McTigue v. New London Ed. Ass'n

Decision Date21 February 1973
Citation164 Conn. 348,321 A.2d 462
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties, 88 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2614, 74 Lab.Cas. P 53,420 L. Mary McTIGUE et al. v. NEW LONDON EDUCATION ASSOCIATION et al. Rose LUBCHANSKY et al. v. NEW LONDON EDUCATION ASSOCIATION et al.

Martin A. Gould, with whom was Richare D. Gould, for appellants (defendants) in each case.

Edmund J. Eshenfelder, New London, for appellees (plaintiffs) in each case.


BOGDANSKI, Associate Justice.

The defendants in these two cases were found guilty of contempt for failing to comply with two injunctions issued by the Superior Court enjoining a teachers' strike. By stipulation of the parties, the appeals have been combined in accordance with § 606 of the Practice Book. From the judgments rendered, the defendants have appealed to this court.

The plaintiffs in both cases are members of the board of education for the city of New London. The defendants are the New London Education Association (herein called 'the association'), its officers and members of its negotiating committee, and the certified professional employees of the New London board of education (herein called 'the teachers'). Pursuant to § 10-153b of the General Statutes, the association was duly selected by the teachers, members of the association, to represent them in all negotiations concerning salaries and all other conditions of employment.

On September 9, 1970, the association adopted a resolution which read: 'The New London Education Association reaffirms its basic position: no contract-no work.' On that same day a temporary injunction was issued by Longo, J., a judge of the Superior Court, enjoining the defendants from striking or participating in any concerted refusal to render services to the plaintiffs under penalty of $500 per day. The next day, September 10, 1970, fifty-four teachers attended school out of a total of 283 teachers. On the same day the defendants were cited to appear at 2 p.m. on September 11, 1970, to show cause why they should not be adjudged in contempt of court. The citations were ordered to be served not later than twelve midnight on the 10th day of September, 1970. During the evening of September 10 and early morning of September 11, 182 teachers selected by the plaintiffs were served with citations.

The hearings on the citations were held on September 11, 12 and 15, 1970. On Saturday, September 12, the court found various officials and members of the association guilty of contempt and fined them in specific amounts. The association was fined $500, its officers $250 each, and it was ordered to pay the plaintiffs' costs of $108. The teachers were fined $100 each and they were ordered to pay the plaintiffs' costs of $1411.20. On Tuesday, September 15, 1970, the court reduced the fines. 1

In their first four assignments of error, the defendants claim the court erred in finding certain facts without evidence, and in refusing to find material facts set forth in the draft finding which, it is claimed, were admitted or undisputed. Since the defendants failed to brief or argue these assignments, they are treated as abandoned. State v. Grayton, 163 Conn. 104, 109, 302 A.2d 246, cert. denied 409 U.S. 1045, 93 S.Ct. 542, 34 L.Ed.2d 495; State v. Benson, 153 Conn. 209, 217, 214 A.2d 903.

The remaining assignments of error challenge the court's conclusions in finding the defendants in contempt, in finding that the defendants were properly served, in making certain rulings, and in overruling the defendants' claims of law.

The primary issue pressed and argued in these appeals is the claim that these contempt proceedings should have been classified as criminal rather than civil, and that the defendants should have been afforded the rights implicit in a criminal trial.

A criminal contempt is 'conduct that is directed against the dignity and authority of the Court.' Welch v. Barber, 52 Conn. 147, 157. In contrast, civil contempt is conduct directed against the rights of the opposing party. Bessette v. W. B. Conkey Co., 194 U.S. 324, 328, 24 S.Ct. 665, 48 L.Ed. 997; Welch v. Barber, supra. '(A) contempt is considered civil when the punishment is wholly remedial, serves only the purposes of the complainant, and is not intended as a deterrent to offenses against the public.' McCrone v. United States, 307 U.S. 61, 64, 59 S.Ct. 685, 686, 83 L.Ed. 1108. In both criminal and civil contempt, punishment is levied on the contemnor. In distinguishing between the two, much weight has been placed on the character and purpose of the punishment. Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 441, 31 S.Ct. 492, 55 L.Ed. 797. In affirming the Gompers case, the Supreme Court in Shillitani v. United States, 384 U.S. 364, 370, 86 S.Ct. 1531, 1535, 16 L.Ed.2d 622, stated the test to be: 'What does the court primarily seek to accomplish by imposing the sentence?' Sanctions for civil contempt may be either a fine or imprisonment; the fine may be remedial or it may be the means of coercing compliance with the court's order and compensating the complainant for losses sustained. United States v. United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 258, 303-304, 67 S.Ct. 677, 91 L.Ed. 884.

In civil contempt the fine must be conditional and coercive and may not be absolute. Penfield Co. v. S.E.C., 330 U.S. 585, 595, 67 S.Ct. 918, 91 L.Ed. 1117. In the recent case of School Committee v. Pawtucket Teachers Alliance, 101 R.I. 243, 221 A.2d 806, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island recognized that coercive fines were characteristic of civil contempt. There, the Teachers Alliance violated an injunction by causing and participating in a work stoppage and was found in contempt. The trial judge commanded the teachers to return to work and imposed a fine of $5000 on the Alliance and $500 on each member of the negotiating committee. These fines were suspended, however, as long as the teachers complied with the order of the court. The Rhode Island Supreme Court classified the contempt as civil, stating (p. 255, 221 A.2d p. 814): 'He (the trial justice) expressly stated that he found it necessary to impose a penalty which was not punitive in nature, but coercive in that it should assure compliance . . . with the . . . restraining order.' In other words, the contempt is civil when the fine is conditional and coercive and when the contemnor can obtain release from the sanction by compliance with the judicial decree. United States v. United Mine Workers, supra, 330 U.S. at 331, 332, 67 S.Ct. 677.

In criminal contempt the sanction is punitive in order to vindicate the authority of the court. Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., supra, 221 U.S. 441, 31 S.Ct. 492; State v. Howell, 80 Conn. 668, 671, 69 A. 1057. Consistent with this theory, punitive fines levied in criminal contempt are usually payable to the state. In re Merchants Stock & Grain Co., 223 U.S. 639, 642, 32 S.Ct. 339, 56 L.Ed. 584; Parker v. United States, 153 F.2d 66 (1st Cir.). In the case of Board of Junior College District v. Cook County College Teachers Union, 126 Ill.App.2d 418, 262 N.E.2d 125, also involving a teachers' strike, the Illinois Appellate Court was confronted with the question whether the contempt proceedings should be classified as criminal or civil. The court there found the teachers' union guilty of contempt for failure to comply with the injunction forbidding the strike and fined the defendants and imprisoned one union officer. The question whether there was sufficient proof to convict the defendants required the Appellate Court to determine whether the trial court proceedings were civil or criminal. The court said (pp. 427-428, 262 N.E.2d at 129): 'The line of demarcation between criminal and civil contempt proceedings is in many instances indistinct and even imperceptible. . . . However, a useful test . . . is the punishment imposed. When punishment is purely punitive: imprisonment for a definite term, fine for a certain sum of money, the contempt is said to be criminal. When punishment is a remedial or coercive measure: commitment of a contumacious party until he complies with the mandate of the court, . . . a fine until there is obedience to the court's order, the contempt is said to be civil. . . . In the case before us no coercive order was issued for the benefit of plaintiff . . .. Punishments the court imposed were fines in sums certain and imprisonment of . . . (one union officer) for a definite period. Thus, by the test of the cases, the proceedings were to determine whether defendants were guilty of criminal contempt of court. Their guilt had to be established beyond a reasonable doubt . . ..' (Emphasis added.)

Applying the above principles to the facts in the cases at bar requires a conclusion that the contempt proceedings herein be classified as criminal. The fines levied were punitive, designed to uphold the dignity and authority of the court: they cannot be classified as remedial or coercive. They were payable to the state of Connecticut and not to the plaintiffs. As already noted, the proceedings began on Friday, September 11, 1970. On Saturday, September 12, the court found the defendants guilty of contempt and fined them in specific amounts. On Tuesday, September 15, the court opened the session with a statement that clearly indicated that the fines were punitive. (See footnote 1.) Since the work stoppages of September 10 and 11 had ceased, the fines were imposed not to coerce compliance but to punish for past violations, and the fines were absolute rather than conditional.

The following rulings were made at the hearing on September 15, 1970. A motion was made for a continuance in order to give the defendants a reasonable opportunity to prepare a defense. The court denied the motion and an exception was duly taken. The plaintiffs called Charles Willian Frink, president of the defendant association, to the witness stand. The defendants objected,...

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