Virgo v. Lyons

Decision Date27 December 1988
Docket NumberNo. 13430,13430
Citation551 A.2d 1243,209 Conn. 497
PartiesHerbert VIRGO v. Christopher J. LYONS, et al.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Samuel B. Feldman, East Hartford, for appellant (plaintiff).

John P. Clarkson, with whom, on the brief, was Robert E. Beach, Hartford, for appellees (defendants).


CALLAHAN, Associate Justice.

The central issue in this appeal is whether the plaintiff is collaterally estopped by an award of damages in a previous federal § 1983 action from recovering damages in the Superior Court for negligence and assault and battery. The plaintiff, Herbert Virgo, appealed to the Appellate Court from the judgment rendered by the Superior Court on the granting of the summary judgment motion of the defendants, the city of Hartford, Hartford Police Chief Bernard J. Sullivan and Hartford police officers Christopher J. Lyons, Joseph Cardillo, Armando Lupo and Robert Doherty. Thereafter, this court transferred the appeal to itself, pursuant to Practice Book § 4023. We find no error.

This action stems from a December 10, 1983 incident in which the plaintiff claims he was the victim of a false arrest and the unjust use of force by the defendant police officers. Prior to the instant action, the plaintiff filed an action against the defendants in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. His complaint in the federal court action contained four counts. The first count alleged that the defendants' acts constituted "false arrest, an unlawful deprivation of [the plaintiff's] liberty and his civil rights and an excessive and unjust use of force, all in violation of the first, fourth, fifth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C.1983." 1 The second, third and fourth counts of the plaintiff's complaint set forth pendent state law tort claims alleging, respectively, that the defendant officers' acts constituted negligence, that the city of Hartford and Police Chief Sullivan acted negligently in the informing, counseling and training of the defendant officers, and that the defendant officers' acts constituted an assault and battery on the plaintiff.

The District Court dismissed the plaintiff's false arrest claim, finding it to be meritless as a matter of law. The District Court also exercised its discretion and dismissed the plaintiff's pendent state law claims. The plaintiff's remaining claim, seeking recovery under § 1983 for violations of his constitutional rights, was tried to a jury. On December 5, 1985, judgment was rendered in favor of the plaintiff against Officer Lupo only. The jury awarded the plaintiff compensatory damages of $25,000 and punitive damages of $1. The plaintiff also recovered costs of $1892.05 and attorney's fees in the amount of $7500. Judgment was rendered in favor of the remaining defendants.

On December 10, 1985, the plaintiff commenced this action against the same defendants in the Superior Court. The allegations of the plaintiff's state court complaint were identical to those alleged by him in the federal court action. Moreover, the plaintiff's state court complaint iterated exactly the same injuries 2 and the same claim for damages as did his federal court complaint. 3 By way of special defense to the plaintiff's complaint in the Superior Court, the defendants asserted that the "issues between the parties were decided in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut and further litigation is barred by principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel." On the basis of this defense, the defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to Practice Book § 378 et seq. The trial court, in considering the defendants' motion, concluded that the constitutional and § 1983 claims alleged in the first count of the plaintiff's state court complaint were specifically litigated in the federal court and were therefore barred by the doctrine of res judicata. It also found that, while the plaintiff's pendent state law tort claims were "not specifically litigated in the federal court case," they were barred under the doctrine of collateral estoppel because the issue of damages had already been determined in the federal court. The trial court, therefore, granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. 4

On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in granting, on collateral estoppel grounds, the defendants' motion for summary judgment addressed to the tort claims set forth in counts two, three and four of his complaint. 5 According to the plaintiff, counts two and three of his complaint that sound in negligence, count four that sounds in assault and battery, and the claims for the damages that resulted from those torts, have never been litigated. He asserts that the compensatory and punitive damages he received in the previous federal suit were compensation only for a violation of his civil rights. Therefore, the plaintiff contends that he is entitled to litigate his tort claims in a state court action. We disagree.

"The doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel protect the finality of judicial determinations, conserve the time of the court, and prevent wasteful relitigation. Res judicata or claim preclusion prevents a litigant from reasserting a claim that has already been decided on the merits. Collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, prevents a party from relitigating an issue that has been determined in a prior suit." Gionfriddo v. Gartenhaus Cafe, 15 Conn.App. 392, 401-402, 546 A.2d 284, cert. granted, 209 Conn. 809, 548 A.2d 437 (1988); see also State v. Ellis, 197 Conn. 436, 462-67, 497 A.2d 974 (1985); In re Juvenile Appeal (83-DE), 190 Conn. 310, 313-18, 460 A.2d 1277 (1983); Gennarini Construction Co. v. Messina Painting & Decorating Co., 15 Conn.App. 504, 509-10, 545 A.2d 579 (1988). "For an issue to be subject to collateral estoppel, it must have been fully and fairly litigated in the first action. It also must have been actually decided and the decision must have been necessary to the judgment." Gionfriddo v. Gartenhaus Cafe, supra, 15 Conn.App. at 402, 546 A.2d 284; State v. Ellis, supra, 197 Conn. at 463, 497 A.2d 974. Restatement (Second), Judgments § 27; see also P.X. Restaurant, Inc. v. Windsor, 189 Conn. 153, 161, 454 A.2d 1258 (1983); F. James & G. Hazard, Civil Procedure (3d Ed.) §§ 11.16 through 11.19.

The elements of collateral estoppel are satisfied in the present case. Although the current state court action involves claims in negligence and assault and battery, while the federal court action ultimately involved only a claim for violations of the plaintiff's constitutional rights under § 1983, both causes of action arose out of the same alleged wrongs, allegedly committed by the same defendants, and involved the same injuries.

Moreover, the interests protected in a § 1983 action are similar to those protected in common law tort actions. In Memphis Community School District v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299, 305, 106 S.Ct. 2537, 2542, 91 L.Ed.2d 249 (1986), the United States Supreme Court stated that "42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates ' "a species of tort liability" in favor of persons who are deprived of "rights, privileges, or immunities secured" to them by the Constitution.' Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 253 [98 S.Ct. 1042, 1047, 55 L.Ed.2d 252] (1978); Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 417 [96 S.Ct. 984, 988, 47 L.Ed.2d 128] (1976). See also Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 34 [103 S.Ct. 1625, 1629, 75 L.Ed.2d 632] (1983); Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 258-59 [101 S.Ct. 2748, 2755, 69 L.Ed.2d 616] (1981)." Stachura makes clear that the purpose of § 1983 damages is to compensate persons for actual injuries and the amount of compensation is ordinarily determined by the rules applicable to common law torts. Id. Further, the interrelationship of § 1983 and common law tort actions has been recognized by numerous courts. See Brooks v. Andolina, 826 F.2d 1266, 1270 (3d Cir.1987); Giano v. Flood, 803 F.2d 769 (2d Cir.1986); Fay v. South Colonie Central School District, 802 F.2d 21, 34 (2d Cir.1986); Sloan v. Jasper County, 167 Ill.App.3d 867, 118 Ill.Dec. 879, 522 N.E.2d 334 (1988); Long v. Rothbaum, 68 Md.App. 569, 514 A.2d 1223 (1986); Crane v. Commissioner of Public Welfare, 400 Mass. 46, 507 N.E.2d 751 (1987). In Sloan v. Jasper County, supra, the remedies provided by § 1983 and common law tort actions were considered so intertwined that the court found it unnecessary for the plaintiff, who had filed a § 1983 claim in the state court, to plead separately his state law tort claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Because § 1983 provides a remedy in the form of damages for actual injuries suffered by reason of a violation of a plaintiff's civil rights, it follows that the issue of damages for those same injuries cannot be relitigated in a state tort action if it has already been decided in a § 1983 action. 6

In fact, the damages that are compensable in a § 1983 action may be greater than the damages recoverable under state law for negligence or assault and battery. Plaintiffs aggrieved under § 1983 are entitled to claim compensatory and punitive damages, plus the cost of litigation and attorney's fees. 7 Plaintiffs who prove liability for the underlying torts in the state court are only entitled to compensatory and punitive damages. Further, the punitive damages may only "consist of a reasonable expense properly incurred in the litigation ... less taxable costs." (Citation omitted.) Markey v. Santangelo, 195 Conn. 76, 80, 485 A.2d 1305 (1985); see also Miller v. Drouin, 183 Conn. 189, 190, 438 A.2d 863 (1981) (punitive damages in Connecticut are not designed "to punish the defendant for his offense but rather to compensate the plaintiff for his injuries"). 8

The plaintiff contends, however, that under § 1983, persons whose constitutional...

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