City of Meriden v. Am. Fed'n of State, Cnty. & Mun. Emps., Local 1016, AC 44483

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtDiPENTIMA, J.
PartiesCITY OF MERIDEN v. AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 1016 ET AL.
Decision Date14 June 2022
Docket NumberAC 44483

CITY OF MERIDEN
v.

AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 1016 ET AL.

No. AC 44483

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 14, 2022


Argued February 14, 2022

Procedural History

Application to confirm an arbitration award, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven, where the defendant Patrick Gaynor filed an application to vacate the award; thereafter, the case was tried to the court, Young, J.; judgment denying the defendant's application to vacate and granting the plaintiff's application to confirm, from which the defendant Patrick Gaynor appealed to this court. Affirmed.

Patrick Gaynor, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

Michael J. Rose, with whom, on the brief, was Christopher M. Neary, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Moll, Suarez and DiPentima, Js.

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OPINION

DiPENTIMA, J.

The self-represented defendant, Patrick Gaynor, appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying his application to vacate an arbitration award rendered in favor of the plaintiff, the city of Meriden (city), in which a three member arbitration panel determined that the city had just cause to terminate his employment.[1] On appeal, the defendant claims that the court erred (1) in applying the standard for vacating an arbitration award because the award allegedly was procured by corruption, fraud or undue means, (2) in determining that the arbitration procedure was fair and impartial and (3) by overlooking the panel's reliance on an investigation that was not fair and impartial. We affirm the judgment of the court.

The following facts as found by the arbitration panel and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the defendant's appeal. The defendant was employed by the city as a police officer with the rank of captain. On June 12, 2015, the defendant requested permission from Jeffrey Cossette, the city's chief of police, to take a training course in leadership, organizational behavior, and project management through Northwestern University. At that time, the defendant was serving as acting communications director, which is a position that can be filled by a nonpolice officer.[2] Cossette denied the defendant's request, citing budgetary considerations. Notwithstanding that denial, at the city's expense, the defendant signed up for the course at a cost of $4000 plus a $165 registration fee.

On September 1, 2016, Cossette requested that an internal affairs investigation be initiated on the basis of the defendant's alleged insubordination and misappropriation of public funds. Upon learning of the investigation, the defendant filed a complaint[3] against Cossette in which he alleged a pattern of retaliatory conduct as a result of his involvement in a criminal prosecution against Cossette's son.[4] Because of the defendant's complaint against Cossette, an independent consultant, Charles Reynolds, [5] was hired to make a determination regarding the defendant's alleged insubordination and misappropriation of public funds. Reynolds determined that the allegation of misappropriation of public funds was not substantiated because, as acting communications director, the defendant had the authority to expend those funds. Reynolds found that the allegation of insubordination, however, was substantiated.

The city hired Attorney Paula Anthony of Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C., to investigate the defendant's allegations against Cossette. Anthony conducted interviews and collected evidence. Anthony concluded that" '[t]he totality of the evidence reviewed does not support, and in many instances is contradictory to, a finding of retaliation.'" Upon receipt of Anthony's findings, the

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city manager placed the defendant on administrative leave and requested that an internal affairs investigation be conducted regarding the defendant's allegations against Cossette. Sergeant Christopher Fry, who worked for the city's police department, conducted the investigation and concluded that the defendant had violated several of the department's policies and orders. Reynolds was retained to act as an independent hearing officer to review the results of the investigation and make recommendations based on those results.

Reynolds conducted a Loudermill hearing[6] on May 19, 2017, which lasted eight hours.[7] Reynolds evaluated the defendant's allegations against Cossette and found that none of the allegations had merit. In fact, Reynolds determined that many of the allegations were not made in good faith and that some were knowingly false. Reynolds further determined that the defendant violated two of the police department's rules and one of its orders pertaining to topics such as accountability, dishonesty and retaliatory conduct. Reynolds considered recommending that the defendant be demoted and receive counseling, but he ultimately recommended that the defendant's employment be terminated. Reynolds stated that" '[t]he overriding thing was the reckless regard for the truth, you know, how he didn't engage in fact finding and truthfulness, which is the stock in trade of a police officer ... so the only option I had was to recommend termination.'"

The city terminated the defendant's employment in June, 2017. The defendant's union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 1016, filed a grievance on behalf of the defendant, which was submitted to arbitration before the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration. The city and the defendant jointly submitted the following questions to be decided by the arbitration panel: "Was the termination of [the defendant] for just cause? If not, what shall the remedy be?" The submission was unrestricted. A panel of three arbitrators (panel) conducted a hearing over the course of twelve days, from November 3, 2017, through May 23, 2019. The parties then submitted posthearing briefs. On March 10, 2020, the panel issued its award, which stated: "The termination of [the defendant] was for just cause."[8]

The panel made a series of factual findings and noted that the defendant "was provided an extraordinarily wide latitude over the twelve days of hearings to provide any evidence, even with the most tangential relevance, to rebut the city's evidence supporting its decision to terminate his employment." The panel stated: "This case is about a dishonest employee." The panel found, among other things, that the defendant made allegations against Cossette that "he knew were false, or recklessly added them to the litany of allegations with no concern whether they were false or not." The panel stated that the defendant

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"was clearly untruthful when testifying under oath" concerning a conversation he had had with an acquaintance, and that "it was readily observable that the [defendant] attempted to steer" the testimony of that acquaintance during his testimony at the hearing. The panel further noted that there was "a pattern of untruths and reckless disregard for the truth" by the defendant, and that he was trying to "bring down" Cossette.

On March 19, 2020, the city filed an application to confirm the arbitration award in the Superior Court. On April 17, 2020, the defendant filed an application to vacate the award. In that motion, he argued that there was "evident partiality on the part of the arbitrators" and stated that the arbitrators "committed misconduct" that prejudiced him. Specifically, he argued that the panel "refus[ed] to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy," "allow[ed] the [city] to introduce audio recordings for which the defendant had not been disciplined," "refus[ed] to compel [the city's] witness to disclose the identity of another who purportedly had information relevant to the proceedings," "refus[ed] the defendant's request to sequester the [city's] investigator . . . who was a material witness to the controversy," and "permit[ed] [the investigator] to fabricate an allegation that was prejudicial toward the defendant and refus[ed] to allow the defendant's counsel to examine [the investigator] regarding his allegations . . . ." He also argued that the award violated public policy because it punished the defendant for "bringing forth good faith complaints of misconduct by a law enforcement official that were not fairly and fully investigated . . . ." On November 2, 2020, upon agreement of the parties, the court held a hearing on both the city's application and the defendant's application.

On January 4, 2021, the court issued a memorandum of decision in which it denied the defendant's application to vacate the award.[9] The court stated that the "only proper issue" before it was whether the award conformed to the submission. The court concluded that it did. The court stated that the defendant "[did] not attack the conformity of the award to the submission" and "offered no evidence to suggest that the award does not conform."

The court noted that it "[found] none of the [defendant's] assertions to be credible even if they were justiciable and subject to review." The court stated that the defendant "substantially reassert[ed] the claims he made both at the arbitration hearing and in a voluminous posthearing brief. Those assertions [were] repeated in the present hearing: the underlying investigation was faulty and the investigators were biased. Neither of these are properly for the court's review." The court noted that the defendant presented ten claims of retaliation by Cossette, and "[t]he arbitrators found each to be meritless, with specific bases for each finding. The

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arbitrators found multiple instances of [the defendant's] conduct which independently provided a basis for termination.

"In the hearing itself, the arbitrators . . . found [the defendant] to be reckless and untruthful. They found the testimony of [the defendant's] witness 'unreliable.' Each determination by the arbitrators is set forth with particularity." The court further...

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