Crochiere v. Board of Educ. of Town of Enfield

Decision Date24 August 1993
Docket NumberNo. 14669,14669
Citation630 A.2d 1027,227 Conn. 333
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties, 85 Ed. Law Rep. 462 Roderick CROCHIERE v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF the TOWN OF ENFIELD et al.

David C. Davis, with whom, on the brief, was William C. Brown, Vernon, for appellants (defendants).

Leon M. Rosenblatt, West Hartford, for appellee (plaintiff).


KATZ, Associate Justice.

The defendant, the board of education of the town of Enfield, 1 appeals from the decision of the compensation review division affirming an award by the workers' compensation commissioner (commissioner) to one of the defendant's tenured teachers, the plaintiff, Roderick Crochiere, for work related mental injuries. In accordance with General Statutes (Rev. to 1989) § 31-301(b), the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court and we transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 4023 and General Statutes § 51-199(c). The defendant claims that: (1) the commissioner was precluded from hearing the plaintiff's claim on the grounds of collateral estoppel and res judicata; (2) the commissioner lacked jurisdiction over the hearing because the plaintiff failed to comply with the time limitations of General Statutes (Rev. to 1989) § 31-294; (3) mental injury without a physical component is not compensable; (4) mental injury resulting from termination is not compensable; (5) mental injury resulting from a deviation from employment or willful and serious misconduct is not compensable; and (6) the commissioner incorrectly failed to admit into evidence a transcript from another proceeding. We affirm the judgment of the compensation review division.

The following facts are undisputed. The plaintiff was a tenured music teacher at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Enfield. In June, 1987, the parents of S, 2 a female student at the school, registered a complaint with the defendant concerning the conduct of the plaintiff. The parents alleged several instances of inappropriate touching of their daughter by the plaintiff. S then wrote a statement describing one of the incidents that had occurred two months earlier. Reports of the accusations appeared on several local television and radio stations and also in many newspapers, one of which published fifty-two articles about the plaintiff.

The plaintiff was suspended from his employment in June, 1987, and never returned to work. The board continued to pay the plaintiff during his suspension. A termination hearing, in accordance with General Statutes § 10-151, 3 was held and the plaintiff was terminated on October 21, 1987.

The plaintiff subsequently submitted a claim for workers' compensation benefits pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1989) § 31-294 4 on the basis of the mental stress that he had experienced beginning in June, 1987. The plaintiff claimed that this "work related" stress resulted from false accusations that had been made against him and caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown, leading to his involuntary hospitalization on December 25, 1987. The plaintiff claimed benefits for temporary total disability from December 25, 1987, to October 31, 1988, and temporary partial disability from November 1, 1988, to the present.

Pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1989) § 31-297, 5 the commissioner heard evidence on various dates between September 15, 1989, and June 8, 1990, and issued his findings and award on June 28, 1990. The commissioner awarded benefits to the plaintiff because he found that the plaintiff had established a mental injury as a result of unsubstantiated charges having been brought against him by his former student. The commissioner found, inter alia, that: no credible evidence had been introduced to suggest that the plaintiff had touched S or any other student in any sexual or abusive manner; the accusations made against him and the numerous media accounts reporting the complaints had had a devastating effect on him, causing him to suffer stress, anger, resentment, humiliation, and loss of self esteem; these effects, which emanated primarily from the complaints and accusations against him and which arose out of and in the course of his employment had caused the plaintiff to experience a continuum of psychological decompensation causing a nervous breakdown on December 25, 1987, followed by involuntary hospitalization; he had remained totally incapacitated through October 31, 1988; and he had continued to be partially incapacitated from November 1, 1988, through August 2, 1989, at which time he was still unable to return to work as a music teacher.

The defendant thereafter appealed to the compensation review division 6 (review division) pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1989) § 31-301(a) 7 claiming that: (1) the plaintiff's claim was untimely under § 31-294; (2) the plaintiff's mental injury was not compensable because: (a) it flowed in part from a termination proceeding; (b) it was caused by his own willful misconduct; and (c) it was not in conjunction with a physical injury; (3) the commissioner incorrectly excluded a transcript of testimony from the plaintiff's prior termination hearing; and (4) the commissioner was collaterally estopped from inquiring into the plaintiff's alleged willful misconduct because, it claimed, that issue had already been adjudicated as part of the earlier termination proceedings. 8

The review division affirmed the commissioner's decision. It concluded that because the plaintiff's last day on the job and his last day of exposure to the claimed injury was October 21, 1987, the notice of claim filed on September 22, 1988, had been timely under the one year limit for filing repetitive trauma claims and the three year limit for occupational disease claims as set forth in § 31-294. 9 The review division further concluded that the plaintiff's mental illness was compensable because, as the commissioner had concluded, the mental illness did not flow from his termination or result from his misconduct or any deprivation from employment; and because there need not be a physical component to a disabling mental injury. In considering the issue of collateral estoppel, which the defendant claimed should have precluded the commissioner from hearing evidence on the issue of the plaintiff's termination, the review division noted that the defendant had neglected to raise this issue before the commissioner. The review division nevertheless concluded that because the record did not reflect the ultimate basis of the 1987 termination pursuant to the hearing held under § 10-151, the defendant could not prevail on its claim that the termination hearing had a collateral estoppel effect on the plaintiff's workers' compensation claim. Lastly, the review division affirmed the commissioner's decision to preclude a transcript of testimony from the earlier termination hearing because the defendant had not demonstrated the witness' unavailability.

The defendant thereafter appealed from the review division's decision. We now affirm the judgment.


Because res judicata or collateral estoppel, when properly raised and established, will preclude a claim or issue, respectively, the defendant's invocation of this principle must first be resolved. 10 We have recently had an opportunity to address these two doctrines, their similarities and their differences. Jackson v. R.G. Whipple, Inc., 225 Conn. 705, 712-13, 627 A.2d 374 (1993), and cases cited therein. Claim preclusion (res judicata) and issue preclusion (collateral estoppel) have been described as related ideas on a continuum. " '[C]laim preclusion prevents a litigant from reasserting a claim that has already been decided on the merits.... [I]ssue preclusion, prevents a party from relitigating an issue that has been determined in a prior suit.' " Virgo v. Lyons, 209 Conn. 497, 501, 551 A.2d 1243 (1988), quoting Gionfriddo v. Gartenhaus Cafe, 15 Conn.App. 392, 401-402, 546 A.2d 284 (1988), aff'd, 211 Conn. 67, 557 A.2d 540 (1989).

The case before us raises the question of whether, in the plaintiff's employment termination proceeding, the issue of his alleged misconduct "was actually litigated and necessarily determined...." Carothers v. Capozziello, 215 Conn. 82, 94-95, 574 A.2d 1268 (1990). "Issue preclusion applies if 'an issue of fact or law is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment....' 1 Restatement (Second), Judgments § 27 (1982). An issue is 'actually litigated' if it is properly raised in the pleadings, submitted for determination, and in fact determined. Id., § 27, comment d. If an issue has been determined, but the judgment is not dependent upon the determination of the issue, the parties may relitigate the issue in a subsequent action. Findings on nonessential issues usually 'have the characteristics of dicta.' Id., § 27, comment h." Scalzo v. Danbury, 224 Conn. 124, 128-29, 617 A.2d 440 (1992).

Following the termination hearing, the defendant terminated the plaintiff's employment. No appeal from that proceeding was ever taken. The claim of improper termination had thus been litigated and determined. See Duhaime v. American Reserve Life Ins. Co., 200 Conn. 360, 511 A.2d 333 (1986). Because, however, neither the transcript of the termination hearing nor the findings by the termination hearing officer were introduced into the record at the workers' compensation hearing, it cannot be determined whether the issue of the plaintiff's misconduct had been "actually litigated," that is, whether it had been properly pleaded, submitted for determination and in fact determined. See 1 Restatement (Second), Judgments § 27, comment d (1982).

Although the issue of the plaintiff's conduct may have been the reason for the hearing, either directly or indirectly, 11 a determination of the alleged misconduct was not...

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