Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

City of Meriden v. Freedom of Information Commission

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 6, 2019

CITY OF MERIDEN ET AL.
v.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION ET AL.

          Argued May 14, 2019

         Procedural History

         Appeal from the decision of the defendant Freedom of Information Commission, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, where the court, Hon. Henry Cohn, judge trial referee, rendered judgment dismissing the plaintiffs' appeal, from which the plaintiffs appealed to this court. Reversed; judgment directed.

          Deborah Leigh Moore, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

          Valicia Dee Harmon, commission counsel, for the appellee (defendant Freedom of Information Commission).

          Prescott, Moll and Bishop, Js.

          OPINION

          BISHOP, J.

         The plaintiffs, the city of Meriden and the Meriden City Council (city council), appeal from the judgment of the trial court dismissing their appeal from the final decision of the defendant Freedom of Information Commission (commission), in which the commission found that the city council violated the open meeting requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), General Statutes § 1-200 et seq., specifically General Statutes § 1-225 (a).[1] On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court erred in concluding that (1) a gathering of less than a quorum of city council members to set an agenda and decide to submit a resolution for action by the full city council constituted a ‘‘meeting'' under § 1-200 (2), and (2) such a gathering constituted ‘‘a step in the process of agency-member activity'' that made it a ‘‘proceeding'' and, therefore, a ‘‘meeting'' within the meaning of § 1-200 (2). We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. On January 3, 2016, the four political leaders of the city council, i.e., the majority and minority leaders and their deputies (leadership group), gathered at city hall with the mayor and the retiring city manager to discuss the search for a new city manager.[2] The leadership group arrived at a consensus to submit a resolution for action by the city council to create a city manager search committee. The leadership group drafted a one page resolution, which included the names of people to be appointed to the committee and detailed the duties of such committee, including recommending to the city council suitable candidates for the city manager position. At the January 19, 2016 city council meeting, the leadership group introduced the resolution, which subsequently was placed on the council's consent calendar.

         On January 25, 2016, an editor for the Meriden Record Journal[3] filed a complaint with the commission alleging that the January 3, 2016 leadership group gathering was an unnoticed and private meeting in violation of § 1-225 (a).[4] Following a hearing on April 18, 2016, at which both parties appeared and presented evidence, the commission issued a final decision on November 16, 2016. In that decision, the commission found that the leadership group ‘‘gather[s] regularly with the mayor and city manager'' to remain informed about issues that the city council may need to address. During these gatherings, the group ‘‘decides whether an issue requires city council action, and when necessary . . . discusses and drafts a resolution to go on the agenda of a city council meeting.'' The commission also found that such gatherings are not intended to constitute a quorum of the city council, which requires a meeting of at least seven members. The commission found, as well, that in gathering to discuss the formation of a city manager search committee and drafting the resolution, ‘‘the leadership group [had] met to discuss or act upon a matter over which the leadership and the city council as a whole has supervision and control.'' The commission also took administrative notice of the plaintiff's minutes of the January 19, 2016 meeting and found ‘‘that the resolution was adopted at the council meeting without discussion or change.''

         As to the plaintiff's claim that the leadership group gathering was not a ‘‘meeting'' within the meaning of § 1-200 (2), the commission rejected the plaintiff's argument that the communications at the leadership group gathering were limited to notice of meetings or the setting of agendas. The commission also rejected the plaintiff's argument that the gathering was not a ‘‘meeting'' because a quorum was not present. The commission analyzed the purported conflict between this court's decisions in Windham v. Freedom of Information Commission, 48 Conn.App. 529, 711 A.2d 741 (1998), appeal dismissed, 249 Conn. 291, 732 A.2d 752 (1999), and Emergency Medical Services Commission v. Freedom of Information Commission, 19 Conn.App. 352, 561 A.2d 981 (1989), and concluded that the latter decision more aptly applied to the facts of this case. On that basis, the commission concluded that the gathering was a ‘‘proceeding'' within the meaning of § 1-200 (2), and that such a proceeding constituted a ‘‘meeting'' within the meaning of that subdivision. Accordingly, the commission concluded that the plaintiff had violated § 1-225 (a) by failing to properly notice the leadership group gathering. The commission, therefore, ordered the plaintiff to comply strictly with the open meeting requirements of § 1-225 (a) and advised the plaintiff that the leadership group may, in its own right, constitute a ‘‘committee of'' the city council pursuant to § 1-200 (1).

         On December 28, 2016, the plaintiff filed an appeal from the commission's decision to the Superior Court, arguing ‘‘that a gathering of elected officials without a quorum does not constitute a quorum[5] in accordance with [Windham v. Freedom of Information Commission, supra, 48 Conn.App. 529].'' (Footnote added.) On January 29, 2018, the court issued a memorandum of decision dismissing the plaintiff's appeal, concluding that this court's holding in Windham ‘‘is not completely determinative and, therefore, not binding on the issue'' of whether the leadership group gathering fell within the definition of ‘‘meeting'' under § 1-200 (2). Rather, the court stated that ‘‘there are times, factually, where certain agency members are merely ‘convening' and there is a requirement of a quorum under § 1-200 (2); and there are times, factually, where agency members, in the language of the [commission] . . . are gathering with the implicit authorization of the city council as a whole and this gathering ‘constituted a step in the process of agency-member activity.' '' After stating that the commission's factual findings and conclusions were supported by substantial evidence, the court concluded that the leadership group gathering constituted a meeting within the meaning of § 1-200 (2). This appeal followed.

         The principal issue in this appeal is whether the gathering of the leadership group constituted a ‘‘meeting'' within the meaning of § 1-200 (2) and, thus, triggered the open meeting requirements of § 1-225 (a). The plaintiff claims that, because there was no quorum at the gathering of the leadership group, there was no ‘‘meeting'' under § 1-200 (2). The plaintiff further asserts that the legislature did not intend ‘‘proceeding'' to mean ‘‘a step in the process of agency-member activity'' as found by the commission, but, rather, that ‘‘proceeding'' refers to an adjudicatory process involving testimony, evidence, and administrative findings. The commission responds that there was sufficient evidence in the administrative record to conclude that the leadership group conducted a ‘‘proceeding'' within the meaning of § 1-200 (2) and that, in doing so, the plaintiff failed to comply with the open meeting requirements of § 1-225 (a), which the commission contends apply to such proceedings regardless of whether a quorum is present.

         We begin by setting forth the relevant legal principles and standard of review. ‘‘This court reviews the trial court's judgment pursuant to the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA), General Statutes § 4-166 et seq. Under the UAPA, it is [not] the function . . . of this court to retry the case or to substitute its judgment for that of the administrative agency. . . . Even for conclusions of law, [t]he court's ultimate duty is only to decide whether, in light of the evidence, the [agency] has acted unreasonably, arbitrarily, illegally, or in abuse of its discretion. . . . [Thus] [c]onclusions of law reached by the administrative agency must stand if the court determines that they resulted from a correct application of the law to the facts found and could reasonably and logically follow from such facts. . . . [Similarly], this court affords deference to the construction of a statute applied by the administrative agency empowered by law to carry out the statute's purposes. . . . Cases that present pure questions of law, however, invoke a broader standard of review than is . . . involved in deciding whether, in light of the evidence, the agency has acted unreasonably, arbitrarily, illegally or in abuse of its discretion. . . . Furthermore, when a state agency's determination of a question of law has not previously been subject to judicial scrutiny . . . the agency is not entitled to special deference. . . . We have determined, therefore, that the traditional deference accorded to an agency's ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.