VIRGINIA STEWART v. TOWN OF WATERTOWN et al., SC 18499

Judicial District of Waterbury

 

Municipalities; Elected Officials; Whether Plaintiff Town Clerk was Entitled to Continue Receiving her Salary After she Failed to Report to Work; Whether Court Properly Instructed Jury on Plaintiff's Due Process Claim. The plaintiff was elected town clerk of Watertown for a term ending in January of 2010. Beginning in February of 2006, she failed to report to work, claiming that the town hall building was environmentally unhealthy and was causing her to suffer health problems. After the town ceased paying her salary in June of 2006, the plaintiff commenced the present three count action. In count one, she sought an order of mandamus compelling the town to resume payment of her salary. In count two, she alleged that the defendants violated her due process rights by terminating her salary without affording her a hearing, and in count three, she sought to recover her unpaid salary. She moved for partial summary judgment on counts one and three, arguing that as a public official, she was entitled to a salary incident to holding her office and not based on her performance of services. She stated that since the defendants had unsuccessfully attempted to remove her as town clerk under General Statutes 7-22, which provides a procedure for the removal of a town clerk under certain circumstances, they were obligated to continue to pay her compensation. The defendants, in turn, argued that the law does not clearly state that a public official is entitled to compensation as a matter of law if she refuses to perform her duties. They further argued, among other things, that the plaintiff received all of the compensation that was due to her under state statute and town ordinance. In granting the plaintiff's motion, the trial court, Upson, J., concluded that the plaintiff was entitled to receive the salary attached to her office regardless of whether she reported to work. It reasoned that suspending or terminating salary falls outside the scope of 7-22, which is the only apparent legislative remedy available to a town in the event of a town clerk's failure to properly fulfill his or her duties. It thus concluded that the plaintiff was entitled to recover her unpaid and future salary payments. The case proceeded to trial on the due process count and on the issue of damages, and the plaintiff submitted requests to charge the jury on the due process claim. She specifically asked the court to charge the jury as to the significant facts that Judge Upson found in granting partial summary judgment. The court, Sheedy, J., declined to charge the jury as the plaintiff requested, and the jury found in favor of the defendants on the due process claim and awarded the plaintiff $243,264.87 in connection with counts one and three. In this appeal, the defendants argue that the plaintiff was not entitled to receive her continued salary when she was unwilling to perform her duties and that the plaintiff had already received all of the compensation that was due to her. On cross appeal, the plaintiff argues that the court improperly failed to instruct the jury in accordance with her requested charge.