Mamudovski v. Bic Corp.

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Citation829 A.2d 47,78 Conn. App. 715
Decision Date19 August 2003
Docket Number(AC 21957)
PartiesNEDZMIJE MAMUDOVSKI v. BIC CORPORATION ET AL.

Foti, Dranginis and Bishop, Js. John T. Bochanis, with whom, on the brief, was Thomas J. Weihing, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Francis P. Alvarez, with whom, on the brief, was Christina Calise Feeny, for the appellee (named defendant).

Opinion

BISHOP, J.

The plaintiff, Nedzmije Mamudovski, appeals the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the defendant BIC Corporation.1 The plaintiff claims that the court improperly (1) granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on her negligence claim set forth in count one of her amended complaint, (2) precluded and limited the testimony of a witness and (3) precluded evidence of the defendant's obligation under the Workers' Compensation Act, General Statutes § 31-275 et seq., to provide her light duty work. We affirm the judgment of the trial court in part and reverse it in part.

The following facts and procedural history are pertinent to our discussion of the issues raised on appeal. The plaintiff commenced employment with the defendant in January, 1979, as a production worker. On March 16, 1988, the plaintiff suffered a herniated disc during her employment, for which she filed a workers' compensation claim. The plaintiff returned to light duty work in July, 1991, with physical restriction orders from her physician, limiting her physical activities at work. The defendant provided the plaintiff with light duty work, but also required her to perform other tasks that she claims were not light duty in nature.

In late 1993, the defendant hired a private investigator to videotape the plaintiff outside of work. On February 9, 1994, the plaintiff was summoned to meet with Joseph Costa, the defendant's human resources manager, who told her that she had been observed on videotape doing activities that were inconsistent with the physical restrictions she had claimed when she returned to work three years earlier. The plaintiff was then discharged for being "dishonest."

When the plaintiff became upset and began crying after being notified of her discharge, Costa instructed Steven Burgert, the defendant's manager of health and safety, to escort her to her car. Burgert then followed the plaintiff as she left the meeting to go to the ladies' room. While there, the plaintiff fainted, hitting her head on the floor. At some point, Burgert went into the bathroom and helped the plaintiff up. He then escorted the plaintiff to a security guard and instructed the guard to take the plaintiff to her car. As she was being escorted, the plaintiff asked the guard where she was and whether her husband was present. The guard answered that she was in the defendant's parking lot and that her husband was not present. She was then allowed to drive away from the property.

After she left the defendant's property, driving her motor vehicle, the plaintiff fainted again and her vehicle collided with a telephone pole. As a result, she sustained personal injuries and was hospitalized for five days. The plaintiff claims to have no memory from the time she was walking to her car under escort until she later woke up in the hospital.

The plaintiff brought a three count complaint. The first count, a negligence claim, alleged that the defendant and certain of its employees were negligent in that they escorted her to her car and failed to prevent her from driving when they knew it would not be safe for her to do so. The second count alleged retaliatory discharge in violation of General Statutes § 31-290a, claiming, in essence, that the defendant had terminated her employment in retaliation for her exercising her rights pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act. The final count alleged wrongful discharge in violation of public policy as set forth in General Statutes § 31-290a.

Trial was scheduled to commence on March 21, 2001. The court, however, conducted hearings on preliminary issues raised by the parties on March 21, March 27, March 28, April 3 and April 4, 2001, following which the court granted an oral motion for summary judgment made by the defendant concerning the first count of the plaintiff's complaint. After a trial on the remaining two counts, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. This appeal followed the court's denial of the plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

I

The plaintiff's first claim is that the court improperly granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to her negligence claim. Specifically, the plaintiff challenges the court's decision on the basis of its finding that an allegation in her second count was a judicial admission that foreclosed her claim of negligence.

"The standard of review of a trial court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment is well established. Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Practice Book § 17-49. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. . . . Our review of the trial court's decision to grant [a] motion for summary judgment is plenary." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Barry v. Quality Steel Products, Inc., 263 Conn. 424, 450, 820 A.2d 258 (2003).

During pretrial hearings, the defendant filed a pleading titled "Motion for Order Confirming [the Plaintiff's] Judicial Admission and Dispensing with Further Proof of Defendants' Special Defense under [General Statutes § 31-284 (a), workers' compensation exclusivity]." That motion was, as the court described it, effectively, a motion in limine. The defendant argued that the following allegation contained in paragraph four of the second count of the plaintiff's complaint was a judicial admission that precluded her from proceeding with her negligence claim in count one:

"4. On or about March 1998 and February 9, 1994, the plaintiff was injured during the course of her employment with the defendant."

The gravamen of the defendant's claim is that because the plaintiff alleged in her second count that she had been injured in March, 1998, and on February 9, 1994, in the course of her employment, she had no legal right to bring a negligence action (count one) against the defendant for injuries sustained on February 9, 1994, because the filing of a workers' compensation claim against her employer is an exclusive remedy. After argument on March 27, 2001, the court granted the defendant's motion, finding that the statement in count two was a judicial admission having bearing on the allegations of count one. On the following day, March 28, 2001, the court entertained and granted an oral motion for summary judgment by the defendant on the first count in the plaintiff's complaint. The plaintiff challenges the court's decision to grant summary judgment on several grounds: (1) Practice Book §§ 17-44 and 17-45 prohibited such a result, (2) the allegation in the second count that was found to be a judicial admission did not encompass the injuries described in the first count of the complaint, (3) the allegation at issue was denied by the defendant and could not have been a judicial admission, and (4) the allegation was conclusory and not determinative of the issue of exclusivity of the Workers' Compensation Act.

A

The plaintiff's first argument is that Practice Book §§ 17-442 and 17-453 prohibit the court from granting a motion for summary judgment in the manner in which it did. She argues that because the defendant made its motion for summary judgment orally, without supporting affidavits, and because the court acted on the motion at that time instead of placing it on the short calendar, she was precluded from adequately responding to the motion and thereby was prejudiced.

The defendant argues that strict adherence to the rules of practice is neither required nor warranted. In addition, the defendant claims that the parties' memoranda to the court concerning whether the plaintiff's allegation was a judicial admission satisfied any requirement for briefing or argument required by the rules of practice. Further, the defendant argues that the plaintiff waived any objection to the court's decision because she did not request a continuance and, instead, engaged in argument before the court.

"We review case management decisions for abuse of discretion, giving [trial] courts wide latitude. . . . A party adversely affected by a [trial] court's case management decision thus bears a formidable burden in seeking reversal. . . . A trial court has the authority to manage cases before it as is necessary. . . . Deference is afforded to the trial court in making case management decisions because it is in a much better position to determine the effect that a particular procedure will have on both parties. . . . The case management authority is an inherent power necessarily vested in trial courts to manage their own affairs in order to achieve the expeditious disposition of cases. . . . The ability of trial judges to manage cases is essential to judicial economy and justice. . . .

"We will not disturb a trial court's decision regarding case management unless after carefully examining the factual circumstances of the case, we determine that there was an abuse of discretion. . . . Abuse is not present if discretion is not exercised arbitrarily or wilfully, but with regard to what is right and equitable under the circumstances and the law, and [it is] directed by the reason and conscience of the judge to a just result. . . . And [sound discretion] requires a knowledge and understanding of the material circumstances surrounding...

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