LABOR COMMISSIONER v. GOSHEN VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY, INC., SC 18378
Judicial District of Hartford
OSHA; Volunteer Fire Companies; Political Subdivisions; Whether Trial Court Lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction to Issue a Warrant of Inspection Against Defendant Under OSHA on the Ground that Defendant was not a "Political Subdivision" Within the Meaning of OSHA. Pursuant to General Statutes § 31-374 (a) of the state Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the plaintiff labor commissioner filed an application for a warrant to inspect the firehouse of the defendant volunteer fire company of Goshen, alleging, among other things, that there was probable cause to believe that a hazard to safety or health existed within the firehouse. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the application, arguing that § 31-374 (a) did not apply to it because it was not an employer within the meaning of OSHA, which, under General Statutes § 31-367 (d), defines "employer" as "the state and any political subdivision thereof." The defendant maintained that although the term "political subdivision" is not defined within OSHA itself, its meaning could be gleaned from other statutes, namely, General Statutes §§ 7-195, 28-1 and 33-1002, and that under those statutes, the defendant could not be considered to be a "political subdivision." The trial court agreed with the defendant and granted its motion to dismiss. In so ruling, the court determined that pursuant to §§ 7-195, 28-1 and 33-1002, as well as article ten, § 1, of the Connecticut constitution, the term "political subdivision" refers to local units of government such as cities, towns or boroughs. It went on to conclude that the defendant was not a "political subdivision" because it was not a local unit of government, but was instead an independent corporation that contracted its services to the town of Goshen. In further support of this conclusion, the court emphasized that the defendant was not created by the state and had no power to levy taxes or issue bonds. The court also rejected the plaintiff's claim that the term "political subdivision" under § 31-367 (d) is the functional equivalent of the term "public agency" as defined in General Statutes § 1-200 (1) (A) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In doing so, the court reasoned that although the definition of "public agency" contained in the FOIA includes "political subdivisions," the two terms are not interchangeable. The court added that the legislature specifically chose not to broaden the scope of the definition of "employer" to include any "political agency" although it could have easily done so. Based upon the foregoing, the court decided that the defendant did not come within the scope of § 31-374 (a) and that it therefore lacked subject matter jurisdiction to issue a warrant of inspection under that statute. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the trial court properly granted the defendant's motion to dismiss.