Duart v. Department of Correction

Decision Date01 September 2009
Docket NumberNo. 29994.,29994.
Citation116 Conn.App. 758,977 A.2d 670
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesBonnie DUART v. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION.

Leon M. Rosenblatt, with whom was Lynn M. Mahoney, West Hartford, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Jane B. Emons, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, and Antoria D. Howard and Margaret Q. Chapple, assistant attorneys general, for the appellee (defendant).

BISHOP, HARPER and SCHALLER, Js.

SCHALLER, J.

The plaintiff, Bonnie Duart, appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered after it denied her motion for a new trial, in which she alleged that the defendant, the department of correction, engaged in discovery misconduct. The plaintiff claims on appeal that the court, in denying the motion, relied on an improper standard when it concluded that she was required to show that the outcome of the trial would have been different without the defendant's alleged discovery misconduct.1

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the plaintiff's appeal. This case arises out of an employment dispute between the plaintiff, a lieutenant with the department of correction, and the defendant. On May 28, 2002, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint against the defendant. In count one, she alleged that the defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and sexual orientation. In count two, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant retaliated against her after she filed a complaint of discrimination with the commission on human rights and opportunities (commission).2

The plaintiff alleged the following facts in support of her claims. On October 7, 1999, the plaintiff's supervisor, Duane Kelley, wrote an incident report in which he alleged that the plaintiff was dating another female correction officer, Cynthia Bruner, who was in the same chain of command as the plaintiff.3 Kelley published this incident report to the warden, Gurukaur Khalsa. Following the publication of the incident report, both Kelley and Khalsa began making false or grossly exaggerated allegations against the plaintiff. They harassed her about her hair, despite her continual compliance with the rules governing hair length, and, at one point, Khalsa stated to the plaintiff that if she did not know how to put her hair up properly, she should get one of her many women friends to help her. The plaintiff understood this statement to be in reference to her sexual orientation. In addition, the plaintiff was accused falsely of being disrespectful to Kelley and was transferred to the third shift despite a medical condition that prevented her from working that particular shift.

On April 24, 2000, the plaintiff filed her first complaint of discrimination with the commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After she filed the complaint, the discrimination and harassment by Kelley and Khalsa became even more severe, as evidenced by the following events: (1) the plaintiff was suspended for five days under the pretext of not complying with the hair regulations and for supposed disrespectful behavior to Kelley; (2) the plaintiff received her first unsatisfactory evaluation and her pay raise was taken away; (3) the plaintiff was accused falsely of failing to follow procedures regarding sick days, scheduling training and storing facility keys; (4) the plaintiff was denied vacation time; (5) the plaintiff was demoted from her position of lieutenant; and (6) the plaintiff was transferred by another supervisor, Wayne Valade, to a different correctional facility, which resulted in a decrease in pay, authority and prestige. The plaintiff also alleged that both Valade and Kelley had a practice of harassing female officers.

The case proceeded to a jury trial on July 14, 2004. After the trial, on July 27, 2004, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. On August 6, 2004, before judgment was rendered on the verdict, the plaintiff filed a motion in arrest of judgment, to set aside the verdict and for a new trial, alleging newly discovered evidence and interference with a witness. The defendant opposed the motion, and the court heard testimony and oral argument on October 14, 2004.

On June 5, 2007, the plaintiff filed a supplemental memorandum of law, focusing the basis of her request for a new trial on newly discovered evidence and discovery misconduct. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that she discovered after the trial that two other female correction officers, Catherine Osten and Lisa Jackson, had filed discrimination complaints against Kelley and Valade. The defendant had not disclosed this information despite the plaintiff's request during pretrial discovery that it produce the entire personnel files of Kelley and Valade and any complaints filed against them. The plaintiff contended that these documents should have been disclosed during discovery because they showed that both Valade and Kelley had a history of badgering and retaliating against females, and the information could have been used to test their credibility at trial. The plaintiff also argued that the defendant committed discovery misconduct when it intentionally withheld an anonymous note, which she characterized as "a documentary bombshell," until the last day of evidence, despite her request during discovery that the defendant produce her personnel file. The plaintiff asserted that the note "accused [her] of `hanging out' with Bruner in the lieutenant's office or in the staff lounge; spending evenings with her; [and] leaving work early to `comfort' her. It said that [the plaintiff] wore Bruner's high school ring, with a pink stone, and that they had `matching hickies.' It demanded that [administrative directive] 2.17 be enforced...." The plaintiff argued that it was not until the anonymous note was revealed that she learned that her sexual orientation and relationship with Bruner was the central issue of the case. Until that point, because she had believed that compliance with hair regulations was the principal problem, she had directed her discovery and evidence at that issue.

The defendant filed a memorandum of law in opposition to the plaintiff's supplemental memorandum, essentially arguing that the plaintiff was not entitled to a new trial because it did not intentionally conceal the aforementioned documents from her and that the production of those documents would not have changed the result of the trial. The court heard additional argument on October 17, 2007. On May 13, 2008, the court denied the plaintiff's motion for a new trial and rendered judgment on the verdict. In its memorandum of decision, the court concluded that, although the discrimination complaints should have been produced by the defendant, they did not entitle the plaintiff to a new trial because they were cumulative of other evidence presented, and, therefore, it was unlikely that they would have produced a different result. The court also concluded that, because the anonymous note's existence and contents were known to the plaintiff during the entire "pendency" of the case, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was at the core of the trial, the note was not such that it would bring "success in its wake" in accordance with Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers Union, Local No. 59 v. Superline Transportation Co., 953 F.2d 17, 21 (1st Cir.1992). The court, therefore, determined that the "defendant's failure to provide a copy of the actual note, even if brought about by discovery misconduct ... did not so taint the process as to in all equity warrant a new trial."

The plaintiff appealed to this court on June 2, 2008, following the denial of her motion for a new trial. In her brief, the plaintiff states that she is "not pressing in this appeal her argument concerning newly discovered evidence. She is pressing her claim that the defendant's pretrial discovery [misconduct] so perverted the process that she is entitled to a new trial." The crux of the plaintiff's argument is that the court should not have applied the "result altering" standard of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers Union, Local No. 59, to her claim of discovery misconduct because that case involved a claim of newly discovered evidence. The plaintiff contends that the correct standard to be applied to a claim of discovery misconduct is whether she has demonstrated that there is clear and convincing evidence of the misconduct and that it "substantially interfered with her ability to fully and fairly prepare for, and proceed, at trial," in accordance with Anderson v. Cryovac, Inc., 862 F.2d 910 926 (1st Cir.1988). The plaintiff maintains that Anderson should be relied on because there is no standard in Connecticut for a motion for a new trial that is based on an allegation of discovery misconduct.

Typically "[o]ur standard of review of the trial court's denial of a motion for a new trial is limited to a determination of whether, by such denial, the court abused its discretion." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Sequenzia v. Guerrieri Masonry, Inc., 113 Conn.App. 448, 451, 967 A.2d 508, cert. granted on other grounds, 292 Conn. 903, 971 A.2d 689 (2009). Nevertheless, "[a] court's determination of the proper legal standard ... is a question of law subject to plenary review." Fish v. Fish, 90 Conn.App. 744, 754, 881 A.2d 342 (2005), rev'd in part on other grounds, 285 Conn. 24, 939 A.2d 1040 (2008). "If a court applies a different standard, its judgment is subject to reversal." Moss v. Foster, 96 Conn.App. 369, 375, 900 A.2d 548 (2006).

"[F]ederal rules of civil procedure and the federal court's interpretations thereon are not binding upon the state courts...." Mac's Car City, Inc. v. American National Bank, 205 Conn. 255, 260, 532 A.2d 1302 (1987). Federal case law, particularly decisions of the United States Court of Appeals for the...

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15 cases
  • Duart v. Dep't of Corr.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • January 24, 2012
    ...The plaintiff also alleged that both Valade and Kelley had a practice of harassing female officers.” Duart v. Dept. of Correction, 116 Conn.App. 758, 760–62, 977 A.2d 670 (2009).5 A jury trial commenced on July 14, 2004. On July 27, 2004, the jury issued a verdict denying the plaintiff's cl......
  • Simms v. Seaman
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 28, 2011
    ...required to satisfy the limitations of Varley.8 Billington v. Billington, supra, 220 Conn. [at] 224–25 .” Duart v. Dept. of Correction, 116 Conn.App. 758, 771–72 n. 9, 977 A.2d 670, cert. granted, 293 Conn. 937, 981 A.2d 1078 (2009). Here, the plaintiff is not seeking to open a judgment all......
  • Smigelski v. Dubois
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • September 30, 2014
    ...aside and annul the former judgment and open the case for a new and fair hearing.’ ” (Footnote omitted.) Duart v. Dept. of Correction, 116 Conn.App. 758, 769, 977 A.2d 670 (2009), aff'd, 303 Conn. 479, 34 A.3d 343 (2012). Our Supreme Court later modified the fourth requirement and “rephras[......
  • Duart v. Dep't of Corr.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • January 31, 2012
    ...The plaintiff also alleged that both Valade and Kelley had a practice of harassing female officers.'' Duart v. Dept. of Correction, 116 Conn. App. 758, 760-62, 977 A.2d 670 (2009).5 A jury trial commenced on July 14, 2004. On July 27, 2004, the jury issued a verdict denying the plaintiff's ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • 2009 Appellate Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 84, 2010
    • Invalid date
    ...291 Conn. 909, 969 A.2d 171 A.2d (2009). 65. 113 Conn. App. 339, 966 A.2d 326 (2009). 66. 115 Conn. App. 603,975 A.2d 59 (2009). 67. 116 Conn. App. 758, 977 A.2d 670, cert. granted, 293 Conn. 937 (2009). 68. 180 Conn. 1, 428 A.2d 317 (I980). 69. 117 Conn. App. 30, 978 A.2d 136, cert. grante......

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