Borelli v. Renaldi

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation243 A.3d 1064,336 Conn. 1
Docket NumberSC 20232
Parties Angela BORELLI, Administratrix (Estate of Brandon Giordano) v. Anthony RENALDI et al.
Decision Date24 June 2020

336 Conn. 1
243 A.3d 1064

Angela BORELLI, Administratrix (Estate of Brandon Giordano)
Anthony RENALDI et al.

SC 20232

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued April 29, 2019
Officially released June 24, 2020**

243 A.3d 1067

Steven J. Errante, with whom were Matthew D. Popilowski, New Haven, and, on the brief, Daniel P. Scholfield, Bridgeport, and Marisa A. Bellair, New Haven, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Thomas R. Gerarde, with whom was Kristan M. Maccini, Hartford, for the appellees (defendants).

Robinson, C.J., and Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.*


243 A.3d 1068
336 Conn. 3

This appeal requires us to consider the narrow question of whether a town and its municipal police officers are shielded by governmental and qualified immunity from liability for the decision to initiate a high-speed police pursuit that lasted less than two

336 Conn. 4

minutes and ended in a fatal automobile accident. The plaintiff, Angela Borelli, administratrix of the estate of Brandon Giordano (decedent), appeals1 from the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the town of Seymour (town) and three officers of the Seymour Police Department (department), Officer Anthony Renaldi, Officer Michael Jasmin and Sergeant William King. The plaintiff claims that the trial court incorrectly concluded that (1) General Statutes § 14-283 (d)2 imposes a discretionary rather than a ministerial duty on police officers "to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons and property" in determining whether to pursue a motorist who flees when an officer attempts to pull him or her over, and (2) the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that any issue of material fact remained regarding whether the decedent was an identifiable victim subject to imminent harm on the basis of the court's finding that there was no evidence in the record supporting that conclusion. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

It is important at the outset to emphasize what this case is not about. The issue presented in this appeal is independently narrowed by the statutory language and the claims raised by the plaintiff on appeal. First, although the plaintiff's complaint reasonably may be read to have raised the issue of whether governmental immunity shields officers with respect to the manner of driving while pursuing a fleeing motorist, her argument on appeal focuses exclusively on whether governmental immunity applies to an officer's decision to engage in such a pursuit. Second, § 14-283 pertains solely

336 Conn. 5

to the operation of emergency vehicles while responding to emergency calls. See General Statutes § 14-283 (a) ("As used in this section, ‘emergency vehicle’ means any ambulance or vehicle operated by a member of an emergency medical service organization responding to an emergency call, any vehicle used by a fire department or by any officer of a fire department while on the way to a fire or while responding to an emergency call but not while returning from a fire or emergency call, any state or local police vehicle operated by a police officer or inspector of the Department of Motor Vehicles answering an emergency call or in the pursuit of fleeing law violators or any Department of Correction vehicle operated by a Department of Correction officer while in the course of such officer's employment and while responding to an emergency call.") Nothing in the language of § 14-283 suggests

243 A.3d 1069

that it pertains to the operation of emergency vehicles under routine conditions. This decision, accordingly, does not address the question of whether governmental immunity applies to routine driving of emergency response vehicles by municipal actors.

The trial court found the following facts to be undisputed. "On the evening of March 9, 2012, [the decedent] was a backseat passenger in a Ford Mustang convertible operated by his friend, [Eric] Ramirez. Another friend, Dion Major, was a passenger in the front seat. They were headed to Major's house in Seymour at the time of the accident.

"Ramirez exited Route 8 northbound at exit 22 in Seymour, and proceeded to turn left onto Route 67 toward Oxford. At the time he was operating his vehicle on Route 67, Ramirez had activated a set of lights that were affixed to the undercarriage. The lights are commonly referred to as underglow lights, the use of which ... are illegal in this state.

"As Ramirez proceeded on Route 67 in Seymour, his vehicle came to the attention of Renaldi, who was patrolling

336 Conn. 6

the west side of Seymour.3 Renaldi observed Ramirez’ vehicle had illuminated underglow lights, and he decided to pull him over. Renaldi was quickly able to position his vehicle behind Ramirez’ vehicle. Ramirez accelerated his vehicle in response, and Renaldi sped up his vehicle in an attempt to lessen the distance between the two vehicles. Ramirez continued operating his vehicle at a high rate of speed and illegally passed a few vehicles being operated in the same direction of travel on Route 67. At the time Ramirez illegally passed the vehicles, if not before that time, Renaldi activated his emergency lights and siren with the intent to stop Ramirez’ reckless driving. After he activated his lights and sirens, Renaldi notified dispatch that he was engaged in pursuit of Ramirez’ Mustang. Renaldi pursued Ramirez’ vehicle into Oxford. After a few miles, Ramirez turned off Route 67 onto Old State Road in Oxford. Renaldi lost sight of the vehicle when it turned onto Old State Road. While operating his vehicle on Old State Road, Ramirez’ vehicle struck an embankment off the side of Old State Road and turned over onto its roof. [The decedent], who was fifteen years old at the time, was killed in the accident. Ramirez and Major survived. Renaldi located the overturned vehicle near a commercial building, approximately two-tenths of one mile from the intersection of Route 67 and Old State Road. The entire pursuit lasted less than two minutes." (Footnote added.)

The plaintiff subsequently brought this action against the town, Renaldi, Jasmin,4 and King. The complaint

336 Conn. 7


243 A.3d 1070

that Renaldi and Jasmin were negligent in pursuing Ramirez’ vehicle, that King, who was the shift supervisor, negligently failed to follow department protocol requiring him to evaluate the initiation and continuation of the pursuit and negligently failed to order the termination of the pursuit, and that the town was liable pursuant to General Statutes § 52-557n (a) (1) (A) for the negligent acts of its agents and/or employees and also was liable to indemnify the officers pursuant to General Statutes § 7-465. The defendants moved for summary judgment as to all counts of the complaint, arguing, inter alia, that the plaintiff's claims were barred by the doctrine of governmental immunity and that no exception applied.

The trial court granted the defendants’ motion, first concluding that the officers’ alleged actions "inherently involve[d] the exercise of judgment and discretion." The court reasoned that, although both § 14-283 and the Seymour Police Department Pursuit Policy (town pursuit policy) require police officers, in determining whether to initiate a pursuit, to drive with due regard for the safety of the general public, that mandate necessarily requires officers to exercise their judgment. The court particularly pointed to the language of the town pursuit policy, which directs officers to consider case specific circumstances in determining whether to pursue,

336 Conn. 8

such as the nature of the offense, traffic, weather, road conditions and time of day. See Seymour Police Department Pursuit Policy § 5.11.11 (A) through (H). The officers’ actions, therefore, were entitled to governmental immunity.

The trial court next turned to the plaintiff's contention that an exception to discretionary act immunity applied because the decedent was a member of a foreseeable class of victims and/or an identifiable individual subject to imminent harm. The court found that there were no allegations or evidence presented that the decedent was a member of a foreseeable class of victims because nothing in the record suggested that the decedent was statutorily compelled or mandated to get into Ramirez’ vehicle. The court also found that there was no evidence in the record that Renaldi or Jasmin had notice of the decedent's presence in the vehicle. Therefore, the court concluded, the plaintiff had not met her burden of proving that the decedent was an identifiable person subject to imminent harm. Because the court concluded that the officers and the town were entitled to governmental immunity, it also concluded that the plaintiff's claim for indemnification pursuant to § 7-465 failed as a matter of law. This appeal...

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