to be relieved from paying any part of the compensation due for injuries proximately resulting from his act where payment [for such injuries or damages] comes from a collateral source, wholly independent of him.” Jones v. Kramer, 267 Conn. 336, 345–46, 838 A.2d 170 (2004) (citation omitted).
To the extent that the Defendant’s pleading might constitute two separate motions: The Defendant’s Motion to Alter or Amend a Judgment is denied. The Defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration is granted and the relief sought therein is denied.