Neyland v. Board of Educ. of Town of Redding

Decision Date05 February 1985
Citation195 Conn. 174,487 A.2d 181
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties, 22 Ed. Law Rep. 1200 Mary Jo NEYLAND v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF the TOWN OF REDDING.

Edward M. Sheehy, Bridgeport, for appellant (defendant).

Martin A. Gould, Hartford, for appellee (plaintiff).


SHEA, Associate Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the trial court sustaining an administrative appeal brought pursuant to the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA), General Statutes §§ 4-166 through 4-189. The trial court found that the plaintiff, a nontenured school teacher in the town of Redding, had not been accorded the procedural protections required by the UAPA and the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment when the defendant board of education decided not to renew her contract of employment for the 1975-76 school year. We hold that the UAPA was inapplicable to the board's action and that the court should have dismissed the appeal for want of jurisdiction.

The facts underlying this controversy are essentially undisputed. At the time this action arose, the plaintiff, Mary Jo Neyland, was in the second year of her employment as a certified teacher with the defendant, the board of education of the town of Redding. On or about February 6, 1975, the plaintiff was notified in writing pursuant to General Statutes § 10-151(a) 1 that her contract with the defendant board of education would not be renewed for the 1975-76 school year. The plaintiff requested and received a statement of the reasons for the board's decision. 2 The plaintiff then requested, as provided by § 10-151(a), a hearing before the board concerning the nonrenewal of her contract. A hearing was held on March 31, 1975, at which time the defendant board rested on its statement of reasons, and the plaintiff presented evidence in an attempt to rebut those reasons. On the following day the plaintiff was informed that the board had affirmed its decision not to renew her contract.

The plaintiff appealed to the trial court, alleging violations of the UAPA and the due process clause of the United States constitution. 3 The plaintiff's appeal was sustained on May 15, 1980, but the trial court on June 13, 1980, granted the defendant's motion to set aside the judgment pursuant to General Statutes § 51-183b. 4 A new trial was held, and the plaintiff's appeal was again sustained. By judgment of October 6, 1982, the defendant was ordered to reinstate the plaintiff and to hold an evidentiary hearing on the issues of back pay and lost benefits. From this judgment the defendant has appealed.

Initially we must address the defendant's contention that the plaintiff had no right to appeal the action of the board and, hence, that the court had no jurisdiction. "The requirement of subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived by any party and can be raised at any stage of the proceedings. Practice Book § 3110. If at any point it becomes apparent to the court that such jurisdiction is lacking, the appeal must be dismissed." Laurel Park, Inc. v. Pac, 194 Conn. 677, 678-79 n. 1, 485 A.2d 1272 (1984). If we conclude that the court lacks jurisdiction, it will be unnecessary to reach the merits of the appeal. See, e.g., State v. Parker, 194 Conn. 650, 657 n. 7, 485 A.2d 139 (1984).

The defendant relies principally on our decision in Lee v. Board of Education, 181 Conn. 69, 74-76, 434 A.2d 333 (1980), in arguing that the UAPA does not provide a right to appeal any action of a board of education. In Lee, we considered a 1975 amendment excluding boards of education from the ambit of the UAPA; see General Statutes § 4-166(1); 5 "as construing and clarifying the original scope of § 4-166(1) and, therefore, a legislative declaration of the meaning of the original act." Id., 75-76, 434 A.2d 333. We went on to deny the applicability of the UAPA to a board of education in a case, like the present appeal, also arising prior to the 1975 amendment. The defendants argue that the UAPA, as clarified by the amendment and interpreted in Lee, never provided a right of appeal to this plaintiff. We agree.

The plaintiff responds by arguing that the decision in Lee should not be applied retroactively to bar this appeal, the right to which had been clearly established by prior opinions of this court. 6 Specifically, the plaintiff points to Murphy v. Berlin Board of Education, 167 Conn. 368, 355 A.2d 265 (1974), and Adamchek v. Board of Education, 174 Conn. 366, 387 A.2d 556 (1978). In Murphy, a pre-amendment case, we held that the UAPA did govern the rights of a tenured teacher suspended by a board of education. In Adamchek, we held in 1978 that nontenured teachers terminated prior to the 1975 amendment retained the rights provided under the UAPA, including the right to appeal their termination. The plaintiff claims to have relied on these opinions in choosing to appeal rather than pursue some other remedy. 7

We start our analysis with the observation that "[t]he courts of the states are free to determine the extent to which new decisions are to have retrospective effect. Great Northern Ry. Co. v. Sunburst Oil & Refining Co., 287 U.S. 358, 364, 53 S.Ct. 145 , 77 L.Ed. 360 [1932]." Reed v. Reincke, 155 Conn. 591, 596, 236 A.2d 909 (1967). The plaintiff suggests that we borrow the analysis of the federal courts, which have developed comprehensive, if somewhat confusing, rules on the subject.

In Chevron Oil Co. v. Huson, 404 U.S. 97, 92 S.Ct. 349, 30 L.Ed.2d 296 (1971), the United States Supreme Court suggested a three-factor test to be met before a judicial decision would be applied prospectively only: "First, the decision to be applied nonretroactively must establish a new principle of law, either by overruling clear past precedent on which litigants may have relied, see, e.g., Hanover Shoe v. United Shoe Machinery Corporation, [392 U.S. 481, 496, 88 S.Ct. 2224, 2233, 20 L.Ed.2d 1231 (1968) ], or by deciding an issue of first impression whose resolution was not clearly foreshadowed, see, e.g., Allen v. State Board of Elections, [393 U.S. 544, 572, 89 S.Ct. 817, 835, 22 L.Ed.2d 1 (1969) ]. Second, it has been stressed that 'we must ... weigh the merits and demerits in each case by looking to the prior history of the rule in question, its purpose and effect, and whether retrospective operation will further or retard its operation.' Linkletter v. Walker, [381 U.S. 618, 629, 85 S.Ct. 1731, 1737, 14 L.Ed.2d 601 (1965) ]. Finally, we have weighed the inequity imposed by retroactive application, for '[w]here a decision of this Court could produce substantial inequitable results if applied retroactively, there is ample basis in our cases for avoiding the "injustice or hardship" by a holding of nonretroactivity.' Cipriano v. City of Houma, [395 U.S. 701, 706, 89 S.Ct. 1897, 1900, 23 L.Ed.2d 647 (1969) ]" Chevron Oil Co. v. Hanson, supra, 404 U.S. 106-107, 92 S.Ct. 355-356. The liberal approach to nonretroactivity taken in Chevron Oil and similar cases stems from an erosion of the view "that where a court overrules a previous decision the effect is not to make a change in the law but to recognize that the court was mistaken in its first declaration of it and to establish that the law always was as stated in the later decision." Mickel v. New England Coal & Coke Co., 132 Conn. 671, 676, 47 A.2d 187 (1946). Under modern legal theory, courts are generally more willing to admit that some decisions announce a new rule of law rather than a new application of an old one and to recognize the problems that may be created thereby. See Wilson v. Henderson, 742 F.2d 741 (2d Cir.1984). For several reasons we are not convinced that the more flexible approach is proper here.

The most obvious reason is that the holding of the Lee court was not the creation of a new rule of law. To the contrary, the court, in viewing the 1975 amendment as "a legislative declaration of the meaning of the original act"; Lee v. Board of Education, supra, 181 Conn. 75-76, 434 A.2d 333, expressly stated that it was finding the old law--"recogniz[ing] that the court was mistaken in its first declaration of it and ... establish[ing] that the law always was as stated in the later decision." Mickel v. New England Coal & Coke Co., supra, 132 Conn. 676, 47 A.2d 187. As construed in Lee, the UAPA never applied to boards of education, Murphy and Adamchek notwithstanding. Since we concluded in Lee that the legislature never intended to provide a right of appeal under the UAPA to teachers, it follows that the plaintiff cannot maintain that she has been deprived of any right afforded by statute. Accord Connecticut Steel Co. v. National Amusements, Inc., 166 Conn. 255, 263, 348 A.2d 658 (1974). A right of appeal from an administrative agency is, of course, necessarily a creature of statute. Delagorges v. Board of Education, 176 Conn. 630, 633, 410 A.2d 461 (1979); see also Herman v. Division of Special Revenue, 193 Conn. 379, 386-87, 477 A.2d 119 (1984).

A second reason for the inapplicability of Chevron Oil was expressed by the United States Supreme Court in Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Risjord, 449 U.S. 368, 101 S.Ct. 669, 66 L.Ed.2d 571 (1981). In Firestone, the court concluded that "[a] court lacks discretion to consider the merits of a case over which it is without jurisdiction, and thus, by definition, a jurisdictional ruling may never be made prospective only." Id., 379, 101 S.Ct. 676. The decision in Lee, while nonjurisdictional as to tenured teachers who are accorded an independent right to appeal under General Statutes § 10-151(a), is of jurisdictional significance to nontenured teachers, as this court has consistently held that § 10-151(a) provides no right of appeal to nontenured teachers. Miller v. Board of Education, 166 Conn. 189, 348 A.2d 584 (1974); see also Garovoy v. Board of Education, 178 Conn. 618, 622, 424 A.2d 297 (1979). Wh...

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