Michigan Supreme Court Lansing, Michigan 48909 ____________________________________________________________________________________________
C h ief Justice Justices
Maura D. Cor rigan
CHARLES L. STOZICKI,
v ALLIED PAPER COMPANY, INC, and
TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY,
________________________________ PER CURIAM
Michael F. Cavanagh Elizabeth A. Weaver Marilyn Kelly Clifford W. Taylor Robert P. Young, Jr. Stephen J. Markman
FILED JUNE 12, 2001
The issue in this case concerns the relationship between
two provisions of the Worker’s Compensation Disability Act,
§ 354,1 which permits coordination of benefits with certain
other payments, and the “age 65 reduction” provision of
§ 357.2 Relying on the Court of Appeals decision in Saraski
v Dexter Davison Kosher Meat & Poultry, 206 Mich App 347; 520
NW2d 383 (1994), the Worker’s Compensation Appellate
Commission decided that once having reduced benefits under
§ 357, an employer cannot then switch to coordination of
benefits under § 354. We conclude that Saraski misinterpreted
the controlling statutory language, and reverse.
The plaintiff worked for Allied Paper from 1953 to 1988.
On January 15, 1988, he suffered a work-related injury and
sought worker’s compensation benefits. The parties entered
into a voluntary payment agreement, and the employer has paid
benefits in varying amounts since then. The plaintiff reached
age sixty-five on July 18, 1995, and began receiving social
security old age benefits and an employer-provided pension.
The employer did not immediately make any changes in the
benefits being paid. However, on February 18, 1997, it began
reducing the plaintiff’s benefits by five percent under § 357,
and did so until March 18, 1997. At that time it stopped the
§ 357 reduction and began coordinating plaintiff’s benefits
with the social security and pension payments under § 354.
The parties disagreed over the appropriate benefit amount
and submitted the dispute for decision by a magistrate. He
concluded, among other things, that pursuant to Saraski, the
employer was prohibited from utilizing the § 354 reduction
because it had already taken the age sixty-five reductions for
The employer appealed to the WCAC, arguing that Saraski
was wrongly decided and, in any event, that the case was
The WCAC affirmed on the basis of Saraski.
The Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal, and the
employer has filed an application for leave to appeal to this
Subsection 354(1) of the WDCA provides for coordination
of worker’s compensation benefits with certain other payments.
It provides, in part:
Except as otherwise provided in this section,
the employer’s obligation to pay or cause to be
paid weekly benefits other than specific loss
benefits under section 361(2) and (3) shall be
reduced by these amounts:
(a) Fifty percent of the amount of the old age insurance benefits received or being received
under the social security act.
* * *
(d) The after-tax amount of the pension or
retirement payments received or being received
pursuant to a plan or program established or
maintained by the same employer from whom benefits
under section 351, 361, or 835 are received, if the
employee did not contribute directly to the pension
or retirement plan or program.
The other relevant provision is § 357, which contains the
age sixty-five reduction:
(1) When an employee who is receiving weekly
payments or is entitled to weekly payments reaches
or has reached or passed the age of 65, the weekly
Other subsections provide for coordination with
payments under a self-insurance plan, a wage-continuation
plan, or a disability insurance policy provided by the
employer. Where the employee has contributed to the plan,
program, or policy, the amount of coordination is
payments for each year following his or her sixty fifth birthday, shall be reduced by 5% of the
weekly payment paid or payable at age 65, but not
to less than 50% of the weekly benefit paid or
payable at age 65, so that on his or her
seventy-fifth birthday the weekly payments shall
have been reduced by 50%; after which there shall
not be a further reduction for the duration of the
employee’s life. Weekly payments shall not be
reduced below the minimum weekly benefit as
provided in this act.
The critical provision for the purpose of this appeal is
the language of subsection (2):
(2) Subsection (1) shall not apply to a
person 65 years of age or over otherwise eligible
and receiving weekly payments who is not eligible
for benefits under the social security act, 42
U.S.C. 301 to 1397f, or to a person whose payments
under this act are coordinated under section 354.
The Court of Appeals construed that language in Saraski.
Plaintiff Saraski was injured at work, and the employer began
paying general disability benefits. Because Saraski was
sixty-five years of age, it took the reduction under § 357.
Shortly after our decision in Franks v White Pine Cooper
Division, 422 Mich 636; 375 NW2d 715 (1985),4 the employer
restored Saraski and to began his weekly rate before the with § 357
security payments under § 354.
Saraski then filed a petition
alleging total and permanent disability under MCL 418.361(3).
He was granted an open award of total and permanent disability
benefits, which are not subject to coordination under § 354.
Franks MCL 418.354(17).
Thus, the employer again began adjusting weekly benefits under
the age reduction provision of § 357. The magistrate held
that the employer must abide by its initial election between
coordination under § 354 or reduction under § 357. the WCAC reversed, concluding that the employer However,
prohibited by the language of subsection 357(2) from serially
switching between the benefit reductions of the two sections,
but was merely prohibited from reducing benefits under both
The Court of Appeals analyzed the employer election issue
in Saraski, at 352, as follows:
Previously, our Court considered the
employer’s right to serially select between § 357
and § 354 to reduce a disabled employee’s benefits.
In Krueger v Simplicity Pattern Co,2 we held that,
once an employer elected to coordinate benefits, it
could not reverse the coordination when the
employee’s pension benefits expired. Krueger,
p 217. Our Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of
Krueger on stipulation of the parties after
plaintiff died. It also vacated the judgment of
our Court, without instruction or comment.
Consequently, we again address the questions
presented as matters ungoverned by existing
We conclude, for the reasons set out below,
that the WCAC’s decision that Dexter Davison was
not bound by its election to coordinate benefits
under § 354 was not error. In doing so, we do not
adopt the WCAC’s rule that serial selection between
§ 354 and § 357 at the employer’s discretion, with
whatever frequency the employer chooses, is always
permissible. Rather, we adopt the general rule of
Krueger that once an employer makes an initial
election between § 354 and § 357, § 357(2)
prohibits the employer from serially switching the
selection. However, as with all general rules,
specific circumstances may require a different
result in order to prevent injustice. We find such
___________________________________________________ 196 Mich App 212; 492 NW2d 790 (1992),
vacated 442 Mich 912 (1993). [Emphasis added.]
This case involves a question of statutory
interpretation, which we review de novo.
Brown v Michigan
Health Care Corp, 463 Mich 368, 374; 617 NW2d 301 (2000);
Sands Appliance Services, Inc v Wilson, 463 Mich 231, 238; 615
NW2d 241 (2000). The starting point for determining the
Legislature’s intent is the language of the statute itself.
In re MCI Telecommunications Complaint, 460 Mich 396, 411; 596
NW2d 164 (1999). Statutes should be interpreted consistently
with their plain and unambiguous meanings.
Pipe, Inc v Sinacola Companies-Midwest, Inc, 461 Mich 316,
320; 603 NW2d 257 (1999); Hatch v Grand Haven Charter Twp, 461
Mich 457, 464; 606 NW2d 633 (2000).
We believe the Saraski Court misconstrued subsection
357(2). That section says that the age sixty-five reduction
may not be taken where worker’s compensation payments “are
coordinated under § 354.” The plain meaning of that statute
is that an employer may not simultaneously take advantage of
On the facts of the Saraski case, the Court found an
exception allowing the employer to switch back to a § 357
reduction. It based this conclusion on the injured worker’s
having sought an altered disability status, which affected the
employer’s ability to coordinate under § 354. 206 Mich App
coordination under § 354 and the age reduction under § 357.
If the Legislature had meant to make an employer’s initial
decision to use a particular benefit reduction provision
irrevocable, it could have used language to that effect. As
the Legislature did not create such a requirement, that
limitation cannot be read into the WDCA
Thus, we conclude that Saraski improperly interpreted the
statute. Accordingly, the decision of the Worker’s
Compensation Appellate Commission is reversed. case to the commission for any further
We remand the
CORRIGAN , C.J., and CAVANAGH , WEAVER , TAYLOR , YOUNG , and
MARKMAN , JJ., concurred.
M I C H I G A N
CHARLES L. STOZICKI,
v ALLIED PAPER COMPANY, INC. and
TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY,
___________________________________ KELLY, J. (concurring).
I concur in the result reached in the per curiam opinion,
but disagree with its unnecessary exercise of interpreting a
statutory provision that does not govern the outcome of the
case. In its haste to overturn the precedent of Saraski v
Dexter Davison Kosher Meat & Poultry,1 the per curiam opinion
purports to rely on the plain-meaning doctrine, but, instead,
206 Mich App 347; 520 NW2d 383 (1994).
Black's Law Dictionary defines "dictum" as an opinion
judge that does not embody the resolution or
In this case, defendant coordinated plaintiff's benefits
under § 354 of the Worker's Disability Compensation Act,3
after first using the over sixty-five reduction scheme
provided by § 357. Section 357(2), the subsection interpreted
by today's opinion, provides:
Subsection (1) shall not apply to a person 65
years of age or over otherwise eligible and
receiving weekly payments who is not eligible for
benefits under the social security act, 42 USC 301
to 1397f, or to a person whose payments under this
act are coordinated under section 354. [Emphasis
Section 357(2) does not address employers who switch, as
the defendant has done, from a § 357 reduction scheme to a
coordination of benefits under § 354. The majority's
discussion of it is unnecessary to the disposition of this
case. Hence, it is dictum, a mere expression of the author's
opinion going beyond the facts of this case, not binding in
subsequent cases as legal precedent.
The "plain meaning" interpretation advanced by today's
majority suggests that employers possess free reign to reduce
their former employees' benefits by opting for whichever
determination of the specific case before the court. It is an
expression in a court's opinion that goes beyond the facts
before the court and therefore represents individual views of
the author of the opinion and is not binding in subsequent
cases as legal precedent.
MCL 418.101 et seq.
statutory scheme saves them the most money at any given time.
Disabled former employees can be anticipated to experience
debt and financial planning difficulties due to the
uncertainty created by today's majority decision. I question
whether this embodies the intention of the Legislature when it
enacted the WDCA.
It is worth noting that today's opinion attempts to
overturn a rule of law that has existed since 1994 without
alteration by the Legislature. This Court recently decided
that legislative acquiescence "is a highly disfavored doctrine
of statutory construction . . . ." Donajokowski v Alpena
Power Co, 460 Mich 243, 261; 596 NW2d 574 (1999).
seven years of legislative silence may not signal agreement
with Saraski, it should not go unnoticed that no statutory
change has been made to § 357(2) since Saraski was decided.
Regarding the appeal of Allied Paper Company, the issue
presently before this Court, no rule or principle of law
exists to preclude an employer from switching from § 357 to §
354. Since that is all defendant did here, we need say nothing
more to dispense with this case.