CONNECTICUT STATE POLICE UNION v. COMMISSIONER OF EMERGENCY SERVICES AND PUBLIC PROTECTION et al., SC 18967

Judicial District of Hartford

 

Public Safety; Sovereign Immunity; Conduct in Excess of Statutory Authority; Whether Trial Court Properly Determined that Minimum State Trooper Provision in General Statutes 29-4 is Mandatory. In August, 2011, the plaintiff brought this action seeking a declaration that General Statutes 29-4 requires the defendant commissioner to appoint and maintain a minimum of 1248 sworn state police officers. At the time the action was filed, 29-4 provided in relevant part that the commissioner "shall appoint and maintain a minimum of [1248] sworn state police personnel to efficiently maintain the operation of the division." Because the size of the state police force was below that number due to layoffs, among other things, the plaintiff also sought an injunction ordering the commissioner to appoint additional troopers to reach the statutory minimum. The defendants moved to dismiss the action, claiming they enjoyed sovereign immunity from suit. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, determining that the exception to sovereign immunity for conduct in excess of a state officer's statutory authority applied because the plaintiff was seeking declaratory or injunctive relief and had made a substantial allegation that the commissioner acted in excess of his statutory authority in failing to appoint and maintain the statutory number of troopers. In so deciding, the court determined that the minimum trooper provision of 29-4 is mandatory, not directory. On appeal, the defendants argue first that the plaintiff's claims are moot because 29-4 was recently amended to delete the reference to 1248 sworn state police personnel. The statute now provides that the commissioner shall appoint and maintain "a sufficient number" of sworn state police personnel. Also, the defendants contend that the plaintiff's demand that additional troopers be hired is effectively a claim for monetary relief to which the sovereign immunity bar applies. Finally, the defendants maintain that even if the plaintiff's action is properly characterized as a suit for injunctive relief, the lack of a penalty provision in 29-4 shows that the minimum staffing level is a direction to the commissioner, not a mandate, and, therefore, the plaintiff's claims do not fall within the exception to the state's immunity for conduct in excess of a state officer's statutory authority.