Miller v. Egan

Decision Date12 August 2003
Docket Number(SC 16730)
Citation265 Conn. 301,828 A.2d 549
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesJAMES L. MILLER v. GERARD E. EGAN ET AL.

Sullivan, C.J., and Borden, Norcott, Katz, Palmer, Vertefeuille and Zarella, Js. Eliot D. Prescott, assistant attorney general, with whom were Gregory T. D'Auria, associate attorney general, and, on the brief, were Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, and Jane R. Rosenberg, assistant attorney general, for the appellants (defendants).

Michael S. Taylor, with whom were Wesley W. Horton and R. Edward Phillips, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Opinion

BORDEN, J.

The defendants, former high sheriff of New London county Gerard E. Egan, former chief deputy sheriff Thomas Connors, former special deputy sheriffs Martin Lane, Daniel Tamborra, Richard Miller, and the state of Connecticut, appeal1 from the judgment of the trial court denying their motion to dismiss the complaint of the plaintiff, James L. Miller, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.2 The defendants claim that the trial court improperly concluded, with regard to counts seven and eight of the plaintiff's complaint, that those claims fall under the exception to sovereign immunity for actions by state officers in excess of their statutory authority, and, with regard to counts one through six, nine and ten of the plaintiff's complaint, that the legislature had waived sovereign immunity through General Statutes (Rev. to 1999) § 6-30a,3 which requires sheriffs to obtain personal liability insurance.4

We agree with the defendants and, accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

The plaintiff, a former employee of the New London county sheriff's office, brought this action in ten counts against the individual defendants in their official capacities and the state of Connecticut, based on three incidents that occurred while the plaintiff was working in the New London county sheriff's office. In his complaint, the plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney's fees, and "[s]uch other relief, legal and equitable,5 as may be proper to the ends of justice." The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the action was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, and, therefore, that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that: (1) as to counts seven and eight of the complaint, the plaintiff's claims fell under the exception to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, as applied by this court in Antinerella v. Rioux, 229 Conn. 479, 642 A.2d 699 (1994), and Shay v. Rossi, 253 Conn. 134, 749 A.2d 1147 (2000), for actions in excess of statutory authority; and (2) as to counts one through six, nine and ten of the complaint, the legislature had waived immunity for those actions through § 6-30a.6 This appeal followed. As we must in reviewing a motion to dismiss, we "take the facts to be those alleged in the complaint, including those facts necessarily implied from the allegations, construing them in a manner most favorable to the pleader." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Brookridge District Assn. v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 259 Conn. 607, 611, 793 A.2d 215 (2002). In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged the following facts: At the time of the alleged wrongdoing, the plaintiff and all of the individual defendants were members of the New London county sheriff's department (department). The first of the three incidents giving rise to this action occurred in connection with a bomb threat that the department had received in February, 1999. Because the plaintiff believed that the department had violated established safety and security procedures in handling the bomb threat, he wrote a letter to William Novi, the trial court administrator for the judicial district of New London, reporting the alleged violations. At the same time, the plaintiff notified Richard Miller, his supervisor, that he was sending the letter. The plaintiff further alleged that Miller and Lane, acting on orders from Egan, subsequently retaliated against him for writing the letter to Novi. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that on March 10, 1999, Miller and Lane ordered the plaintiff into a jury deliberation room of the courthouse. Once he was inside the room, they locked the door and handed him a prepared statement, instructing him that he would not be allowed to leave the room until he signed the document. The prepared statement constituted a "confession" that the plaintiff had violated departmental policy by communicating to Novi his concerns regarding the department's performance in response to the bomb threat, rather than following the established chain of command in the department. After eight minutes, Miller and Lane released the plaintiff.7

The plaintiff further alleged that, on two separate occasions, one or more of the defendants made defamatory statements about him to local newspapers. On the first occasion, the plaintiff alleged, Egan had made certain statements to a reporter for The New London Day, a New London county newspaper. The statements, which subsequently were published in the newspaper, claimed that: (1) the plaintiff, or someone close to him, had broken into Egan's office at the New London courthouse, stolen records and tampered with a computer; (2) on several occasions, the plaintiff, or someone acting on his behalf, had vandalized Connors' home; and (3) the plaintiff had arranged for the improper or illegal purchase of guns for the department from a friend who owned Reloads, Inc., in Manchester. Subsequently, the plaintiff alleged, Egan, Connors and Tamborra had made statements that were published in the Norwich Bulletin, another New London county newspaper. In addition to claiming that the plaintiff had been involved in the illegal or improper purchase of guns for the department, these statements alleged that: (1) the plaintiff wrongfully had asked for the department's sales tax exemption number to avoid paying sales and use tax on the gun purchases; and (2) the plaintiff wrongfully had removed documents from Egan's office and had given those documents to the attorney general, who later published a report on the department, referencing the documents.8

I

As a preliminary matter, we address the plaintiff's claim that his complaint sued the individually named defendants in their individual capacities, as well as in their official capacities. If the plaintiff's complaint reasonably may be construed to bring claims against the defendants in their individual capacities, then sovereign immunity would not bar those claims.9 See Martin v. Brady, 261 Conn. 372, 374, 802 A.2d 814 (2002). The counts that would be affected by this construction of the complaint are those brought against the individual defendants, namely: count one, which alleged a claim for defamation against Egan for the statements he had made to The New London Day; count three, which alleged a claim for defamation against Egan, Connors and Tamborra for statements they had made to the Norwich Bulletin; count five, which alleged a claim for false imprisonment against Egan, Lane and Miller for the actions of Miller and Lane, upon the alleged direction of Egan, in confining the plaintiff in a jury room; count seven, which alleged a claim for civil conspiracy against Egan, Miller and Lane; and count nine, which alleged a claim against Egan, Miller and Lane for violating the plaintiff's civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

In support of his claim, the plaintiff points out that the complaint named the individual defendants separately as parties to this action, in addition to the state. The defendants counter that the plaintiff's complaint repeatedly alleged that he was bringing suit against the defendants in their official capacities. Additionally, the defendants point out that the plaintiff had to name the individual defendants separately as parties in order to sue the individual defendants in their official capacities, so the mere fact that he did so does not compel the conclusion that he has sued them in their individual capacities as well. We agree with the defendants.

The construction of a pleading is a question of law, over which we exercise plenary review. See Home Oil Co. v. Todd, 195 Conn. 333, 340, 487 A.2d 1095 (1985). The determination of whether the plaintiff's complaint alleged claims against the defendants in their individual capacities is governed by the test set forth in Spring v. Constantino, 168 Conn. 563, 568, 362 A.2d 871 (1975). In Spring, the plaintiff brought an action against the individual defendant, a public defender, in his individual capacity. The attorney general appeared on behalf of the defendant and asserted that sovereign immunity barred the action. The court agreed with the attorney general that "[t]he fact that the state is not named as a defendant does not conclusively establish that the action is not within the principle which prohibits actions against the sovereign without its consent. ... The vital test is to be found in the essential nature and effect of the proceeding." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. The court then set forth four criteria to determine whether an action is "in effect, one against the state and cannot be maintained without its consent: (1) a state official has been sued; (2) the suit concerns some matter in which that official represents the state; (3) the state is the real party against whom relief is sought; and (4) the judgment, though nominally against the official, will operate to control the activities of the state or subject it to liability." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id.

The plaintiff concedes that the first two criteria of Spring are met. He argues, however, that the third criterion is not met because the complaint sought relief both from the state and from the individual defendants. The plaintiff's bare assertion, however, is...

To continue reading

Request your trial
412 cases
  • Rivers v. City of New Britain, No. 17863.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 22, 2008
    ...a petition to the king under English common law. We examined the genesis of the office of the claims commissioner in Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301, 318, 828 A.2d 549 (2003). "The office of the claims commissioner was created by Public Acts 1959, No. 685. Prior to 1959, a claimant who sought......
  • Mckeon v. Lennon, s. 30067
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • September 27, 2011
    ...(Internal quotation marks omitted.) Gaffey v. Gaffey, supra, 91 Conn.App. at 804 n. 1, 882 A.2d 715; see also Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301, 308, 828 A.2d 549 (2003). “In considering a motion [to modify] that involves only a question of law and not one of fact ... a trial court is not oblig......
  • Chief Info. Officer v. Computers Plus Ctr., Inc.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • September 3, 2013
    ...supra, 214; see also Antinerella v. Rioux, 229 Conn. 479, 487-88, 642 A.2d 699 (1994), overruled on other grounds by Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301, 325, 828 A.2d 549 (2003). We have expressly limited the exceptions to sovereign immunity for when a state official acts pursuant to an unconsti......
  • State v. Reid, No. 17554.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • April 18, 2006
    ...this issue, I note we have an obligation to address questions of our subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte. See Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301, 323-24, 828 A.2d 549 (2003) ("we acknowledge that, because the doctrine of sovereign immunity implicates subject matter jurisdiction, we could and ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 books & journal articles
  • 2003 Connecticut Appellate Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 77, 2003
    • Invalid date
    ...262 Conn. 1, 808 A.2d 666 (2003) (attorney trial referee's general knowledge about attorney's fee sufficient for such an award). 36 265 Conn. 301, 828 A.2d 549 (2003). The authors represented the plaintiff. 37 265 Conn. 338, 828 A.2d 542 (2003). 38 264 Conn. 538, 825 A.2d 90 (2003). St. Geo......
  • Significant 2007 Employment Law Decisions
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 82, 2008
    • Invalid date
    ...83. 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. 84. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. 85. 104 Conn. App. at 550-55 1. 86. Id. at 552. 87. Id., quoting Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301, 314, 828 A.2d 549 (2003). 88. 104 Conn App. at 552-553. 89. Id. at 553, quoting Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. at 3 17-18. 90. CONN. GEN. STAT. § ......
  • Qualified Immunity and Federalism All the Way Down
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 109-2, December 2020
    • December 1, 2020
    ...Rptr. 3d 293, 298 (Ct. App. 2016) (quoting Farmers Ins. Grp. v. County of Santa Clara, 906 P.2d 440, 446 (Cal. 1995)). 99. Miller v. Egan, 828 A.2d 549, 561 (Conn. 2003). 100. Strength v. Ala. Dep’t of Fin., 622 So. 2d 1283, 1288 (Ala. 1993); see also State v. Heisey, 271 P.3d 1082, 1086 (A......
  • Significant 2006 Employment Law Decisions
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 81, 2007
    • Invalid date
    ...his less state service was a union steward with superseniority per the contract. 62. Id., at 207. 63. Id., at 212, citing Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301, 313-14, 828 A.2d 549 (2003). 64. Id., at 214-216. 65. Id., at 218. 66. 277 Conn. 496, 893 A.2d 371 (2006). 67. CONN. GEN. STAT. § 35-53. 6......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT