Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Hartford, Hartford
Robert Zdrojeski et al.
Kenneth Combs et al
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. Huddleston, Judge.
plaintiffs, Robert Zdrojeski, Scott Menard, and Darren
Connolly, are state troopers who were injured while
conducting a traffic stop in the early morning hours of
September 1, 2012. A vehicle operated by William Bowers
collided with Zdrojeski's police cruiser and caused it to
collide with Connolly and Menard, who were standing near the
cruiser. The defendant Kenneth Combs is a sergeant in the
East Hartford Police Department (EHPD). The plaintiffs allege
that Combs negligently failed to prevent Bowers from driving
after he had seen him in an intoxicated state at an East
Hartford strip club. In the first count, they allege
negligence against Combs individually. In the second count,
they allege negligence against Combs in his official capacity
and seek indemnification from the defendant town of East
Hartford (town) pursuant to General Statutes § §
7-465 and 7-101a. The defendants denied that Combs was
negligent. They have moved for summary judgment, asserting
that the plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrine of
governmental immunity as codified in General Statutes §
52-557n(a)(2)(B). They also assert that Combs did not owe a
duty to the plaintiffs, that his actions were not the
proximate cause of the plaintiffs' injuries, and the
criminal conduct of Bowers was an unforeseeable superseding
event. The town asserts that it is not liable because the
plaintiffs' claims against Combs are not viable. The
plaintiffs respond that Combs had a ministerial duty to
prevent a visibly intoxicated person from driving away from a
bar; that, as a police officer, he owed a duty to ensure the
safety of others; and that his negligence was the legal cause
of the plaintiffs' injuries. The court agrees with the
defendants that Combs is entitled to governmental immunity
for his discretionary acts, and that no exception applies.
support of their motion for summary judgment, the defendants
presented excerpts from a deposition of defendant Combs; an
affidavit by Joshua Litwin, a sergeant in the EHPD's
Office of Professional Standards; a transcript of an
interview with Combs in the course of a departmental
investigation after the town received notice of the
plaintiffs' intention to sue; and excerpts from the
accident report concerning the accident in which the
plaintiffs were injured. In opposition, the plaintiffs
presented excerpts from Combs' deposition and excerpts
from the accident report. From that evidence, the court draws
the following summary of the undisputed material facts.
Friday, August 31, 2012, Combs was on duty working the
midnight shift as a patrol supervisor for the town's
police department. His shift began at 10:30 p.m. and ended at
8:00 a.m. on September 1, 2012. As the patrol supervisor,
Combs was tasked with monitoring activities on the road,
responding to officers requesting assistance, and visiting
establishments such as bars and restaurants to confer with
management to determine whether there were any ongoing
problems, such as drug trafficking, or specific incidents,
such as a patron causing a disturbance, that should be
addressed by the police.
August 31, 2012, at approximately 11:24 p.m., Combs entered
Kahoots, an East Hartford establishment with exotic dancers.
As he was monitoring activity from a position near a DJ
booth, he was approached by Bowers, who was holding a drink.
Combs had seen Bowers at Kahoots on earlier occasions but had
never encountered him in a " police situation."
Bowers told Combs of a sale at Bowers' place of work, and
Combs understood him to be promoting his business. In
response to an inquiry from Combs, Bowers said he was at
Kahoots with a friend, Anthony Meucci, who was driving. Combs
had seen Meucci previously and observed that he was in fact
present at Kahoots that evening.
Bowers was holding a drink, Combs did not perceive him to be
intoxicated. Combs left Kahoots and continued on his patrol
duties. About two hours later, at approximately 1:30 a.m.,
Combs returned to Kahoots to determine whether any problems
needed to be addressed before closing time. He entered the
establishment but did not see Bowers.
determined that nothing was occurring that required his
presence, Combs returned to his cruiser and began to exit the
parking lot. As he drove past the front entrance to Kahoots
toward the parking lot, he saw Bowers leaving the
establishment. His cruiser was about twenty to twenty-five
feet from Bowers. Through the open window of his cruiser,
Combs greeted Bowers and asked him if everything was all
right. Bowers replied that it was.
testified that nothing occurred in this brief interaction to
give him any indication that Bowers was intoxicated. Bowers
appeared to him to be walking normally; he was not leaning
against a wall; he did not need support; he was not
stumbling, getting sick, or propping himself up. Various
other individuals were also outside Kahoots. Combs did not
observe Bowers approach a motor vehicle and did not know what
he was doing outside--that is, he did not know whether he had
stepped outside to smoke or make a phone call or talk to
someone. In addition, during their earlier interaction,
Bowers had told Combs that he was with a friend, Meucci, who
was driving, and Bowers had no reason to disbelieve him.
Combs left the Kahoots parking lot.
later, Bowers left Kahoots with Meucci, but Bowers was
driving. They traveled westbound on Interstate 84, leaving
the highway at exit 46. While traveling on the exit ramp,
Bowers' vehicle struck Zdrojeski's cruiser, which had
just pulled to a stop to assist in a traffic stop by Menard
and Connolly. Zdrojeski's cruiser then struck Menard and
Connolly, who were outside their own cruiser. It was later
determined that Bowers had been driving while intoxicated.
subsequent investigation of the accident, two bartenders at
Kahoots gave witness statements in which they reported that
Bowers had appeared drunk to them. One of the bartenders
stated that she did not think Bowers and Meucci were driving
because " they usually call a cab."
defendants furnished an affidavit by Litwin, of the
EHPD's Office of Professional Standards, who attested
that " [a]t the time of the accident, the EHPD did not
maintain any general order or other policy prescribing the
manner in which an officer was to proceed when encountering a
potentially intoxicated person at an establishment serving