King v. Board of Educ. of Town of Watertown, 12944

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation203 Conn. 324,524 A.2d 1131
Decision Date28 April 1987
Docket NumberNo. 12944,12944
Parties, 39 Ed. Law Rep. 142 Anthony F. KING v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF the TOWN of WATERTOWN.

Page 1131

524 A.2d 1131
203 Conn. 324, 39 Ed. Law Rep. 142
Anthony F. KING
No. 12944.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued Feb. 5, 1987.
Decided April 28, 1987.

[203 Conn. 325]

Page 1132

Peter W. Benner, Hartford, for appellant (defendant).

Donald J. Deneen, Windsor, for appellee (plaintiff).

Before [203 Conn. 324] PETERS, C.J., and ARTHUR H. HEALEY, SHEA, DUPONT and McKEEVER, JJ.

[203 Conn. 325] ARTHUR H. HEALEY, Associate Justice.

On this appeal, the defendant, the board of education of the town of Watertown (board), maintains that the trial court erred in awarding attorney's fees under General Statutes § 10-235 1 to the plaintiff, Anthony

Page 1133

F. King, the former superintendent of schools for the town of Watertown. King incurred these fees in an action litigating the enforceability of a contract entered into on November 5, 1980, between King and the board concerning King's resignation as superintendent. We find no error.

The disposition of this appeal requires the exposition of circumstances that have their genesis in an earlier related appeal. King v. Board of Education, 195 Conn. 90, 486 A.2d 1111 (1985). That case arose as a result of a claim for indemnification, filed pursuant to General Statutes § 10-235(a), for legal fees and costs [203 Conn. 326] incurred by King in a law suit brought by the town council of the town of Watertown against the board in which King was joined as a necessary party. Town Council v. Board of Education, Superior Court, judicial district of Waterbury, Docket No. 55550, (February 20, 1981) (town council action). 2 There, the trial court concluded that King had not sufficiently alleged a claim under the indemnification statute and granted the motion to strike filed by the board. We found error. King v. Board of Education, supra. In reversing the trial court's action in King, we said: "We conclude that the legislature intended to make indemnification available to a board of education employee for losses sustained from claims or suits for damages, injunctive relief or both, resulting from any act of the employee performed 'in the discharge of his or her duties or within the scope of employment or under the direction of such board'...." King v. Board of Education, supra, 195 Conn. at 97, 486 A.2d 1111. We set aside the judgment and remanded with direction to deny the motion to strike and for further proceedings. Id., 98, 486 A.2d 1111. On remand, the trial court rendered judgment in favor of King and awarded attorney's fees in the amount of $4499.19 plus interest.

Because King is seeking indemnification for legal expenses arising out of a suit for injunctive relief which resulted from his signing the November 5, 1980 agreement, the only portion of § 10-235 that requires construction on the present appeal is whether King's legal fees were incurred while he "was acting ... within the scope of employment or under the direction of the board of education." 3 See General Statutes § 10-235. [203 Conn. 327] The trial court concluded that he was so acting. We agree with the trial court.

Our conclusion that King was "acting within the scope of [his] employment" within the reach of § 10-235, while easy to state, requires, in its application, that we examine the factual circumstances that led to the present appeal. 4 While occasionally

Page 1134

cases may arise under § 10-235 in which an employee is so clearly within or without the scope of his employment that the question is one of law, in the greater number of cases the decision is a question of fact for the trier.

The memorandum of decision of February 20, 1981, of the trial court, Hull, J., in the town council action, of which the trial court Gill, J., in the present case took judicial notice, must serve as the starting point for our discussion. That decision states, inter alia: "A basic social problem that rent the fabric of society in Watertown developed out of two actions of the Board beginning with the June, 1980 meeting and finalized at the next two monthly meetings." First, five long-time teachers who were department heads were replaced because they had not complied with statutory certification requirements. Second, at 1:30 a.m. at the June meeting of the board, without that question being on the agenda, William P. Williams, the "popular principal" of the high school was transferred to a junior [203 Conn. 328] high school whose principal was in turn transferred to the high school. When these events took place, "all hell broke loose" and the "manner in which the department head matter and particularly the Williams exchange was handled showed insensitivity to citizen reaction and public relations which helped precipitate the present imbroglio." King, who was a highly qualified educator and professional educational administrator, approved the removal of the "uncertified department heads" but recommended against the Williams transfer. King nevertheless became the "focal point of opposition to the Board's actions." "The degree of public anger and resentment against the Board and ... King rose to an unprecedented high pitch and this continued to disrupt the entire educational process of the town of Watertown."

A citizens' group known as ARROW (Aroused Rabble Rousers of Oakville and Watertown) was the principal opponent of the board. From June, 1980, and thereafter, ARROW was "an extremely active and at times belligerent force in Watertown" and "[i]ts tactics at times seemed threatening to local officials. It had 200 regular members and could turn out 800 or 900 people at a town budget meeting. ARROW and its adherents were so fired up that they almost paralyzed the educational system in Watertown." Board opponents picketed the homes of board members and painted green arrows pointed toward homes of board members. Although nothing illegal was done by members of ARROW, "a very high degree of personal, political and societal tension and animosity was ever present." Because of their resentment against the board, and particularly against the five member group which controlled the board, ARROW and its supporters "effectively blocked" the adoption of the July 1, 1980-June 30, 1981 Watertown annual budget. On August 25, 1980, the town council adopted an interim budget for [203 Conn. 329] the first ninety days of the new fiscal year and on November 25, 1980, adopted a further sixty day interim budget. Both interim appropriations contained "guidelines" promulgated by the town council because of the austerity imposed by the lack of a budget. These "guidelines" were properly made known to the board and were in effect on November 5, 1980. 5

In June, 1980, and thereafter, the board was "almost irreconcilably split 5-4" on the Williams and department heads matters. The controlling group of five "generally supported" King while "some members of the four man minority had reservations about him." As a result of the "great public uproar," two members of the four member minority of the board solicited the help of Mark Shedd, the then state commissioner of education. Thereafter, Shedd sent Peter Adomeit to Watertown to act as a mediator. 6 Adomeit is an attorney who

Page 1135

has mediated "dozens of tense situations through the years...."

Adomeit found a "hopelessly split Board with ... King a lightning rod for community hostility." As the mediator, he felt that he had three objectives: "(a) to defuse the situation and remove the threat of violence; (b) to protect the interests of the Board; [and] (c) to protect the interests of ... King's professional advancement." Adomeit determined that it was "imperative" that King resign. He noted that King would have difficulty in securing another position at that time as superintendents are usually hired a year in advance.

[203 Conn. 330] No claim was ever made that grounds existed to remove King for cause. The five member majority of the board was not willing to attempt to fire King or seek his resignation. 7 It remained willing to give him a new contract until the agreement of November 5, 1980, was reached. The majority of the board felt that it was necessary to provide "a fair financial package" to King if he would resign because "he was largely not responsible for the turmoil and would be suddenly terminated with no immediate employment prospects." The five member majority "was very much concerned about ... King's family and his financial security." The four member minority agreed to the November 5, 1980 agreement because "it felt that ... King must go" and it was concerned that if it did not agree with this agreement, "the majority would agree to give ... King a longer contract than was achieved."

At a special meeting on November 5, 1980, the board unanimously approved an agreement worked out by Adomeit. That agreement included the renewal of King's one year contract and the tender by King of his resignation and the board's acceptance of the same. While the renewal of King's contract and his prompt resignation were arranged so that it might be easier for him to gain other employment, this had "little substance and probably contributed to the public reaction which occurred." The court found, however, that the board had acted in good faith in its approval of the agreement and "was acutely aware of and acted in direct response to the community response over the Board's actions and the widespread community demand that ... King be ousted."

Although "[f]rom a purely financial viewpoint the agreement was an unusually generous one," there was [203 Conn. 331] "much to be said on ... King's behalf." King "was being forced out for reasons largely not of his doing." A majority of the board "felt that he should be reappointed," that his "reputation would be unfairly tarnished early in his career" and that King "could make a strong claim that he was a mere scapegoat, caught in the crossfire between competing interests."

Thereafter, on December...

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