Papa v. New Haven Federation of Teachers

Decision Date27 April 1982
Citation186 Conn. 725,444 A.2d 196
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties, 116 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2368, 3 Ed. Law Rep. 998 Stephen G. PAPA et al. v. NEW HAVEN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS et al.

Roger J. Frechette, New Haven, for appellees (plaintiffs).


SPEZIALE, Chief Justice.

This appeal concerns a teachers' strike in New Haven during November 1975. The plaintiffs are the New Haven board of education and its members at the time of the strike. The defendants are the New Haven Federation of Teachers, which is the certified bargaining representative for New Haven's teachers under General Statutes § 10-153b, and numerous specifically named teachers. The defendants were found in contempt for violating a temporary injunction prohibiting the continuance of the strike and have appealed. Before the defendants purged themselves of contempt and the strike was settled, approximately ninety teachers were incarcerated for various periods of time during the eleven days of the strike and fines totaling $224,500 were imposed.


Before we consider the defendants' numerous claims of error, a review of the trial court's actions concerning the strike will be helpful. On November 10, 1975, counsel for the plaintiff New Haven board of education applied to the Superior Court for an ex parte injunction under General Statutes § 10-153e 1 to enjoin the defendant New Haven Federation of Teachers (hereinafter the Federation) and the certified professional employees, i.e., the teachers, from participating in the strike which had begun Two days later, on November 12, the plaintiffs moved for an order to show cause why the Federation and certain named teachers should not be held in contempt for violating the injunction. On that date two such orders were issued by the trial court, Saden, J., with the first directed to the Federation and the twelve teachers who comprised its negotiating team and the second to a larger group of teachers. Also on November 12, the defendants moved to dissolve the temporary injunction. The hearing on the first show cause order and the defendants' motion to dissolve was held on November 13 before Judge Saden, and at that time the defendants moved for the recusal of Judge Saden, referring to a speech given by Judge Saden about a month earlier in which he was critical of various illegal activities, including strikes by teachers. 2 Judge Saden denied the motions and found the Federation and the twelve-member negotiating team to be in contempt. 3 The court imposed conditional and coercive penalties on the defendants found in contempt, which could be avoided entirely if the defendants returned to work by the next morning. In the event that the contempt continued, the twelve teachers on the negotiating team were to be incarcerated until they purged themselves of contempt and were to be fined $250 for each day they remained in contempt. The Federation was to be fined $5000 per day. The strike did not end by the next morning so the conditional penalties were imposed.

                earlier in the day.   The temporary injunction[186 Conn. 728]  was issued on November 10, 1975, by the trial court, O'Sullivan, J.   Counsel for the defendants unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a hearing prior to the issuance of the ex parte injunction

On November 18, 1975, a larger group of teachers appeared before the court on the second show cause order. At this time, another seventy-five teachers were found to be in contempt. 4 Again, the conditional and coercive penalties of incarceration and $250 per day fines were imposed.

On November 24, 1975, after a breakthrough in negotiations, the strike was settled and the defendants appeared in court to purge themselves of contempt. At this hearing the defendants orally moved for remittance or rescission of the fines. The defendants also orally renewed their motion for recusal of Judge Saden, specifically referring to a reporter's interview On appeal the defendants claim that the trial court's contempt judgments were erroneous for the following reasons: (1) the underlying injunction was invalid because the authorizing statute was unconstitutional and it did not authorize an injunction against the Federation; (2) the contempt penalties imposed were improper because simultaneous penalties were unauthorized or an abuse of discretion, and penalties were imposed for days on which the defendants could not purge themselves of contempt; and (3) the court erroneously denied the defendants' motions for recusal. The defendants have also challenged a number of the trial court's findings.

                with Judge Saden concerning the case which had appeared in a newspaper on November 23.   The defendants also moved for a mistrial.   These motions were denied by Judge Saden from the bench on the same day.   The defendants timely filed their appeal. 5

Because this is an appeal from a judgment of civil contempt, our review is technically limited to "questions of jurisdiction such as whether the court had authority to impose the punishment inflicted and whether the act or acts for which the penalty was imposed could constitute a contempt." State v. Jackson, 147 Conn. 167, 170, 158 A.2d 166 (1960); see Leslie v. Leslie, 174 Conn. 399, 402-403, 389 A.2d 747 (1978); Potter v. Board of Selectmen, 174 Conn. 195, 197, 384 A.2d 369 (1978); Tobey v. Tobey, 165 Conn. 742, 746, 345 A.2d 21 (1974); Stoner v. Stoner, 163 Conn. 345, 359, 307 A.2d 146 (1972); Goodhart v. State, 84 Conn. 60, 63, 78 A. 853 (1911). This limitation originates because by its very nature the court's contempt power, "to be effectual, must be immediate and peremptory, and not subject to suspension at the mere will of the offender." Tyler v. Hamersley, 44 Conn. 393, 412 (1877). It is for this reason that an appeal from a civil contempt judgment does not automatically stay its execution. Id.; cf. Practice Book § 3065. Indeed, the conditional and coercive nature of civil contempt would be rendered virtually meaningless were the trial court's power automatically stayed by an appeal. 6

On the other hand, the trial court's need for immediate and effective contempt power must be balanced against the contemnor's fundamental rights and, for this reason, there exists the present mechanism for the eventual review of errors which allegedly infringe on these rights. See Baldwin v. Miles, 58 Conn. 496, 498, 20 A. 618 (1890). We have found a civil contempt to be improper or erroneous because: the injunction on which it was based was vague and indefinite; Baldwin v. Miles, supra, 502, 20 A. 618; the findings on which it was based were ambiguous and irreconcilable; Leslie v. Leslie, supra, 174 Conn. 404, 389 A.2d 747; the contemnor's constitutional rights were not properly safeguarded;

                Board of Education v. Shelton Education Ass'n, 173 Conn. 81, 87, 376 A.2d 1080 (1977);  the penalties imposed were criminal rather than civil in nature;   McTigue v. New London Education Ass'n, 164 Conn. 348, 355-56, 321 A.2d 462 (1973);  and the contemnor, through no fault of his own, was unable to obey the court's order.   Tobey v. Tobey, supra, 165 Conn. 746, 345 A.2d 21.   Thus, although the scope of review on an appeal from a judgment of civil contempt is limited to some extent, it is sufficiently broad to encompass many claims of error which may not appear on their face to be jurisdictional in nature.   See  Baldwin v. Miles, supra

The defendants' first claim of error is that the contempt judgment is based on an invalid injunction, because the statute authorizing this injunction is (A) unconstitutional and (B) not applicable to the Federation. The issuance of a temporary injunction, of course, is not a final judgment and, thus, is not itself appealable. Board of Education v. Shelton Education Ass'n, supra, 173 Conn. 87-88, 376 A.2d 1080; cf. General Statutes § 31-118 (providing for appeals from temporary injunctions in certain labor disputes). As a consequence, only those claims of error which concern the court's authority to issue the injunction and thereby its authority to find contempt for violations thereof may be reviewed in the present proceeding. Thus, certain claims by the defendants concerning the injunction are not reviewable because they concern the court's discretion, not its authority. 7


The defendants contend that the statute which authorized the injunction in this case, § 10-153e, 8 is unconstitutional because it violates the due process and equal protection guarantees. The defendants do not challenge the constitutionality of the statute's underlying prohibition of teachers' strikes, which has been upheld by this court. See McTigue v. New London Education Ass'n, supra, 164 Conn. 359, 321 A.2d 345; Norwalk Teachers' Ass'n v. Board of Education, 138 Conn. 269, 276, 83 A.2d 482 (1951). Rather, the defendants challenge the statute's authorization of an automatic ex parte injunction, without any showing of the need for an injunction, without notice. Cf. General Statutes § 52-473 (providing for an ex parte injunction only upon a showing that irreparable harm will result before the matter can be heard on notice). According to the defendants, the automatic ex parte injunction violates their due process notice rights and, because such an injunction is available against only teachers and not other government employees, violates their equal protection rights as well.

It is important to note that § 10-153e was amended soon after the New Haven teachers' strike, and the provision authorizing an automatic ex parte injunction was deleted. Public Acts 1976, No. 76-403 § 5. In its place, the issuance of the authorized injunction was made subject to the procedure...

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