Carilli v. Pension Commission of City of Hartford

Decision Date06 June 1966
Citation154 Conn. 1,220 A.2d 439
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesDominic J. CARILLI v. PENSION COMMISSION OF the CITY OF HARTFORD.

Melvin S. Katz, Hartford, with whom, on the brief, were I. Oscar Levine and Theodore B. Epstein, Hartford, for appellant (plaintiff).

Leo C. Mazotas, Asst. Corp. Counsel, for appellee (defendant).

Before KING, C.J., and MURPHY, ALCORN, SHANNON and HOUSE, JJ.

KING, Chief Justice.

This action of mandamus seeks to compel the defendant pension commission, hereinafter referred to as the commission, to award the plaintiff a special disability retirement allowance in accordance with the plaintiff's claims as to the proper meaning and effect of subsection (f) of § 1 of No. 347 of the 1957 Special Acts, quoted in the footnote. 1 The case has been beset by procedural difficulties. 2 On January 7 1964, in Carilli v. Hartford, 151 Conn. 703, 704, 197 A.2d 68, the attempted appeal by the plaintiff from the commission's denial of his claim for a disability allowance was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because there was an absence of authority for an appeal from a decision of the commission. Thereupon, this action of mandamus was instituted. It was originally in the form of a reservation for advice, on stipulated facts, but this court, on June 4, 1964, quite properly refused to entertain the reservation. Carilli v. City of Hartford, 151 Conn. 745, 201 A.2d 670.

Thereafter, the parties did not change the stipulation but tried the action on the stipulated facts. Actually, the finding on appeal contains some facts not clearly incorporated in the stipulation. The source of the trial court's information as to these facts is not certain, but, since they are not challenged in the assignments of error, we have treated them as undisputed.

The facts as disclosed by the finding are relatively simple. On and before February 1, 1960, the plaintiff was an active regular member of the Hartford fire department and, as such, was a member of Hartford's municipal employees' retirement fund. The fund is administered by the defendant commission. On and before that date, the plaintiff also held a so-called 'moonlighting' job with the United States post office department for which he received, in addition to his compensation from the city of Hartford for his services as a fireman, an average wage of $540 a month.

On February 1, 1960, the plaintiff suffered a heart attack, resulting in a permanent, partial disability, which arose in the course of, and out of, the plaintiff's employment by the city, as defined in the Workmen's Compensation Act. See General Statutes § 31-275. As a result of the disability, the plaintiff is unable to continue his employment as an active member of the fire department. The plaintiff's average monthly base salary as a fireman, on February 1, 1960, was $424.66.

On December 1, 1960, the plaintiff, who had returned to, and was performing, his post office job, applied for a special disability allowance under the provisions of subsection (f) of § 1 of No. 347 of the 1957 Special Acts, hereinbefore quoted. On April 17, 1961, his application was denied by the commission on the sole ground that the plaintiff 'can derive, and in fact is, and has been since the date of his disability deriving, an income from gainful employment which is not ten (10) per cent below the income he was earning as a city of Hartford fireman at the time he incurred such disability.'

It is the plaintiff's first claim that, under the quoted provisions of the 1957 special act, 'the income he was earning at the time he incurred such disability' includes his earnings as a postal employee as well as his earnings as a fireman. The commission claims that only the plaintiff's earnings as a fireman are to be considered as 'the income he was earning at the time he incurred such disability'; that he is still earning, through his post office job, more than the income he was earning from the city as a fireman; and that consequently his earnings are not 10 percent below, but in fact are greater than, the income he was earning from the city of Hartford at the time of the heart attack.

The answer requires an analysis of § 1(a) and the quoted provisions of § 1(f) of the 1957 special act on which the plaintiff bases his claim. Those provisions clearly require, as conditions precedent to the plaintiff's right to an allowance, the following: (1) The plaintiff must be a member of the municipal employees' retirement fund. (2) He must have suffered a permanent disability which precluded him from continuing to perform his services as a fireman but which was not sufficiently severe entirely to preclude him from engaging in gainful employment. (3) (a) He must have completed at least ten years of continuous service for the city, or, in the alternative, (b) he must prove, to the satisfaction of the commission, that his disability arose out of and in the course of his employment by the city as defined by the Workmen's Compensation Act. (4) He must prove, to the satisfaction of the commission, that as a result of his disability the income which he can derive from gainful employment has been reduced at least 10 percent below the income he was earning at the time he incurred the disability.

There is no claim that the plaintiff has not brought himself within the terms of 1, 2 and 3(b) of the foregoing conditions. The sole dispute is as to whether the plaintiff has brought himself within the terms of condition 4.

I

As previously noted, the first and principal dispute is as to whether the phrase 'income he was earning at the time he incurred such disability' refers to income earned from all sources, including the post office job, or merely to the income earned from the city of Hartford for services as a fireman. The 1957 special act does not contain any definition of the word 'income' as used in the quoted phrase. We must therefore resort to interpretation to determine its meaning as used.

Article first, § 1, of the constitution of Connecticut provides that 'no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive public emoluments or privileges from the community.' We have held that 'if legislation directs the granting of an emolument or privilege to an individual or class without any purpose, expressed or apparent, to serve the public welfare thereby, the courts have a duty to declare such legislation unconstitutional' as in violation of § 1 of article first of the Connecticut constitution. Warner v. Gabb, 139 Conn. 310, 313, 93 A.2d 487, 488, and cases cited.

To construe the word 'income' as meaning income earned from all sources would base the amount of the disability allowance, which is obviously a form of pension, not on the service rendered the city of Hartford as a fireman, but on that service together with all other services rendered outside employers. Indeed, in this case, the income from the outside employment was greater than that from the employment by the city. Such a construction would result in the increase of the plaintiff's pension over that accorded other firemen similarily disabled, merely because of service rendered to an outside employer having no connection with the city. That result would be of extremely doubtful constitutionality. Indeed, the constitutionality of a disability allowance from municipal funds, computed on such a discriminatory basis, could be upheld, if at all, only if such a grant had an expressed or apparent purpose to serve the public welfare of the city of Hartford. Ibid. No such purpose is expressed in the 1957 special act nor, even if the act is construed as the plaintiff claims, is any such purpose apparent. The plaintiff claims that 'moonlighting' by firemen is beneficial to the city, because it enables the city to retain their services at low wages. This claim is untenable, at least on this record. 'Moonlighting' would appear to tend to diminish, rather than to increase, efficiency on the job as a fireman. The construction contended for by the plaintiff is so unreasonably discriminatory as to be of very questionable constitutionality.

'Courts 'cannot impute to the Legislature an intent to pass an unconstitutional statute, and a law should be construed, if it reasonably can be done, so as to make it valid." State v. Doe, 149 Conn. 216, 229, 178 A.2d 271, 277 (quoting State v. Muolo, 119 Conn. 322, 330, 176 A. 401).

Quite apart from any question of constitutionality, the claim of the plaintiff that income earned from sources wholly unrelated to his employment by the city should be included in his pension base produces a patently unreasonable if not absurd result. Unearned income received by the plaintiff, such as interest on a savings bank account, would bear no less relationship to the plaintiff's duties as a fireman than would the earned income he received from his post office job. Where the literal language of a statute or act is ambiguous and open to multiple constructions, a construction which will accord a reasonable meaning, rather than an absurd one, should be preferred. See cases such as Eddy v. Liquor Control Commission, 138 Conn. 564, 566, 86 A.2d 867; Guhring v. Gumpper, 117 Conn. 548, 552, 169 A. 189.

The court correctly rejected the...

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10 cases
  • Adams v. Rubinow
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • November 20, 1968
    ...which will uphold the statute even though that construction may not be the most obvious one. Carilli v. Pension Commission of City of Hartford, 154 Conn. 1, 8, 220 A.2d 439; Ferguson v. Borough of Stamford, 60 Conn. 432, 447, 22 A. 782; Town of Wilton v. Town of Weston, 48 Conn. 325, 338. O......
  • State v. Clemente
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 2, 1974
    ...which will uphold the statute even though that construction may not be the most obvious one. Carilli v. Pension Commission of City of Hartford, 154 Conn. 1, 8, 220 A.2d 439; Ferguson v. Borough of Stamford, 60 Conn. 432, 447, 22 A. 782; Town of Wolton v. Town of Weston, 48 Conn. 325, 338.' ......
  • Kellems v. Brown
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 27, 1972
    ...which will uphold the statute even though that construction may not be the most obvious one. Carilli v. Pension Commission of City of Hartford, 154 Conn. 1, 8, 220 A.2d 439; Ferguson v. Borough of Stamford, 60 Conn. 432, 447, 22 A. 782; Town of Wilton v. Town of Weston, 48 Conn. 325, 338. O......
  • Lublin v. Brown
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • March 25, 1975
    ...adopt the construction which will uphold the statute even though that construction may not be the obvious one. Carilli v. Pension Commission, 154 Conn. 1, 8, 220 A.2d 439; Ferguson v. Stamford, 60 Conn. 432, 447, 22 A. 782; Wilton v. Weston, 48 Conn. 325, 338.' To like effect, we said in Ed......
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