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Perez v. University of Connecticut

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 29, 2018

CHRISTIAN PEREZ ET AL.
v.
UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT ET AL.

          Argued February 13, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action seeking to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by the named plaintiff as a result of the defendants' alleged negligence, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield, where the court, Bellis, J., dismissed the action as to the plaintiff Kleber O. Perez; thereafter, the court, Arnold, J., dismissed the action as to the named defendant; subsequently, the court, Hon. George N. Thim, judge trial referee, granted the state's motion to strike the action from the jury list; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court, Hon. Edward F. Stodolink, judge trial referee; judgment for the state, from which the named plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Lee Samowitz, for the appellant (named plaintiff).

          Michael McKenna, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, attorney general, for the appellee (state).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Lavine and Prescott, Js.

          OPINION

          PRESCOTT, J.

         The issue in this appeal is whether the plaintiff Christian Perez[1] has the right to a jury trial in a negligence action for monetary damages against the defendant, the state of Connecticut.[2] The plaintiff was authorized to bring his action against the state by the General Assembly pursuant to General Statutes § 4-159 (b) (1) (B) (ii). Following a trial to the court, judgment was rendered in favor of the state. The plaintiff now appeals from the judgment, claiming that the court improperly granted the state's motion to strike his action from the jury list.[3] We affirm the judgment of the court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the resolution of this appeal. On July 15, 2009, the plaintiff filed a claim with the Office of the Claims Commissioner against the state. The claim related to an incident that occurred on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs on February 22, 2009. On that day, the plaintiff, then a full-time student at the University of Connecticut, fell on ice and injured his knee in a parking lot reserved for media vehicles near Gample Pavilion.

         On June 22, 2012, the claims commissioner held a formal hearing on the plaintiff's claim. The claims commissioner subsequently denied the plaintiff's claim against the state on October 26, 2012. Pursuant to General Statutes § 4-158 (b), the plaintiff requested review by the General Assembly of the claims commissioner's denial of his claim.[4] On May 20, 2013, the General Assembly reviewed the plaintiff's claim, vacated the claims commissioner's denial, and adopted a resolution authorizing the plaintiff to ‘‘institute and prosecute to final judgment an action against the state to recover damages as compensation for injury to [his] person'' pursuant to § 4-159 (b) (1) (B) (ii).[5]

         On February 20, 2014, the plaintiff filed an action against both the University of Connecticut and the state of Connecticut in the judicial district of Fairfield seeking monetary damages. The plaintiff's action against the University of Connecticut subsequently was dismissed.[6]On February 10, 2015, the plaintiff filed a revised complaint against the remaining defendant, the state. Count one of the revised complaint alleged that the state had acted negligently in failing to properly clear the snow and ice in the parking lot in which the plaintiff fell. Count two alleged that the state had acted with reckless disregard for the safety and welfare of University of Connecticut students.

         In response to the plaintiff's revised complaint, the state denied that it had acted negligently or recklessly with respect to the conditions in the parking lot on the day the plaintiff was injured. The state also alleged as a special defense that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in causing his injuries.

         On July 2, 2015, the plaintiff claimed the action to the jury trial list. On July 6, 2015, the state filed a motion to strike the plaintiff's action from the jury list. In its accompanying memorandum, the state argued that the plaintiff had no right to a jury trial in an action against the state where sovereign immunity had been waived pursuant to § 4-159 because General Statutes § 4-160 (f) expressly provides that ‘‘[i]ssues arising in such actions shall be tried to the court without a jury.''

         In response to the state's motion to strike the plaintiff's action from the jury list, the plaintiff argued that the ‘‘actions'' referenced in § 4-160 (f) did not include an action authorized by the General Assembly pursuant to § 4-159. The plaintiff further argued that § 4-159 (c) granted him the right to a jury trial. That subsection provides: ‘‘The General Assembly may grant the claimant permission to sue the state under the provisions of this section when the General Assembly deems it just and equitable and believes the claim to present an issue of law or fact under which the state, were it a private person, could be liable.'' (Emphasis added.) General Statutes § 4-159 (c).

         Specifically, the plaintiff argued that if his action were brought against a private person, he would undeniably have a right to a jury trial and, thus, he has a right to a jury trial against the state because it must be treated as if it were a private person. The plaintiff further argued that §§ 4-160 (f) and 4-159 (c) must be construed in this manner because a contrary construction ...


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