X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Unpaid municipal officials shielded from personal liability for their good-faith acts can still be sued, a Connecticut Superior Court judge has ruled in what is cited as the first judicial interpretation of a state law designed to encourage volunteerism on town boards and commissions. The statute, C.G.S. � 52-557n, was enacted a decade ago out of concern that the threat of litigation would deter people from serving in local government. In researching the legislative intent behind its passage, however, “It appears … this legislation is not a bar to a cause of action against a volunteer board member,” Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Elizabeth A. Gallagher concluded July 5 in a slip-and-fall case, Stone v. Town of Newtown. Rather, the law’s purpose, Gallagher wrote, is to provide unpaid town officials “the same indemnification protection that is afforded to municipal employees.” The decision is in response to a motion to strike plaintiff John E. Stone Jr.’s negligence claim against individual members of the Newtown Board of Managers. The body was created to maintain Edmonton Town Hall, which was built in the early 1900s through a trust set up by a then prominent Newtown resident. Stone, a Republican state representative from Fairfield, Conn., alleges that the board allowed the building to fall into disrepair, thus leading to disabling injuries he sustained in October 1999 while in town hall conducting title searches. On the way to the building’s basement bathroom, Stone fell on the stairs and suffered a torn ligament, which required surgery, he claims. BAD IMPLICATIONS Gallagher tossed out the defendants’ motion to strike for asserting facts not alleged in Stone’s complaint — namely that members of the board of managers are volunteers, not paid town employees, and are thus subject to 52-557n(c). Still, for the purposes of settling the issue of whether the statute blocks unpaid municipal officials from being named as individual defendants in a legal action, the judge agreed to treat the matter as if their volunteer status had been a fact alleged in Stone’s complaint. Unable to find any case law interpreting the statute, Gallagher turned to the legislative history. “In Senate discussions,” the judge wrote, “Senator [George] Jepsen summed up the bill’s purpose stating, ‘[t]his bill grants immunity to unpaid members of municipal boards, commissions, agencies and committees, who in the good faith exercise [of the] duties allotted to them, make mistakes … . All it simply does is to relieve liability for volunteer members of certain locally constituted boards and commissions so that they might act in good faith without fear of a lawsuit that might deter volunteerism at the local level.’” Based on statements by Jepsen and other legislators, Gallagher concluded that the intent behind the law’s passage was to ensure that municipalities, not their volunteer officials, are liable for paying any judgments arising from the officials’ actions. “This has absolutely nothing to do with barring a cause of action,” she stated. Stone’s attorney Anthony R. Minchella, of Zeldes, Needle & Cooper in Bridgeport, Conn., said his client is pleased with the decision. Defense counsel Anthony B. Corleto, however, he plans to renew his argument in a motion for summary judgment. “Immunity is plain and simple: You can’t sue me,” maintained Corleto, of Corleto & Associates in Danbury, Conn. The decision, he said, potentially has “some very bad implications” for municipal volunteers. Though free from liability, as individual defendants they would be compelled to attend depositions and other lengthy court proceedings, Corleto said. “It makes very little sense to sue a volunteer,” he added. “You really just make a lot of people’s lives more miserable than they need to be.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.