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Murphy v. Dist. of Columbia Dep't of Employment Services

November 8, 2007


Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (CRB 141-03).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kramer, Associate Judge

Argued February 13, 2007


Petitioner Joseph Murphy seeks review of an order from the Compensation Review Board (the Board) affirming a denial by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of his claim for Workman's Compensation pursuant to the District's Workers' Compensation Act (the Act).*fn1 He maintains that the ALJ erred in declining to consider his claims that the collective bargaining agreement between his labor union - the National Hockey Players Association - and the National Hockey League expanded the coverage of the Act to encompass the injury for which he sought compensation. We conclude that the agency's ruling that it lacked jurisdiction to hear this claim was correct and therefore affirm.

Factual Background

The relevant facts are essentially undisputed. At the time of the events at issue, petitioner Murphy was a professional hockey player with the Washington Capitals. In December 2000, he traveled to New York for his team's game with the New York Rangers. Having recently suffered an injury during a game in Atlanta, he was unable to play in New York, but watched from the stands and on the television in the team's dressing room. After the game, he accompanied about twenty of his teammates to a dinner at a restaurant, paid for by his employer, where he and others drank a substantial amount of beer and vodka. Thereafter, some of the hockey players, including Murphy, went to a club, where they drank more beer and vodka.At closing time, while the group was out on the street near the club, Murphy tried to persuade a woman to accompany him in a limousine. His efforts resulted in Murphy's being hit over the head with a bottle by a man acquainted with the woman, causing him injuries which necessitated medical treatment.Within days thereafter he was informed that his contract had been assigned to the Capital's minor league team in Lowell, Massachusetts, where he was told to report or face suspension. Murphy felt he was physically unable to play and refused to report; he was thereafter suspended and eventually terminated. He has not played professional hockey since that termination.*fn2

The Proceedings Before the Department of Employment Services

Pursuant to the District's Workers' Compensation Act, Murphy filed for Workers' Compensation benefits with the Department of Employment Services, asserting "that as a traveling employee, the injuries he sustained on December 7, 2000, arose out of and in the course of his employment." This claim was rejected by the ALJ, who found that "while . . . claimant was in New York for the sole purpose of traveling with his employer and . . . having dinner after the game was an activity related to his employment," his "venture to the lower east side to patronize a bar . . . after the dinner was not an activity incidental to his employment nor would it have been foreseeable by employer." The ALJ further found that "the activity which took place after the dinner is not . . . reasonably related to or incidental to his employment as a hockey player, regardless of who was the aggressor, if it was forbidden, condoned or even whether alcohol was involved." Thus, the ALJ concluded as a matter of law that Murphy "was not in the course of his employment on the morning of December 7, 2000, when he was assaulted outside [the club] in New York City." The Board affirmed this ruling, and Murphy does not contest the agency's position that under the standards of the District's Workmen's Compensation Act, his injury did not arise out of and in the course of employment. See D.C. Code §§ 32-1501 (12), 32-1503.

Rather, he argues in this appeal, as he did before the ALJ and the Compensation Review Board, that he was nonetheless entitled to recover under the Workers' Compensation Act based upon a provision of his Collective Bargaining Agreement between the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association. That provision reads:

A player under contract who is disabled and unable to perform his duties as a hockey player by reason of any injury sustained during the course of his employment as a hockey player, including travel with his team or on business requested by the club, shall be entitled to receive his remaining salary due in accordance [with] the term of his contract for the remaining stated term of his contract.

He interprets this provision to mean that if a player is injured during the course of his employment as a hockey player, including, without limitation, "travel with his team," the player is entitled to be awarded compensation for this contractual right by the Administrative Law Judge in the same proceeding that addresses his right to compensation under the District's Workers' Compensation Act. The ALJ ruled, however, that "claimant's remedy for any breach of the [Collective Bargaining Agreement] or [standard player contract] lies with the Labor Management Relations Act . . . administered by the Federal Government and not this administrative forum," and further that "just as [D.C. Code] § 32-1516 (b)*fn3 prohibits agreements made by employees to waive rights to compensation, agreements made between employers and employees as to the compensability of future claims filed under this Act also shall not be valid."

The Compensation Review Board upheld the ALJ's ruling. The Board reasoned:

Petitioner may well be correct that . . . employers and employees, are free to enter into contracts that call for greater protections and benefits than does the Act alone. Indeed, one assumes that [Collective Bargaining Agreements] and employment contracts generally have provisions which allow for greater compensation, workplace health and safety protections or other conditions of employment, than statutory law compels, for such agreements would have no reason for existing if they provided for no more than the law compels in their absence.

The Board concluded, however, that "the Act does not grant this agency jurisdiction over the interpretation and enforcement of such extra-legislative agreements, and we, therefore, do not consider what effect, if any, the facts of this case might have upon their terms, or vice versa." Thus, we are confronted with the issue of whether the jurisdiction of an Administrative Law Judge extends to awarding benefits derived from employer/employee agreements that are outside of the District's Workers' Compensation Act during the course of a Workers' Compensation claim ...

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