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Bracken v. Town of Windsor Locks

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 5, 2018

MICHAEL S. BRACKEN, JR.
v.
TOWN OF WINDSOR LOCKS

          Argued February 14, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, breach of contract, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the matter was tried to the court, Elgo, J.; judgment for the defendant, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          Gregg D. Adler, with whom, on the brief, was Zachary L. Rubin, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Kevin M. Deneen, for the appellee (defendant).

          Lavine, Alvord and Prescott, Js.

          OPINION

          ALVORD, J.

         In this action for breach of a settlement agreement, the plaintiff, Michael S. Bracken, Jr., appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the defendant, the town of Windsor Locks. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court erroneously concluded that the plaintiff's action was barred by (1) the six year statute of limitations set forth in General Statutes § 52-576, and (2) the doctrine of laches.[1] We conclude that the central factual finding underlying the court's conclusion that the defendant's special defenses barred the action was clearly erroneous. We further conclude that the defendant failed to meet its burden of proving that its special defenses barred the plaintiff's action. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand this case for further proceedings.

         The following facts, which were found by the trial court in its memorandum of decision or are otherwise undisputed, and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. At all times relevant, the defendant participated in the Connecticut Municipal Employee Retirement System (CMERS) for police officers employed by the defendant.[2] The plaintiff was formerly employed by the defendant as a supernumerary police officer, until his employment was terminated in 1987. In August, 1990, the plaintiff filed an action in federal court against the defendant. While that litigation was pending, the plaintiff returned to employment with the defendant on June 19, 1993, as a full-time police officer. The federal action was resolved by way of a written settlement agreement executed on April 21, 1994, between the plaintiff and the defendant. That settlement agreement (agreement) provided, in relevant part: ‘‘As further consideration for Bracken's agreement to be bound by the terms of this agreement, defendant town of Windsor Locks agrees to reinstate Bracken to a full-time police officer position as of June 19, 1993 with a seniority date of one day earlier than Officer Squires and to restore to Bracken as of June 19, 1993 full benefits, privileges and emoluments of employment based upon that seniority date.'' Officer Squires had a seniority date of September 14, 1987.[3]

         Following the execution of the agreement, the defendant restored certain benefits, privileges, and emoluments of employment based on a seniority date of September 13, 1987. The defendant did not purchase pension credit for the plaintiff covering the period of time from September 13, 1987 through June 18, 1993 (pre-reinstatement period), and the plaintiff became aware in late 2002 or early 2003 that the defendant had not purchased the credit. The plaintiff was placed on administrative leave in August, 2007. In September, 2007, the plaintiff wrote a letter to CMERS stating that he had brought the issue of the pension credit to the defendant's attention on many occasions, but it had done nothing to resolve the issue. The plaintiff stated that Chief of Police John Suchocki had told him that the defendant wanted to wait until the plaintiff retired to make the payments, a position that the plaintiff found ‘‘unacceptable.'' The plaintiff's employment with the defendant terminated on or about November 19, 2009. By letter dated March 16, 2010, the defendant inquired of the Statement Employee Retirement Commission (retirement commission) as to the cost to purchase the pension credit for the pre-reinstatement period. The retirement commission responded by letter dated April 29, 2010, that a payment in the amount of $99, 316 would be necessary to purchase the additional pension credit. Beginning in May, 2010, the State Board of Mediation Arbitration held hearings on a grievance the plaintiff had filed challenging his termination of employment.

         On February 11, 2014, the plaintiff commenced the present action alleging breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In his amended complaint filed December 16, 2015, the plaintiff alleged that after he resumed his employment as a police officer, the defendant had restored to him ‘‘all benefits, privileges and emoluments of employment based on the seniority date of September 13, 1987, with the exception of his pension benefits.'' Specifically, he alleged that ‘‘[p]ension credits for Windsor Locks police officers are purchased by the town through the State of Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement Fund'' and that such credit ‘‘can be purchased retroactively at any time prior to the date the employee begins receiving retirement benefits.'' He alleged that he became aware that the defendant had not yet purchased pension credit for him for the pre-reinstatement period and that he raised his concerns with the defendant on several occasions. He claimed that ‘‘at no time prior to 2013 was the plaintiff informed by the town that it would not comply with its contractual agreement to provide pension credits'' for the pre-reinstatement period.

         The plaintiff further alleged that his counsel wrote letters to the defendant on July 30, 2013, and October 3, 2013. The plaintiff alleged that his counsel, in the October 3, 2013 letter, requested that the defendant provide ‘‘written confirmation that the town is currently refusing to purchase pension credits or otherwise provide retirement benefits to the plaintiff'' for the pre-reinstatement period. The plaintiff alleged that the letter concluded: ‘‘If I do not receive a response to this letter by October 31, 2013, we will assume that the town has formally refused to provide these benefits . . . .'' The plaintiff alleged that the defendant did not respond to the letter.

         In count two of the complaint, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in that it had no good faith basis for refusing to purchase the pension credit and that its reasons for ‘‘refusing to comply with the terms of the contract are based on personal animosity toward the plaintiff.'' The plaintiff sought an order requiring the defendant to purchase the pension credit for the pre-reinstatement period.

         The defendant answered and filed special defenses to the amended complaint alleging, inter alia, that the plaintiff's action was barred by the statute of limitations set forth in § 52-576[4] and the doctrine of laches. The parties elected a court trial, which was held on February 17 and 18, 2016. The parties stipulated to a number of facts, and the stipulation was entered into evidence as a court exhibit. Eight of the plaintiff's exhibits and four of the defendant's exhibits were agreed upon and received by the court as full exhibits. During trial, two witnesses testified: the plaintiff, and John Suchocki, former chief of police for the town of Windsor Locks. Both parties filed posttrial briefs.

         On August 3, 2016, the court issued a memorandum of decision, in which it rendered judgment for the defendant after concluding that the plaintiff's action was barred both by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of laches. The court in its memorandum noted that the action involved the plaintiff's claim that the agreement included the retroactive purchase of pension credit for the pre-reinstatement period. The court also found that the ‘‘defendant has consistently denied having an obligation under the contract'' to purchase the credit, and that the plaintiff learned in late 2002 or early 2003 that the defendant had not purchased the credit. The court in its memorandum stated that since then, the plaintiff had been in a dispute with the defendant and had engaged counsel to assist with his claim. After referencing both parties' inquiries to the retirement commission, the plaintiff in September, 2007, and the defendant in spring, 2010, the court then rejected the plaintiff's argument that the defendant's spring, 2010 inquiry constituted evidence that the defendant had not yet decided that it would not purchase the pension credit for the plaintiff. It found instead that the plaintiff had been aware since 2002 that the defendant ‘‘was refusing to make those contributions'' pursuant to the agreement.

         Turning to when the cause of action accrued, the court found that ‘‘[t]he plaintiff does not dispute that the defendant, if it had been required to make pension contributions, would have been making those monthly contributions from the time of his reinstatement in 1993. Under well established law, the plaintiff's ignorance until 2002 of the fact that those contributions were not being made, absent fraud which is not alleged here, does not save his action.'' Recognizing that there was ‘‘no basis in law'' for a claim that the plaintiff's knowledge of the defendant's ...


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