Johnson v. Atkinson

Decision Date24 July 2007
Docket NumberNo. 17675.,17675.
Citation283 Conn. 243,926 A.2d 656
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesRichard JOHNSON, Administrator (Estate of Robert M. Wysiekierski), et al. v. Ronald ATKINSON et al.

J. Craig Smith, with whom were Joshua D. Koskoff, Bridgeport, and, on the brief, Lillian Gustilo, Sandy Hook, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

Kimberly A. Knox, with whom were Kenneth J. Bartschi, and, on the brief, Wesley W. Horton, Hartford, and Gary C. Kaisen, for the appellee (named defendant).

NORCOTT, KATZ, PALMER, VERTEFEUILLE and ZARELLA, Js.

VERTEFEUILLE, J.

The plaintiffs, Richard Johnson, administrator of the estate of Robert M. Wysiekierski (decedent), and Sandryn Taylor-Wysiekierski, the decedent's widow, brought the negligence action underlying this appeal against the defendants, Ronald Atkinson and Rex Lumber Company (Rex Lumber), for the wrongful death of the decedent resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle driven by Atkinson. The decedent and Atkinson were both employees of Rex Lumber. The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether the trial court properly granted Atkinson's motion for summary judgment based on its determination that New Jersey law, and not Connecticut law, applies to the present case. The plaintiffs' claim: (1) that the trial court failed to uphold the law of the case that had been established in a previous summary judgment ruling; and (2) that the trial court applied an improper choice of law analysis. We disagree, and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts, which were stipulated to in the trial court, are necessary to our resolution of this appeal. Rex Lumber is licensed to do business in both Connecticut and New Jersey. Rex Lumber employed Atkinson in Connecticut and the decedent in New Jersey. In February, 2002, Atkinson drove a tractor trailer from Rex Lumber's millwork facility in Connecticut to the company's lumberyard in New Jersey. Upon arriving in New Jersey, Atkinson observed that the air suspension bags of his trailer were deflated. He reported this information to the decedent, who worked as a mechanic for Rex Lumber. The decedent was underneath the truck inspecting the suspension equipment when Atkinson was instructed by Rex Lumber's drivers' supervisor to move his tractor trailer. Unaware that the decedent was still underneath his vehicle, Atkinson moved it, thereby crushing the decedent.

The record discloses the following relevant procedural history. The decedent's widow, Taylor-Wysiekierski, had received an award of workers' compensation death benefits pursuant to the New Jersey Workmen's Compensation Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 34:15-1 through 34:15-128. Thereafter, the plaintiffs brought a civil action in Connecticut against the defendants claiming, inter alia, that the decedent's injuries and death had been caused by Atkinson's negligence. Atkinson filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that New Jersey law governed the case and that the present action was barred because the plaintiffs are unable to bring an action against a fellow employee of the decedent under New Jersey's workers' compensation laws. The motion was denied by the trial court, Karazin, J. Thereafter, Atkinson filed a motion to bifurcate the trial. In his motion to bifurcate, Atkinson argued that the trial court should first determine whether New Jersey or Connecticut law applied to the present case before conducting the trial on the remaining issues in the case. The trial court, Hon. William B. Rush, judge trial referee, then requested that the parties submit a joint stipulation of facts, which they prepared and later filed with the court. Judge Rush thereafter heard arguments from the parties on Atkinson's bifurcation motion and ruled from the bench that New Jersey law applied to the case and barred the plaintiffs' negligence claims against the defendants. Judge Rush asked the defendants to file additional motions for summary judgment so that the disposition of the choice of law issue could be clarified for purposes of appellate review. Thereafter, he granted those summary judgment motions as to the negligence claims in counts one through four of the plaintiffs' complaint.1 This appeal followed.2

I

The plaintiffs first claim that in granting Atkinson's motion for summary judgment, Judge Rush failed to apply the law of the case that was established when Judge Karazin had denied Atkinson's previous summary judgment motion. In particular, the plaintiffs claim that the initial summary judgment ruling, in which Judge Karazin determined that substantial issues of material fact remained as to the choice of law issues and the appointment of the administrator in Connecticut, was correct. The plaintiffs further claim that granting Atkinson's subsequent summary judgment motion in the absence of new evidence or a recent clarification of the law violated the law of the case doctrine and rendered Judge Rush's ruling improper. We disagree.

The following additional procedural history is necessary to our determination of this issue. After Atkinson's initial summary judgment motion was denied by Judge Karazin based on his determination that material issues of fact as to choice of law remained, Atkinson subsequently filed a motion for reargument and reconsideration as well as a motion for permission to file a second summary judgment motion. These motions were denied by Judge Karazin and Judge Skolnick, respectively. The defendant argued in his motion for permission to file a second summary judgment motion that any remaining issues of fact had been resolved by deposition testimony that had been obtained after Judge Karazin's decision. In denying Atkinson's motion for permission to file a second summary judgment motion, Judge Skolnick noted that there was "no ground for disturbing [Judge Karazin's] determination that a myriad of technical issues exist in the eventual determination of choice of law as between Connecticut and New Jersey." Thereafter, Judge Rush was assigned to hear the case and to rule on the motion to bifurcate. He requested that the parties submit a joint stipulation of facts. In his subsequent oral ruling, Judge Rush determined that the choice of law issue before the court could be resolved on the basis of the stipulated facts. On the basis of those stipulated facts, the trial court determined that Connecticut did not have a sufficient interest in the employment relationship with the decedent to warrant the application of Connecticut law, and the plaintiffs' negligence claim against Atkinson therefore was barred in accordance with New Jersey law.

Because application of the law of the case doctrine involves a question of law, our review is plenary. See Detar v. Coast Venture XXVX, Inc., 91 Conn.App. 263, 266, 880 A.2d 180 (2005).

We begin our analysis of the plaintiffs' claim with a review of the law of the case doctrine. "In essence [the doctrine] expresses the practice of judges generally to refuse to reopen what [already] has been decided . . . . New pleadings intended to raise again a question of law which has been already presented on the record and determined adversely to the pleader are not to be favored. . . . Where a matter has previously been ruled upon interlocutorily, the court in a subsequent proceeding in the case may treat that decision as the law of the case, if it is of the opinion that the issue was correctly decided, in the absence of some new or overriding circumstance." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Breen v. Phelps, 186 Conn. 86, 99, 439 A.2d 1066 (1982).

"A judge is not bound to follow the decisions of another judge made at an earlier stage of the proceedings, and if the same point is again raised he has the same right to reconsider the question as if he had himself made the original decision. . . . This principle has been frequently applied to an earlier ruling during the pleading stage of a case . . . . According to the generally accepted view, one judge may, in a proper case, vacate, modify, or depart from an interlocutory order or ruling of another judge in the same case, upon a question of law." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., at 98-99, 439 A.2d 1066.

This court has determined that although a judge should be hesitant to rule contrary to another judge's ruling, he or she may do so "[n]evertheless, if the case comes before him [or her] regularly and [the judge] becomes convinced that the view of the law previously applied by [a] coordinate predecessor was clearly erroneous and would work a manifest injustice if followed. . . ." Id., at 100, 439 A.2d 1066. By way of example, this court has noted that "[t]he adoption of a different view of the law by a judge in acting upon a motion for summary judgment than that of his [or her] predecessor . . . is a common illustration of this principle. . . . From the vantage point of an appellate court it would hardly be sensible to reverse a correct ruling by a second judge on the simplistic ground that it departed from the law of the case established by an earlier ruling." (Citations omitted.) Id.

Our review of the record reveals that the circumstances surrounding the rulings by Judge Karazin and Judge Rush were quite different. Judge Karazin's ruling occurred during the pleadings stage of the case when, as he noted, there were many issues of material fact with regard to the choice of law issue. Judge Rush's ruling, on the other hand, came after depositions and other discovery had been conducted, and the parties therefore were able to stipulate to all necessary facts. The outstanding factual disputes that had precluded Judge Karazin from reaching the merits of Atkinson's motion for summary judgment had been resolved by the time the same issue was presented to Judge Rush on the eve of trial. It therefore was proper for Judge Rush to decide the choice of law issue based on facts stipulated to by the parties. Accordin...

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28 cases
  • Jaiguay v. Vasquez
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2008
    ...fellow employee's negligent operation of a motor vehicle." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Johnson v. Atkinson, 283 Conn. 243, 251-52, 926 A.2d 656 (2007). The statutory scheme for workers' compensation in New York contains an exclusivity provision similar to our own. ......
  • Burton v. City of Stamford
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 9, 2009
    ...resolution of the request to amend "is or should be subject to plenary review." Other than a single citation to Johnson v. Atkinson, 283 Conn. 243, 926 A.2d 656 (2007), which involved application of the law of the case doctrine, the defendant has offered no discussion whatsoever. Containing......
  • Grimm v. Fox
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • January 10, 2012
    ...the “new evidence” that is often referred to in cases addressing renewed motions for summary judgment; see, e.g., Johnson v. Atkinson, 283 Conn. 243, 250, 926 A.2d 656 (2007) (outstanding factual disputes present during first motion for summary judgment were resolved by parties' stipulation......
  • Total Recycling Servs. of Conn., Inc. v. Conn. Oil Recycling Servs., LLC., 18823.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • April 23, 2013
    ...application of the law of the case doctrine involves a question of law, over which our review is plenary. E.g., Johnson v. Atkinson, 283 Conn. 243, 249, 926 A.2d 656 (2007), overruled in part on other grounds by Jaiguay v. Vasquez, 287 Conn. 323, 948 A.2d 955 (2008). “The law of the case do......
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4 books & journal articles
  • Say what? Confusion in the courts over what is the proper standard of review for hearsay rulings.
    • United States
    • Suffolk Journal of Trial & Appellate Advocacy Vol. 18 No. 1, February - February 2013
    • February 1, 2013
    ...hybrid rule). (326) See supra Part V.B.3 (discussing hybrid approach of de novo review and abuse of discretion). (327) Saucier, 926 A.2d at 656 n.12 (Norcott, J., (328) Id. at 650 n.2 ("I agree that the trial court first should determine whether the proffered statement is hearsay before con......
  • 2008 Connecticut Appellate Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 83, 2009
    • Invalid date
    ...(en banc). 32. 282 Conn. 477, 923 A.2d 657 (2007) (en banc). 33. 287 Conn. at 574, 575. 34. 287 Conn. 323, 948 A.2d 955 (2008). 35. 283 Conn. 243, 926 A.2d 656 (2007). The authors' firm represented the defendant. 36. 285 Conn. 381, 941 A.2d 868 (2008). 37. 285 Conn. 24, 939A.2d 1040 (2008).......
  • Tort Developments in 2008
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 83, 2009
    • Invalid date
    ...supra note 173, at 111-12. 176.Id. at 112. 177.Id. at 117. 178. 287 Conn. 323, 325-26, 948 A.2d 955 (2008). 179.Id. 180.Id. 181. 283 Conn. 243, 926 A.2d 656 (2007). In Johnson, the plaintiff's decedent died in New Jersey due to a coemployee's negligent operation of a vehicle. Id. at 24546. ......
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    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 83, 2009
    • Invalid date
    ...compensation law. See, e.g., 283 Conn. 22 n. I7, id. at 27 n. 2I, and 283 Conn. 54 n. 9. 14. 287 Conn. 323, 948 A.2d 955 (2008). 15. 283 Conn. 243, 926 A.2d 656 (2007). 16.See Jaiguay, supra n. I4, at 323. 17.Id. at 346 (emphasis in original). These jurisdictional alternatives were first en......

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