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Daley v. J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 5, 2019

DWIGHT DALEY
v.
J.B. HUNT TRANSPORT, INC., ET AL.

          Argued October 11, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, wrongful termination of employment, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield and tried to the jury before Hon. William B. Rush, judge trial referee; verdict and judgment for the plaintiff; thereafter, the court denied the defendants' motion for a new trial and their motion to set aside the verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and the defendants appealed and the plaintiff cross appealed to this court. Reversed in part; further proceedings.

          Christopher M. Hodgson, with whom, on the brief, was Warren L. Holcomb, for the appellants-cross appel- lees (defendants).

          Francis D. Burke, for the appellee-cross appellant (plaintiff).

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

          OPINION

          MOLL, J.

         The defendants, J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. (J.B. Hunt), and David Bryant, appeal, and the plaintiff, Dwight Daley, cross appeals, from the judgment of the trial court rendered in accordance with a jury verdict returned in favor of the plaintiff. The threshold issue raised by the defendants on appeal that we must resolve is whether the court erred in declining to conduct a postverdict evidentiary hearing to determine whether one of the jurors, R.L., [1] had been competent to serve on the jury. We conclude that the court committed error, and we reverse in part the judgment of the court and remand the case for further proceedings while retaining our jurisdiction over the remaining claims on appeal and over the cross appeal pending the outcome of the proceedings on remand.

         The following facts, as found by the trial court in its memorandum of decision or as undisputed in the record, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the threshold issue before us. In December, 2013, the plaintiff commenced the underlying action against the defendants. In the operative complaint (complaint), the plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that the defendants terminated his employment despite previously having assured him that he could return to work after he recovered from injuries he had sustained as a result of a motor vehicle accident unrelated to his employment. The complaint included, inter alia, the following counts asserted against the defendants: violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, General Statutes § 46a-60 et seq.; promissory estoppel; negligent misrepresentation; fraudulent misrepresentation; and, as to J.B. Hunt only, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The defendants denied the plaintiff's substantive allegations and raised several special defenses. The plaintiff denied the allegations of the defendants' special defenses.

         The case was tried to a jury over the course of seven days in August, 2016. Shortly after 5 p.m. on Thursday, August 11, 2016, following less than one day of deliberations, [2] the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, awarding him $200, 000 in economic damages and $25, 000 in noneconomic damages. In reaching its verdict, the jury answered several interrogatories.[3] On the record, the clerk twice read the jury's verdict and its answers to the interrogatories, and, after each recitation, the clerk asked the jury to confirm its verdict. All of the jurors, including R.L., replied ‘‘yes'' on both occasions.[4] The trial court, Hon. William B. Rush, judge trial referee, thereupon accepted and recorded the verdict at 5:08 p.m.

         On Friday, August 12, 2016, R.L. appeared at the courthouse where the underlying case had been tried and notified court staff that she was ready to continue jury deliberations.[5] Judge Rush spoke with R.L. in the civil caseflow office and reminded her that the jury had returned its verdict in favor of the plaintiff the day before. Judge Rush also reminded R.L. of the amount of the verdict. In response to that information, R.L. became visibly upset and stated that she did not remember the jury concluding its deliberations or returning its verdict. Immediately thereafter, the court scheduled a status conference, which took place in chambers on August 16, 2016, during which he apprised the parties' attorneys of the events that had transpired regarding R.L. During the status conference, the court also provided the attorneys with a copy of a handwritten letter submitted by R.L. to the court, [6] which was dated August 12, 2016, in which R.L. wrote in relevant part: Upon arriving at the courthouse for the purpose of finishing the jury's deliberations, she was ‘‘surprise[d]'' to learn that the jury had returned its verdict; she did not remember the jury concluding its deliberations or returning its verdict the day before; she did not have a prior history of ‘‘memory gaps, '' but she ‘‘definitely'' had experienced such a memory lapse with regard to the jury's deliberations and the return of its verdict; she was concerned that she may have suffered ‘‘other gaps'' during the trial; she was sixty-four years old and intended to undergo a medical evaluation to determine whether she had ‘‘dementia/Alzheimer's [disease], '' which had been recommended to her by a caregiver because her mother had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease at sixty years of age; and she disagreed with the amount of the verdict, as she would ‘‘never want [the defendants] to pay any more than [thirty, forty, maybe fifty] thousand [dollars].'' (Emphasis in original.)

         On September 16, 2016, the defendants filed a motion seeking a new trial on the ground that R.L. had been incompetent during the trial, thereby depriving them of their right to due process.[7] As alternative relief, the defendants requested that the court conduct an evidentiary hearing to evaluate R.L.'s competency.[8] The plaintiff opposed that motion.

         On October 11, 2016, the trial court heard argument on, inter alia, the defendants' motion seeking a new trial or, alternatively, an evidentiary hearing addressing R.L.'s competency during trial. By way of a memorandum of decision dated November 4, 2016, the court denied the motion seeking a new trial, including the alternative request for an evidentiary hearing.[9] The court found that, during jury selection, the parties had deemed R.L. to be an acceptable juror, and that none of the parties had challenged the competency of R.L. during the evidentiary portion of the trial, jury deliberations, or the return and acceptance of the jury's verdict. It also found that R.L., along with the other jurors, twice confirmed the verdict on the record.

         In addition, the court determined that, although a specific claim of juror misconduct generally would require an inquiry by the court, a juror's failure to remember deliberations that resulted in a verdict did not constitute juror misconduct. The court further stated in relevant part: ‘‘The instructions to the jury by the court . . . instructed the jury that each juror must decide the case for themselves and not merely acquiesce in the verdict of their fellow jurors. The fact that, after the lengthy deliberations and the [rendition and acceptance of the verdict], a juror does not remember those events does not mean that they did not take place in accordance with our laws. The notes of the court indicate the instructions to the jury were completed at 11:03 a.m. and that the verdict was accepted shortly after 5 p.m. so that it is not a short period of time that [R.L.] cannot recall. However the failure to recall those events is itself a postverdict event. The holding of a hearing on [the] issue of the competence of [R.L.] during the course of the trial, the deliberations of the jury and the rendition and acceptance of the verdict would require, for a thorough analysis, an inquiry into areas which, under the law, the court cannot do. If [R.L.] cannot recall the deliberations and the rendition of the verdict it is doubtful that [R.L.] could reliably recall ...


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