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Ferry v. A Brookfield Party

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Danbury, Danbury

August 19, 2015

Mark Ferry et al.
v.
A Brookfield Party et al

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE PLAINTIFFS' APPLICATION FOR TEMPORARY INJUNCTION, DECLARATORY JUDGMENT, WRIT OF QUO WARRANTO & WRIT OF MANDAMUS

Anthony D. Truglia, Jr., J.

The plaintiffs in the above-captioned action, Mark Ferry and Daniel Devorsetz, [1] have filed an application for a temporary injunction, writ of quo warranto and writ of mandamus against the defendants, A Brookfield Party, Robert J. Gianazza, Eve Sturdevant and Robert Iacobello. The plaintiffs are members who enrolled on or after April 29, 2015 in the defendant A Brookfield Party, which is a minor party established in the Town of Brookfield in 2009. The individual defendants are the current chairman, secretary, and treasurer of A Brookfield Party. The plaintiffs filed a five-count amended verified complaint, as well as an amended application for a temporary injunction, against the defendants dated July 30, 2015 in which they allege that the individual defendants do not rightfully hold the offices of chairman, secretary and treasurer of the party, and that actions that they have recently taken on behalf of the party are unlawful. The plaintiffs specifically allege that the defendants have failed to take certain actions required by the party's bylaws, including electing new party officers and holding a party caucus to make endorsements for upcoming elections, as soon as party registration exceeded fifty members. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants amended the party bylaws on April 30, 2015, and reelected themselves to their current positions. When party registration totaled fifty-three members on May 5, 2015, according to the plaintiffs, the defendants were required to hold a caucus within sixty days at which all members of the party could attend and participate in electing party members and preparing a slate of endorsed candidates for the November municipal elections. The plaintiffs allege that shortly after passing this threshold membership number, they notified the defendants of the increase in party membership and requested a party caucus pursuant to party bylaws. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants rebuffed and refused all of their requests and proceeded to hold an illegal party caucus on July 29, 2015.

The plaintiffs now make application to this court for the following immediate relief: (1) direct the defendants to hold a party caucus within seven days of the court's order to elect five individuals to serve as members of the party's town committee, provide notice by publication in a newspaper of general circulation, and to permit all members who enrolled in the party at least sixty days prior to the date of the party caucus to participate; (2) issue a writ of quo warranto removing the individual defendants from their officer positions and positions on the town committee; (3) enjoin the individual defendants from conducting any party business; (4) declare the results of the April 30, 2015 meeting null and void; (5) declare the bylaws adopted at the April 30 meeting null and void, including the amendment that increased the number of registered members triggering an obligation on the part of the town committee to hold a party caucus from fifty to 500; and (6) declare the results of the July 29, 2015 party caucus null and void.

The defendants assert in opposition to the plaintiffs' amended verified complaint and application for immediate relief that they lawfully hold their positions as officers of A Brookfield Party, and that all actions which they have taken on behalf of the party are valid. They assert that they have operated within the requirements of state laws governing management of minor parties in Connecticut, and in accordance with the duly-enacted party bylaws. The defendants also argue that the equities of the case do not favor the plaintiffs' last-minute attempt to have the court intervene in a dispute between rival members of a political party. Therefore, according to the defendants, the plaintiffs have no right to challenge either the defendants' rights to hold office within the party or the slate of candidates endorsed by the defendants at the July 29, 2015 party meeting.

The court held an evidentiary hearing on the plaintiffs' application for temporary injunction and temporary order for a writ of mandamus on August 12, 2015. All parties appeared and were heard.

After hearing the evidence presented by both sides, the court finds as follows:

1. The plaintiffs are residents of the Town of Brookfield, Connecticut. They are both duly enrolled members of the defendant political party, A Brookfield Party. Mark Ferry filed his request for a party enrollment change on May 4, 2015; the registrar's office accepted it on May 5, 2015. Daniel Devorsetz filed his request for a party enrollment change on April 28, 2015; the registrar's office accepted his request on April 29, 2015. (Plaintiff's Ex. 11.)

2. Defendant A Brookfield Party is a minor political party which " achieved minor party status on November 8, 2011" pursuant to General Statutes § 9-372(6)[2] (Plaintiff's Ex. 2). The designated agents of A Brookfield Party adopted bylaws for the party on or about November 18, 2012 (Plaintiff's Ex. 2). The bylaws were filed with the Connecticut Secretary of State on or about November 26, 2012.

3. Defendants Robert J. Gianazza, Eve J. Sturdevant and Robert Iacobello are residents of the Town of Brookfield, Connecticut. Gianazza and Iacobello have served as the chairman and treasurer of A Brookfield Party since their appointment pursuant to the bylaws in February or March of 2013 (Plaintiff's Ex. 3). On or about April 4, 2013, Gianazza and Audrey J. Standt, then secretary of the party, adopted a second set of bylaws (Plaintiffs' Ex. 4) and filed them with the Brookfield Town Clerk and Connecticut Secretary of the State. The April 2013 bylaws are identical in every respect to the earlier version adopted by the designated agents in November of 2012.

4. Article A of the April 2013 bylaws states that " [t]he town committee for the A Brookfield Party shall consist of 3 officers; Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer until the party registration exceeds 50 members, whereupon these by-laws will be revised." Article B of the April 2013 bylaws states that " [a] party caucus shall be scheduled by the original A Brookfield Party committee and held within 60 days of the date that the A Brookfield Party exceeds 50 registered voters as verified by the Brookfield Registrar of voters."

5. On or about April 22, 2015, Standt notified Gianazza of her intention to resign as party secretary. That day, or the next, Gianazza notified Iacobello and Sturdevant by telephone that he planned to call a party meeting at his home on April 30, 2015 for the purpose of filling the vacancy in the office of party secretary and adopting new party bylaws.

6. On April 29, 2015, plaintiff Devorsetz enrolled as a member of A Brookfield Party.

7. At the party meeting held on April 30, 2015, a motion was made and carried by committee vote to appoint defendant Eve Sturdevant to serve as Secretary of the party due to the resignation of Ms. Standt. (Plaintiffs' Ex. 6).

8. At this meeting, the defendants also moved for adoption of a new third set of bylaws for the party (Plaintiffs' Ex. 7). The third set of bylaws is nearly identical to the two earlier sets, with the most significant amendment being a change to the number of registered voters referenced in the first sentences of Articles A and B. The April 30, 2015 bylaws increase the threshold number of registered members of the party that will require the bylaws to be revised and a party caucus to be called from 50 to 500 (Plaintiffs' Ex. 7). After motion and discussion at the meeting, the party committee members voted to approve the amendments on April 30, 2015. The new bylaws were filed with the Brookfield Town Clerk on May 1, 2015 and thereafter with the Connecticut Secretary of State on May 5, 2015.

9. On April 30, 2015, there were three registered members of A Brookfield Party, including plaintiff Devorsetz (Plaintiff's Exhibits 12 & 13).

10. On May 1, 2015, the enrollment list of A Brookfield Party contained 11 persons registered as ...


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