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In a crescendo of rulings in high-profile cases, the state Supreme Court this month reversed two recent precedents that had allowed people injured by state employees’ misdeeds to sue for money damages, despite sovereign immunity protections. Released simultaneously Aug. 1, the rulings jerk shut the purse strings that had been loosened in the 1994 case of Antinerella v. Rioux and the 2000 case of Shay v. Rossi. Those decisions created state financial liability for people injured by acts of a sheriff and state child care workers, to the extent the employees acted beyond the scope of their authority. Newsmaker-plaintiffs in the three newly adjudicated appeals lost their chance for financial recovery through their various bids for money damages or attorney-fee reimbursement. EXTENSION INADVERTENT In James L. Miller v. Gerard E. Egan, a former New London deputy sheriff (Miller) sued the high sheriff (Egan) for defamation. In that case, the high court unanimously reversed the Antinerella and Shay precedents, to the extent they provided money damages. Justice David M. Borden, writing for the court, concluded that the trial judge lacked jurisdiction to consider the case, because the plaintiff had not obtained permission from the state claims commissioner to sue the state for money damages. The ruling did not rescind a right to sue for declaratory or injunctive relief. Re-analyzing Antinerella, the high court rejected the reasoning that the legislature partially waived sovereign immunity when it required sheriff’s deputies to obtain personal liability insurance. The plaintiffs had argued this was evidence the legislature wanted injured citizens to be made whole, and thus implied a waiver of the state’s sovereign immunity protection. Borden determined that, without quite realizing what it was doing, the high court in Antinerella and Shay extended the law from a previous line of cases that permitted suits for injunctive or declaratory relief, when state officials were acting under an unconstitutional statute. When the state was defending against Antinerella and Shay, its lawyers never argued that allowing money damages would be new or wrong. Borden wrote that, since a claim for money damages — without prior approval from the claims commissioner — creates an issue of subject matter jurisdiction, the Supreme Court should have raised the issue on its own. But, he noted, “we simply did not do so, out of inadvertence, rather than intention.” FLANAGAN DENIED DEFENSE FEES In arguing another of the dynamic trio of cases decided Aug. 1, lawyers defending the Department of Children and Families in Prigge v. Regaglia successfully prompted the high court to consider reversing Shay. That 1994 case allowed a suit brought by parents wrongly painted as child abusers by overzealous DCF workers. The employees in Shay had been alarmed by multiple emergency room visits for injuries to the couple’s rambunctious children, who were growing up on a farm. The plaintiffs in Prigge sought to recover for DCF’s misconduct toward East Hartford minister Chad Prigge and his wife. They had sought custody of a baby boy whose parents were killed in a tragic house fire set by the child’s mentally unstable mother. Despite the Prigges being named in the parents’ wills as the boy’s legal guardians, DCF encouraged placement of the boy with another couple. Assistant attorneys general Gregory T. D’Auria and Eliot D. Prescott argued for the state in Miller and Prigge, and D’Auria argued the third of the Aug. 1 blockbusters — Robert C. Flanagan v. Richard Blumenthal. In that case, Flanagan, a former Connecticut Superior Court judge, sought to compel the attorney general to pay the cost of Flanagan’s successful legal defense of federal court allegations that he sexually assaulted his court reporter, Penny Ross-Tackach. Flanagan and Ross-Tackach admitted their ongoing affair after she brought charges against him before the Judicial Review Council. There and in federal court, Flanagan contended their affair was consensual. The high court held that the state employee indemnification statute provides for reimbursement of attorneys fees for a successful defense against wrongful charges, after approval from the attorney general. Claiming discretion, Blumenthal, however, withheld approval. Denying Flanagan’s bid for legal fees, the Supreme Court ruled that sovereign immunity bars an employee’s suit to compel reimbursement. The statute, it said, waives immunity from liability but not immunity from suit. Chief Justice William J. Sullivan, concurring in Flanagan, said that, in fairness, the former judge should recover his defense costs. “I believe that a central purpose of [C.G.S.] � 5-141d is to protect state employees from the financial consequences of vindictive and baseless lawsuits against them in their official capacities, regardless of what instigated the lawsuit.” But Justice Joette Katz took an opposing view in her concurrence. Reasoning that the charges arose from the context of the consensual sexual relationship, she contended that the judge cannot claim that he was acting within the scope of his employment. Flanagan alleged no employment-related conduct with Ross-Tackach, Katz noted. “There simply is no benefit to which the plaintiff can point, however, that would accrue to his employer from such purely personal conduct,” she concluded. Flanagan was represented by Matthew E. Frechette and Roger J. Frechette, of Frechette & Frechette in New Haven. In the other cases, Miller was represented by Michael S. Taylor and Wesley W. Horton, of Hartford’s Horton, Shields, & Knox, while Robert T. Rimmer, of Brown, Paindiris & Scott’s Glastonbury office, was the Prigges’ counsel.

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