Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Waterbury, Waterbury
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANT'S
POST-VERDICT MOTIONS (#343, 345)
B. SHAPIRO JUDGE
February 26, 2016, after a ten-day trial, the jury rendered a
verdict in favor of the plaintiff, MacDermid, Inc., and
against the defendant, Stephen J. Leonetti, based on
MacDermid's claim of unjust enrichment, in the amount of
$70, 228.51.The jury found in favor of Leonetti as to other
counts of MacDermid's amended complaint (#163)
(complaint). Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion for
judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a motion to set
aside the verdict. The court heard oral argument concerning
the motions on March 22, 2016. After consideration of the
parties' written presentations and arguments, the court
issues this memorandum of decision.
background of this matter, which concerns the parties'
disputes about their employment termination agreement
(agreement), was discussed in Leonetti v.
MacDermid, Inc., 310 Conn. 195, 76A.3d 168 (2013),
and MacDermid, Inc. v. Leonetti, 310 Conn.
616, 79 A.3d 60 (2013). " The defendant worked for the
plaintiff for twenty-eight years until he was discharged in
early November 2009. Five years earlier, in June 2004, the
[defendant] sustained a lower back injury during the course
of his employment. The [defendant] timely filed notice of a
workers' compensation claim related to this injury on
April 14, 2005. The parties stipulated to the [Workers'
Compensation Commissioner (commissioner) ] that the injury
suffered by the [defendant] was a compensable injury
[pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act, General
Statutes § 31-275 et seq. (Act)].
At the time that the [plaintiff] informed the [defendant]
that he would be discharged from his employment, the
[plaintiff] presented the [defendant] with a proposed
termination agreement [agreement]. Article II of the
agreement signed by the parties provides that the [defendant]
agreed to release the [plaintiff] from [ inter alia
] 'any and all . . . workers' compensation claims . .
Article III of the agreement provides that, in consideration
'for the agreements and covenants made herein, the
release given, the actions taken or contemplated to be taken,
or to be refrained from, ' the [defendant] would be paid
twenty-seven weeks 'severance pay, determined solely upon
the [defendant's] current base salary, ' which
amounted to $70, 228.51, within thirty days of the
[plaintiff's] receipt of the properly executed agreement
. . .
Article III of the agreement also provided that '[the
defendant] understands that the payments and benefits listed
above are all that [the defendant] is entitled to
receive from [the plaintiff] . . . [The defendant] agrees
that the payments and benefits above are more than [the
plaintiff] is required to pay under its normal policies,
procedures and plans.' . . .
Article IV of the agreement . . . contained a clause stating
in part that '[the defendant] acknowledges that he has
been given a reasonable period of time of at least thirty
(30) days to review and consider this agreement
before signing it. [The defendant] is encouraged to
consult his or her attorney prior to signing this
agreement.' . . .
The [defendant] did not want to release his preexisting
workers' compensation claim relating to the 2004 injury
by signing the agreement. He consulted with his attorney, who
contacted the [plaintiff's] counsel and requested that
the [plaintiff] remove from the agreement the language that
could operate to release the [defendant's] workers'
compensation claim. The [plaintiff] refused to modify the
language of the agreement. The [defendant's] counsel
[thereafter] wrote a letter to the [plaintiff's] counsel
asserting that the release language of article II of the
agreement 'really has no effect without the
[c]ommissioner's approval' and scheduled an
informal hearing before [the] . . . commissioner for January
8, 2010. The [plaintiff's] counsel did not attend the
informal hearing . . . Nothing was resolved on January 8, and
on January 27, 2010, the hearing was rescheduled for March 1,
On January 26, 2010, the [plaintiff] sent the [defendant] a
letter stating that, unless the [defendant] signed the
unmodified agreement within the next ten days, [the
plaintiff] would withdraw its offer of $70, 228.51 in
severance pay. The [defendant] signed the agreement on
February 2, 2010, and the commissioner found that the
[defendant] did so because he did not wish to forfeit his
severance pay. After the [plaintiff] received the signed
agreement from the [defendant], it paid [him] the $70,
228.51. At that time, the commissioner had not approved the
agreement as a 'voluntary agreement' or stipulation
as defined in [General Statutes] § 31-296 . . .
A formal hearing was held several months later to determine
the enforceability of the language in article II of the
agreement that dealt with the release of the
[defendant's] workers' compensation claim . . .
The commissioner . . . found that, without approval by a
commissioner, the agreement did not effectively waive the
parties' rights and obligations under the act . . . [and]
that the agreement should not be approved as a full and final
stipulation of the [defendant's] workers'
compensation claim . . . The plaintiff appealed from the
commissioner's decision to the Workers' Compensation
Review Board (board), which affirmed the commissioner's
decision . . . Thereafter, the plaintiff appealed from the
decision of the board . . . and filed the present action in
Superior Court alleging civil theft, fraud, unjust
enrichment, and conversion, premised on the defendant's
admission that he never intended to release his workers'
compensation claim. In the present action, the plaintiff
seeks, inter alia, rescission of the agreement,
return of the $70, 228.51 it paid the defendant under the
agreement, and damages." (Citations omitted; emphasis in
original; footnotes omitted; internal quotation marks
omitted.) MacDermid, Inc. v. Leonetti,
supra, 310 Conn. 618-22.
Supreme Court explained, " [e]ven if we were to assume,
for the sake of argument, that the [defendant's] conduct
prior to entering into the agreement was deceitful, those
actions have no bearing on the commissioner's decision to
approve the agreement as a voluntary agreement or stipulation
pursuant to § 31-296 . . . In the present case, the
conduct of which the [plaintiff] complains does not relate to
the existence or severity of the [defendant's]
compensable workers' compensation claim . . . Moreover,
the conduct of the [defendant] related to the agreement does
not affect the compensability of [his] injury. Thus, once the
commissioner determined that the $70, 228.51 was not paid to
the [defendant] in exchange for his release of his
workers' compensation claim, the actions engaged in
by the [defendant] warranted no further consideration in the
workers' compensation forum. The commission is not
competent to rule on the rights and obligations of the
parties to a contract when those rights and obligations do
not involve the issues that the legislature has authorized
the commission to consider. Having concluded that no
consideration was offered for the release of the
claimant's workers' compensation claim, the board
properly affirmed the commissioner's refusal to approve
the agreement as a 'voluntary agreement' or
stipulation within the meaning of § 31-296 . . . Thus,
regardless of the [defendant's] intention in signing the
agreement, the board properly concluded that the
commissioner's refusal to approve the agreement was
supported by the evidence contained within the record because
of the commissioner's finding that the claimant was paid
no money in consideration for the release of his workers'
compensation claim. The enforceability of the remainder of
the agreement is not a question for the workers'
compensation forum, and the commissioner and the board
properly refused to decide that aspect of the dispute between
the claimant and the respondent. Of course, the
respondent retains the right to seek whatever civil recourses
it deems appropriate with respect to the remainder of the
agreement, a matter about which we express no opinion."
(Citations omitted; emphasis added.) Leonetti v.
MacDermid, Inc., supra, 310 Conn. 220-21.
the Supreme Court stated that issues stemming from the
conduct which is the subject of this action remained to be
resolved by the jury. The viability of the plaintiff's
claims did not depend on the enforceability of the portion of
the agreement concerning the defendant's release of his
workers' compensation claim.
trial, the parties presented numerous witnesses, and an
extensive series of exhibits. The evidence presented at trial
involved contested issues as to liability and damages.
court has reviewed the evidence which was presented to the
jury and refers to relevant portions below.
considering the defendant's motions for judgment in his
favor notwithstanding the verdict and to set aside the
verdict, the court is guided by appellate authority. "
Directed verdicts are disfavored because [l]itigants have a
constitutional right to have factual issues resolved by the
jury . . ." Landmark Investment Group, LLC v.
Calco Construction and Development Co., 318 Conn.
847, 862, 124 A.3d 847 (2015). The court may " render
judgment notwithstanding the verdict, . . . only if [it]
find[s] that the jury could not reasonably and legally have
reached their conclusion . . . The question is not whether
[the court] would have arrived at the same verdict, but
whether, when viewed in the light most favorable to
sustaining the verdict, the evidence supports the
jury's determination . . . A trial court may
only grant a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict
if the jury reasonably and legally could not have reached any
other conclusion; . . . and must deny such a motion where it
is apparent that there was some evidence upon which the jury
might reasonably reach [its] conclusion . . ."
(Citations omitted; emphasis in original; internal quotation
marks omitted.) Id., 862-63.
In reviewing the trial court's decision to direct a
verdict in favor of a defendant we must consider the evidence
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . While it
is the jury's right to draw logical deductions and make
reasonable inferences from the facts proven . . . it may not
resort to mere conjecture and speculation . . . The standard
of review governing a motion for judgment notwithstanding the
verdict is the same because a motion for judgment
notwithstanding the verdict is not a new motion, but the
renewal of a motion for a directed verdict." (Internal
quotation marks omitted.) Haynes v.
Middletown, 314 Conn. 303, 311-12, 101 A.3d 249
The trial court possesses inherent power to set aside a jury
verdict [that], in the court's opinion, is against the
law or the evidence . . . [The trial court] should not set
aside a verdict [when] it is apparent that there was some
evidence [on] which the jury might reasonably reach [its]
conclusion, and should not refuse to set it aside [when] the
manifest injustice of the verdict is so plain and palpable as
clearly to denote that some mistake was made by the jury in
the application of legal principles . . . Ultimately, [t]he
decision to set aside a verdict entails the exercise of a
broad legal discretion . . ." (Internal quotation marks
omitted.) Auster v. Norwalk United Methodist
Church, 286 Conn. 152, 159, 943 A.2d 391 (2008).
jury determined that Leonetti was unjustly enriched by the
amount which MacDermid paid him pursuant to the parties'
agreement. " Unjust enrichment applies wherever justice
requires compensation to be given for property or services
rendered under a contract, and no remedy is available by an
action on the contract . . . A right of recovery under the
doctrine of unjust enrichment is essentially equitable, its
basis being that in a given situation it is contrary to
equity and good conscience for one to retain a benefit which
has come to him at the expense of another . . . With no other
test than what, under a given set of circumstances, is just
or unjust, equitable or inequitable, conscionable or
unconscionable, it becomes necessary in any case where the
benefit of the doctrine is claimed, to examine the
circumstances and the conduct of the parties and apply this
standard . . . Unjust enrichment is, consistent with the
principles of equity, a broad and flexible remedy . . .
Plaintiffs seeking recovery for unjust enrichment must prove
(1) that the defendants were benefited, (2) that the
defendants unjustly did not pay the plaintiffs for the
benefits, and (3) that the failure of payment was to the
plaintiffs' detriment." (Internal quotation marks
omitted.) Vertex, Inc. v. Waterbury, 278
Conn. 557, 573, 898 A.2d 178 (2006).
This doctrine is based upon the principle that one should not
be permitted unjustly to enrich himself at the expense of
another but should be required to make restitution of or for
property received, retained or appropriated . . . The
question is: Did [the party liable], to the detriment of
someone else, obtain something of value to which [the party
liable] was not entitled? . . . The court's
determinations of whether a particular failure to pay was
unjust and whether the defendant was benefited are
essentially factual findings . . . that are subject only to a
limited scope of review on appeal . . . Those findings must
stand, therefore, unless they are clearly erroneous or
involve an abuse of discretion . . . This limited scope of
review is consistent with the general proposition that
equitable determinations that depend on the balancing of many
factors are committed to the sound discretion of the
[trier]." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks
omitted.) Town of New Hartford v. Connecticut Resources
Recovery Authority, 291 Conn. 433, 452, 970 A.2d 592
For Judgment Notwithstanding The Verdict
defendants' arguments in support of his motion for
judgment notwithstanding the verdict include several claims
of error in the court's instructions to the jury. See
defendant's memorandum in support of his motion (#344),
pp. 7-9, 11-14. The plaintiff asserts that a judgment
notwithstanding the verdict in the defendant's favor
cannot be rendered on a claim of alleged error in the jury
case, after the close of the plaintiff's case in chief,
the defendant moved for a directed verdict on all counts,
including the plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim. In
that motion, the defendant referred to portions of the
requests to charge which he had submitted before trial. At
that stage of the proceedings, since the evidentiary
presentation had not concluded, the court had not yet held a
charging conference with counsel. Obviously, at that time, it
also had not yet given the complained of instructions to the
Book § 16-37 provides, in relevant part, that "
Whenever a motion for a directed verdict made at any time
after the close of the plaintiff's case in chief is
denied or for any reason is not granted, the judicial
authority is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury
subject to a later determination of the legal questions
raised by the motion . . . After the acceptance of a verdict
and within the time stated in Section 16-35 for filing a
motion to set a verdict aside, a party who has moved for a
directed verdict may move to have the verdict and any
judgment rendered thereon set aside and have judgment
rendered in accordance with his or her motion for a
directed verdict . . . If a verdict was returned, the
judicial authority may allow the judgment to stand or may set
the verdict aside and either order a new trial or direct the
entry of judgment as if the requested verdict had been
directed." (Emphasis added.)
The rules of practice establish a procedure pursuant to which
a motion for directed verdict, if denied, is considered
renewed by the motion for judgment notwithstanding
the verdict . . . Practice Book § 16-37 . . . provides
for a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict 'in
accordance with [the party's] motion for a directed
verdict[.]' " (Citations omitted; emphasis in
original.) Salaman v. City of Waterbury,
246 Conn. 298, 309, 717 A.2d 161 (1998).
Appellate Court has made it clear that judgment may not be
directed in favor of a party on a ground not previously
stated in a motion for a directed verdict. " As has
often been stated, '[a] motion for a directed verdict is
a prerequisite to a motion for judgment notwithstanding the
verdict. Practice Book § 321 [now § 16-37] . .
.' (Citation omitted.) Frankovitch v.
Burton, 185 Conn. 14, 15 n.2, 440 A.2d 254 (1981);
Cruz v. Drezek, 175 Conn. 230, 232, 397 A.2d 1335
(1978)." Macchieto v. Keggi, 103
Conn.App. 769, 778, 930 A.2d 817, cert. denied, 284 Conn.
934, 935 A.2d 151 (2007). In footnote 5, the court clarified
the distinction between the court's inherent power to set
aside a jury verdict and its lack thereof to render judgment
on a ground not set forth in a motion for a directed verdict:
" [O]ur Supreme Court has indicated that the trial court
possesses inherent power to set aside a jury verdict that, in
the court's opinion, is against the law or the evidence .
. . That inherent power to set aside a jury verdict may be
exercised without the filing of a motion for a directed
verdict . . . We also note, however, that the court's
inherent power does not extend to rendering judgment in the
absence of a motion requesting such an action."
(Citations omitted.) Id., 778 n.5.
A trial court's decision to set aside a jury verdict can
implicate a party's constitutional right to a trial by
jury . . . A motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict
may not be granted on any ground not previously raised by a
motion for a directed verdict . . . The specific grounds
stated in a motion for directed verdict must be renewed in a
motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The motion
for judgment notwithstanding the verdict is not a new motion,
but the renewal of a motion for a directed verdict . .
.'The purpose of this rule of specificity is to prohibit
reconsideration of the factual basis of a jury's verdict
unless that verdict is accepted subject to the trial
court's reserved ruling on a particular claim of legal
sufficiency. This reserved ruling on a specific claim
satisfies the constitutional prohibition that would otherwise
preclude judicial reexamination of factual matters decided by
the jury." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks
omitted.) Salaman v. City of Waterbury, 44
Conn.App. 211, 215-16, 687 A.2d 1318 (1997), reversed on
other grounds, supra, 246 Conn. 298.
of the decisional law cited by the defendant in support of
his argument that errors in the jury charge must be
considered in determining whether to grant his motion for
judgment notwithstanding the verdict reflects that none
involved entering judgment notwithstanding the verdict based
on error in the jury instructions. See defendant's reply
memorandum, pp. 3-4. See, for example, Hudson United Bank
v. Cinnamon Ridge Corp., 81 Conn.App. 557, 564
n.9, 845 A.2d 417 (2004) (motion to set aside the verdict).
the court's instructions had not been given to the jury
at the time when the defendant moved for a directed verdict,
they were not raised as grounds for the motion for a directed
verdict. As a matter of law, they may not be the basis of a
judgment in favor of the defendant notwithstanding the
verdict. As discussed below, the court has considered the