Beccia v. City of Waterbury

Decision Date24 January 1984
PartiesJerry BECCIA v. CITY OF WATERBURY, et al.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

John C. Bullock, Waterbury, for appellant (defendant Edward B. St. john).

J. William Gagne, Jr., Hartford, with whom, on brief, was David A. Swaine, Hartford, for appellee (plaintiff).

Before PETERS, HEALEY, PARSKEY, SHEA and MENT, JJ. PETERS, Associate Justice.

This appeal presents questions arising on remand following this court's decision in Beccia v. Waterbury, 185 Conn. 445, 441 A.2d 131 (1981) (Beccia I ). The primary issue on this appeal is the constitutionality of General Statutes (Rev. to 1981) § 29-45, 1 which provides an undefined preference for members of a local fire department in the selection of a local fire marshal.

In Beccia I, the plaintiff, Jerry Beccia, an applicant for the position of Waterbury fire marshal, brought an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the city of Waterbury, various city officials and the defendant in this action, Edward B. St. John, the applicant certified as having ranked first on the examination for the position of fire marshal. The plaintiff sought (1) a declaration that the procedure employed by the city to select its fire marshal violated the requirements of General Statutes (Rev. to 1981) § 29-45; (2) rescission of St. John's certification; and (3) his own certification as the highest ranked applicant. The trial court denied the relief requested by the plaintiff and granted the defendant St. John's application for a writ of mandamus directing the board of fire commissioners to appoint him to the position of Waterbury fire marshal. On the plaintiff's appeal from the denial of his requested relief, we held that the trial court had erred in its construction of § 29-45. Accordingly, we vacated the judgment and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

Following our decision in Beccia I, the plaintiff commenced two independent actions in the trial court. The first, in quo warranto, sought to oust St. John from the position of fire marshal and to declare the position vacant. The second, in mandamus, sought to secure his own appointment as fire marshal. The trial court rendered judgment for the plaintiff in the quo warranto proceeding and for the defendants in the mandamus proceeding. From this judgment the defendant St. John has appealed. 2

The trial court's memoranda of decision on remand and our own opinion in Beccia I reveal the following facts: On October 25, 1979, the city of Waterbury announced a vacancy in the position of fire marshal. Three candidates applied for the job, including Beccia and St. John. Beccia was a member of the Waterbury fire department, while St. John was not. After an examination of the three candidates conducted according to the city's civil service rules, the city personnel director certified St. John to the board of fire commissioners as the highest ranked applicant. Beccia was ranked second. Beccia received no preference in the selection process for his membership in the Waterbury fire department.

Beccia then filed his initial action for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the appointment process contravened General Statutes § 29-45. The trial court rejected this claim on the erroneous grounds that the statute was inapplicable, and that even if applicable, its language was directory rather than mandatory. In Beccia I we vacated the trial court's judgment and held that the statute mandated that the city accord some preference to Beccia as a member of the local fire department, although the statute did not expressly prescribe a method of implementing the required preference. We held that the legislature had left delineation of the precise contours of the preference to the discretion of the local authorities.

Having prevailed in his appeal, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the nature of quo warranto seeking, on the basis of our decision in Beccia I, to oust St. John from the position of fire marshal. St. John attempted to interpose as a defense to the quo warranto action the unconstitutionality of General Statutes § 29-45. The trial court declined to consider the constitutional defense, however, reasoning that it was beyond the scope of our remand in Beccia I, and, therefore, "inappropriate and irrelevant in the quo warranto proceeding now before the court." Because St. John had been appointed to the position through a process that concededly accorded no preference whatsoever to members of the local fire department, in direct violation of § 29-45, the trial court ousted him from office and declared the position vacant. In the companion mandamus action, the trial court rejected Beccia's claim that he had a clear legal right to be appointed Waterbury fire marshal because he was the highest ranked applicant who did belong to the local fire department. The trial court held that the statute did not require the automatic appointment of a preferred candidate, that the city's violation of the statutory requirement had infected the entire selection process, and that, as a result, the process had to begin anew. 3

On this appeal, St. John claims that the trial court erred (1) in refusing to consider the constitutionality of the statute; (2) in not holding the statute unconstitutional; and (3) in holding invalid the test results on which the eligibility ranking was based. We find no error.

As a threshold matter, we must determine whether St. John's constitutional challenge is properly before us. Although St. John asserted the unconstitutionality of the statute as a defense to Beccia's original declaratory judgment action, the trial court in Beccia I never ruled on the constitutional issue, having denied the requested relief on statutory grounds. On the first appeal, St. John could have, but did not, raise the statute's invalidity as an alternate basis for affirming the judgment pursuant to Practice Book § 3012(a). 4 It would have served the interest of judicial economy for St. John to have apprised this court of his constitutional claim on the first appeal, rather than to remain silent at that time and to reassert his objection on remand. Our rules of practice, however, which permit an appellee to suggest alternate bases for affirmance not ruled upon by the trial court, do not require the appellee to pursue such a course. Practice Book § 3012(a). Failure to present alternate grounds on appeal does not result in the forfeiture of otherwise valid claims.

Contrary to the plaintiff's argument, the doctrine of res judicata does not preclude our consideration of the constitutional issue at this time. "[A]pplication of the [doctrine] of res judicata ... depend[s] on the existence of a valid final judgment by a court of competent jurisdiction." Laurel, Inc. v. Commissioner of Transportation, 180 Conn. 11, 23, 428 A.2d 789 (1980); Corey v. Avco-Lycoming Division, 163 Conn. 309 317, 307 A.2d 155 (1972), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 1116, 93 S.Ct. 903, 34 L.Ed.2d 699 (1973). Because our decision in Beccia I vacated the trial court's initial judgment, that judgment cannot form the predicate for a claim of res judicata. The decisions of this court are not judgments for this purpose, and accordingly our own decision in Beccia I can likewise have no res judicata effect. See Laurel, Inc. v. Commissioner of Transportation, supra; Pepin v. Danbury, 171 Conn. 74, 80, 368 A.2d 88 (1976); Osterlund v. State, 135 Conn. 498, 502, 66 A.2d 363 (1949).

Nor is the constitutionality of the preference beyond the scope of our remand for "further proceedings not inconsistent with [our opinion in Beccia I ]." The constitutional issue was not before us in Beccia I. Our opinion does not address that question at all and cannot be read, as the plaintiff suggests, to uphold the statute sub silentio. Cf. Seals v. Hickey, 186 Conn. 337, 347, 441 A.2d 604 (1982); State v. DellaCamera, 166 Conn. 557, 560-61, 353 A.2d 750 (1974). In Beccia I we construed the statute as mandatory and suggested quo warranto proceedings as a vehicle for Beccia to secure appropriate relief. Nothing in our opinion foreclosed a constitutional defense to the quo warranto proceeding.

We turn then to the merits of St. John's claims. St. John challenges the constitutionality of the statutory preference on two grounds: (1) that § 29-45 creates a privileged class in violation of article first, § 1, of the constitution of Connecticut; and (2) that the statute effects an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. We find neither of these claims persuasive.

It is well established that legislative enactments carry with them a strong presumption of constitutionality, and that a party challenging the constitutionality of a validly enacted statute bears the heavy burden of proving the statute unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt. Eielson v. Parker, 179 Conn. 552, 557, 427 A.2d 814 (1980); Engle v. Personnel Appeal Board, 175 Conn. 127, 134, 394 A.2d 731 (1978); Hardware Mutual Casualty Co. v. Premo, 153 Conn. 465, 470, 217 A.2d 698 (1966).

The defendant first claims that § 29-45 is repugnant to article first, § 1, of the constitution of Connecticut, which provides in part, "... no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive public emoluments or privileges from the community." This constitutional provision prohibits the adoption of legislation that has no public purpose but operates to confer private gain on an individual or group. Tough v. Ives, 162 Conn. 274, 292-93, 294 A.2d 67 (1972); Lyman v. Adorno, 133 Conn. 511, 515-16, 52 A.2d 702 (1947). Where, however, the statute does serve a public purpose, the legislature may constitutionally differentiate between classes of persons, so long as the legislative classification bears a rational relationship to the public purpose sought to be served. Caldor's, Inc. v. Bedding Barn, Inc., 177 Conn. 304, 315, 417 A.2d 343 (1979); Tough v....

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