SHERYL BROADNAX et al. v. CITY OF NEW HAVEN et al.,
Judicial District of New Haven
Municipalities; Whether There was Sufficient Evidence to Support the Jury's Finding that the Defendants Violated the Plaintiffs' Constitutional Right to Equal Protection; Whether the Trial Court Failed to Render Judgment Within 120 Days of the Completion of the Trial as Required by General Statutes § 51-183b, Thereby Depriving it of Personal Jurisdiction over the Parties. Two African-American firefighters, John Brantley and Christopher Texeira, brought this action against, inter alia, the city of New Haven and its fire department, claiming that defendants' use of a practice known as "underfilling" to fund promotions within the fire department violated their constitutional right to equal protection. The fire department had used underfilling to promote individuals to positions in the department for which the city had not allocated funds and had paid those individuals with funds designated for vacant, higher ranking positions. Prior to trial, the parties agreed that the issue of damages for front pay would be decided by the trial court. The jury found in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them damages for back pay and noneconomic damages. The defendants moved to set aside the verdict on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the plaintiffs were treated differently from similarly situated Caucasian firefighters, or that the defendants intentionally engaged in underfilling because it would adversely affect African-American firefighters. On December 12, 2005, the trial court denied the motion to set aside, stating that the jury was entitled to reject the nondiscriminatory reasons offered by the defendants for utilizing the underfilling procedure. It also noted that only Caucasian firefighters, in actuality, benefited from underfilling, and the fact that the practice in its operation could not be shown to discriminate against African-American firefighters was not dispositive. Subsequently, on January 2, 2007, the court awarded Texeira damages for front pay, but refused to enter any judgment on Brantley's damage claim for front pay in light of the fact that he had been terminated from the fire department. Noting that there was a pending appeal in which Brantley was challenging his termination, the court indicated that it would entertain a motion to open the judgment if Brantley was reinstated to his employment. Subsequently, after Brantley was successful on appeal, the defendants filed a motion claiming that because no judgment was rendered as to Brantley within 120 days from the completion of the trial as required by General Statutes § 51-183b, the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over the parties to render judgment in Brantley's case. The court, first, concluded that a final judgment was rendered as to Brantley when it denied the defendants' motion to set aside the verdict, regardless of the fact that Brantley's damage claim for front pay had not yet been resolved. Therefore, the court opined, it would be in effect opening the judgment if it were now to award Brantley damages for front pay. The court further surmised that, even if § 51-183b was applicable to Brantley's claim for front pay, it would not affect the judgment rendered on the jury's verdict in favor of Brantley. Thereafter, the court awarded Brantley damages for front pay. In these appeals, the Supreme Court will review the trial court's rulings.