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Meyers v. Curtin Motor Livery Service, Inc.

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Waterbury, Waterbury

October 1, 2015

Walter Meyers
Curtin Motor Livery Service, Inc. et al


Andrew W. Roraback, J.



On April 1, 2015, the plaintiff, Walter Meyers, filed a two-count amended complaint against his employer Curtin Motor Livery Service, Inc. (hereinafter " Curtin"), and his supervisor John Gordona (hereinafter " Gordona"). Each defendant is the subject of a separate count. This action arises out of an activity undertaken by the plaintiff on February 10, 2013, following a blizzard which left large amounts of snow in Waterbury. The amended complaint alleges that on that date, Gordona directed the plaintiff to start several vehicles on the lot where Curtin's vehicles were stored, to remove the snow which had accumulated on those vehicles, and then to move the vehicles. It is further alleged that in the course of complying with Gordona's directives, the plaintiff suffered the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, which resulted in him suffering damages. This action ensued.

The defendants filed a motion to strike both counts of the plaintiff's amended complaint and a memorandum in support of that motion on April 9, 2015. On May 27, 2015, the defendants also filed a reply to the plaintiff's memorandum in opposition to the motion which had been filed on April 20, 2015. The grounds for the motion are that the exclusivity provisions of the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Act, found in General Statutes § 31-284(a), preclude the plaintiff from bringing this claim against both his fellow employee, Gordona, and their common employer, Curtin. By way of opposition to this motion, the plaintiff contends that the motor vehicle exception found in General Statutes § 31-293a applies, and, therefore, the motion to strike should be denied.



" The purpose of a motion to strike is to challenge the legal sufficiency of the allegations of a complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted." Bennett v. Connecticut Hospice, Inc., 56 Conn.App. 134, 136, 741 A.2d 349 (1999), cert. denied, 252 Conn. 938, 747 A.2d 2 (2000). " The motion admits all facts well pleaded . . . but does not admit legal conclusions or the truth or accuracy of opinions." (Citation omitted.) Id. " [T]he trial court's inquiry is to ascertain whether the allegations in each count, if proven, would state a claim on which relief could be granted." Id. In doing so the court must " construe the complaint in the manner most favorable to sustaining its legal sufficiency." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) McCoy v. New Haven, 92 Conn.App. 558, 561, 886 A.2d 489 (2005). " A determination regarding the legal sufficiency of a claim is, therefore, a conclusion of law, not a finding of fact." Emerick v. Kuhn, 52 Conn.App. 724, 728-29, 737 A.2d 456, cert. denied, 249 Conn. 929, 738 A.2d 653 (1999). " A motion to strike is properly granted if the complaint alleges mere conclusions of law that are unsupported by the facts alleged." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Donar v. King Associates, Inc., 67 Conn.App. 346, 349, 786 A.2d 1256 (2001). " If facts provable in the complaint would support a cause of action, the motion to strike must be denied." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Faulkner v. United Technologies Corp., 240 Conn. 576, 580, 693 A.2d 293 (1997).

It is helpful to begin this analysis with a review of the language of the statutes upon which the parties rely to support their respective arguments. First, § 31-284(a) provides in relevant part: " [A]n employer who complies with the requirements [to provide Workers' Compensation coverage for its employees] shall not be liable for any action for damages on account of personal injury sustained by an employee arising out of and in the course of his employment." Section 31-293a provides that when an employee has received workers' compensation benefits as a result of a workplace injury, " no action may be brought against [a fellow employee whose negligence is alleged to have caused that injury] unless . . . the action is based on the fellow employee's negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle . . ."

In this case, the plaintiff argues that the second count of his complaint alleges that his carbon monoxide poisoning was the result of his fellow employee, Gordona's, negligence. Because Gordona directing the plaintiff to start, clean, and move the snow-covered vehicles, plaintiff claims Gordona was negligent " in the operation of a motor vehicle, " and thus subject to liability under § 31-293a.

The allegation in the complaint that " while cleaning off the cars and with them running, the plaintiff suffered the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, " provides an incomplete picture of precisely where the plaintiff was and what he was doing at the time he claims to have been exposed to carbon monoxide. Nevertheless, the parties give considerable attention to the question of whether what has been alleged can be construed as taking place " in the operation of a motor vehicle" so as to satisfy the exception of § 31-293a. This decision, however, will not decide that question because of the plaintiff's failure to sufficiently allege facts showing that a fellow employee was negligent in the operation of a vehicle. The plaintiff claims that he was acting at Gordona's direction in performing the work which gave rise to the injury. The plaintiff argues, therefore, that he was merely acting as Gordona's alter ego in all that he was doing to and with the snow-covered vehicles. Thus, the plaintiff maintains that negligence can be imputed to Gordona arising out of the plaintiffs alleged operation of the motor vehicles.

The plaintiff's attempt in this case to rely on the alter ego theory of liability found in Supreme Court precedent is inapposite and therefore unavailing. See Burwell v. Neumann, 130 Conn. 117, 119, 32 A.2d 640 (1943); Archambault v. Holmes, 125 Conn. 167, 170, 4 A.2d 420 (1939); Reetz v. Mansfield, 119 Conn. 563, 567, 178 A. 53 (1935). This is because in those cases the person to whom negligence was imputed was present inside the vehicle at the time of the incident giving rise to the claim. " [C]ases which have applied the alter ego theory in automobile negligence situations seem to have one common factor: The person to whom the negligence was imputed, because of his right to exercise continued control over the driver, was always in the car with the driver and usually at his side." Plunkett v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., 150 Conn. 203, 209, 187 A.2d 754 (1963).[1]

Prohibiting an alter ego theory of liability in the context of interpreting Workers' Compensation statutes is also consistent with a long observed principle of statutory construction. " [E]xceptions to statutes are to be strictly construed with doubts resolved in favor of the general rule rather than the exception . . . [W]here express exceptions are made, the legal presumption is that the legislature did not intend to save other cases from the operation of the statute." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Surprenant v. Burlingham, 64 Conn.App. 409, 414, 780 A.2d 219 (2001).

The second count does not allege that Gordona was, in fact, negligently operating a motor vehicle at the time of the plaintiff's injuries. Nor does it allege that Gordona was in the vehicle so as to make the alter ego theory of liability applicable. Therefore, the plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts in the second count that Gordona was negligent in the operation of ...

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