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Turn of River Fire Dep't, Inc. v. City of Stamford

Appellate Court of Connecticut

September 15, 2015

TURN OF RIVER FIRE DEPARTMENT, INC., ET AL.
v.
CITY OF STAMFORD ET AL. CITY OF STAMFORD ET AL.
v.
TURN OF RIVER FIRE DEPARTMENT, INC., ET AL

Argued March 9, 2015

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Actions, in two cases, for, inter alia, declaratory and injunctive relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, where the matters were consolidated and tried to the court, Hon. David R. Tobin, judge trial referee; judgment for the defendants in the first case and judgment in part for the plaintiffs in the second case, from which the plaintiffs in the first case and the plaintiffs in the second case appealed to this court; thereafter, the named plaintiff et al. in the first case and the plaintiffs in the second case withdrew their appeals.

SYLLABUS

The plaintiffs in the first case, three volunteer fire departments, two of their marshals, and one of their chiefs, brought an action against the defendants, the city of Stamford and its director of public safety, health and welfare, seeking injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment, determining, inter alia, that certain amendments to the Stamford Charter were illegal and violated their corporate, statutory, and constitutional rights. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs in the second case, the city and various city officials, brought an action against, among others, the plaintiffs in the first case, seeking a declaratory judgment, determining, inter alia, that the amendments to the charter were lawful, valid, and constitutional. The amendments organized five independently governed and autonomous volunteer fire departments and the city's fire department into one citywide fire department, which was placed under the direction of the newly created position of city fire chief. The cases were consolidated, and after a trial to the court, the trial court rendered judgments denying the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment in the first case, and upholding the validity of the amendments in the second case, from with the parties appealed to this court. Thereafter, all parties except for L Co. and T, a volunteer fire department and its chief, withdrew their appeals. Held :

1. L Co. and T could not prevail on their claim that the trial court improperly concluded that the amendments to the city charter did not require L Co. to forfeit its rights as a private corporation because the amendments allegedly made it mandatory for L Co. to merge with the city's fire department: although the amendments regulated the manner in which L Co. may continue to provide fire protection services to the city, they contained no language that required L Co. to continue providing those services, and, in the absence of such a mandate, L Co. was not required to merge with the city's fire department, as the amendments are most reasonably construed as applying only to those volunteer fire departments that voluntarily elected to provide fire protection services to the city; furthermore, the charter phrase " shall be a part of the Stamford Fire Department" did not evince the city's intent to make the voluntary fire departments' participation in the city's fire department mandatory and to confiscate their organization, members, property and income, as the amendments' plain language expressly disclaimed any intent to do so, a construction of the amendments otherwise would conflict with common sense, and this court would not presume such a radical construction of the amendments in the absence of explicit language expressing that intent.

2. The trial court properly concluded that the amendments to the city charter did not violate the statute (§ 7-301) that prohibits towns that have established fire departments by ordinance from superseding preexisting volunteer fire departments without first reaching certain agreements with them: that statute was not applicable in this case because it pertains only to municipal fire departments established by ordinance and not to ones established pursuant to a municipal charter like the city's fire department here; furthermore, even if the statute were applicable to fire departments established by municipal charters, the amendments to the city charter did not violate the statute because they did not cause the city's fire department to supersede L Co., as they expressly provided that each volunteer fire department would remain the primary entity responsible for providing fire protection services in its fire service district, and it would continue to operate under the general direction of its chief and retain its underlying organizational structure, membership, property, and income.

3. There was no merit to the claim of L Co. and T that the amendments to the city charter constituted a regulatory taking in violation of the fifth amendment to the United States constitution: contrary to L Co. and T's assertion, the amendments did not deprive L Co. of all economically beneficial use of its property by forcing it to either participate in the city's fire department or to cease operating as a fire department, as L Co. lacked statutory authority to provide fire protection services to the city because that authority was derived entirely from the city's municipal powers, and even if L Co. had such authority, the amendments expressly permitted L Co. to maintain significant autonomy to provide such services under the general direction of T; furthermore, although the amendments required L Co. to provide fire protection services under the supervision of the city's fire chief, that change in the degree of autonomy delegated to L Co. did not deprive it completely of all economically beneficial or productive use of its property; moreover, the amendments did not deprive T of his alleged contractual property interest in his position of L Co.'s fire chief, as T did not possess a contractual right to direct L Co.'s fire protection services free from oversight, and, under the city charter as amended, T, as chief, maintained his former authority and responsibilities over L Co.'s apparatus, equipment, and personnel in its fire service district, subject only to the supervision of the city's fire chief.

Mark J. Kovack, for the appellants (plaintiffs in the first case, defendants in the second case Long Ridge Fire Department, Inc., et al.).

Michael S. Toma, assistant corporation counsel, with whom, on the brief, was Dana B. Lee, assistant corporation counsel, for the appellees (defendants in the first case, plaintiffs in the second case).

Lavine, Prescott and Pellegrino, Js.

OPINION

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[159 Conn.App. 710] PRESCOTT, J.

Prior to 2012, six fire departments served the city of Stamford: the Fire and Rescue Department, which the city maintained and operated, and five independently governed and autonomous volunteer fire departments. Each department provided exclusive firefighting services within its assigned fire service district. In 2012, Stamford's voters amended the city's charter to organize the six departments into one department, the Stamford Fire Department,

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and place it under the [159 Conn.App. 711] direction of the newly created position of fire chief. The plaintiffs Long Ridge Fire Company, Inc. (Long Ridge), one of the volunteer departments, and its chief, Stuart Teitelbaum, subsequently brought an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the defendants, the city of Stamford (city), Antonio Conte, the fire chief, Barry Callahan, the city's fire marshal, and Thaddeus Jankowski, the city's director of public safety, health, and welfare,[1] claiming that forming the new organizational structure of the six departments without the plaintiffs' consent violated their corporate, statutory, and constitutional rights. Following a trial, the trial court rejected all of these claims, and the plaintiffs appealed from the judgments.

On appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the court improperly determined that the charter amendments did not (1) unlawfully compel Long Ridge to forfeit its rights as a private corporation; (2) violate General Statutes § 7-301; and (3) violate the takings clause of the fifth amendment to the United States constitution.[2] [159 Conn.App. 712] We disagree with each of these

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claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgments of the trial court.

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. Long Ridge is a volunteer fire company that serves the city. It was incorporated in 1928 as a Connecticut nonstock corporation, and maintains a roster of thirty-seven members. In addition to owning and operating two fire stations, Long Ridge also owns firefighting vehicles and other firefighting equipment used in its operations. The company's operational expenses are funded by the city and supplemented by its own fundraising efforts. Teitelbaum is the company's current chief.

Prior to 2012, Long Ridge was one of five independent and autonomous volunteer fire departments that provided firefighting services to the city. The city maintained and operated the Fire and Rescue Department. [159 Conn.App. 713] Each department was assigned its own fire service district, in ...


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