Smith
v.
Francis

This case is not covered by Casetext's citator
Connecticut Superior Court Judicial District of Hartford at HartfordFeb 22, 2008
2008 Ct. Sup. 2889 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2008)

No. HHD-CV-07 4032200

February 22, 2008


MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTION TO DISMISS


JAMES M. BENTIVEGNA, JUDGE.

I STATEMENT OF CASE

The defendant moves to dismiss the complaint based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On August 14, 2007, the plaintiff filed a pro se complaint alleging the following facts. The plaintiff, Shawn Smith, is an inmate at McDougall-Walker Correctional Institute. On January 10, 2005, the plaintiff enrolled in the prison's building maintenance vocational program. Prior to enrolling in this program, the plaintiff had no knowledge of how to operate the various machines used in the program. One such machine, a band saw, employed a makeshift safety guard. After this makeshift safety guard broke, the defendant, Richard Francis, who was the program's instructor, fashioned a replacement. The plaintiff alleges that this replacement makeshift guard malfunctioned, leading to the plaintiff cutting his thumb severely on the band saw.

On October 3, 2007, the defendant filed this motion to dismiss the complaint, along with a memorandum of law in support of the motion. On November 1, 2007, the plaintiff filed a memorandum of law in opposition to the motion. On November 27, 2007, the court (Bentivegna, J.) granted the defendant's motion to dismiss. On December 7, 2007, the plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration. The court heard oral arguments at short calendar on January 22, 2008.

II DISCUSSION

"A motion to dismiss . . . properly attacks the jurisdiction of the court, essentially asserting that the plaintiff cannot as a matter of law and fact state a cause of action that should be heard by the court . . . A motion to dismiss tests, inter alia, whether on the face of the record, the court is without jurisdiction." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Cox v. Aiken, 278 Conn. 204, 210-11, 897 A.2d 71 (2006). "[A] motion to dismiss is not designed to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint in terms of whether it states a cause of action." Pratt v. Old Saybrook, 225 Conn. 177, 185, 621 A.2d 1322 (1993). "Subject matter jurisdiction involves the authority of the court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented by the action before it . . . [A] court lacks discretion to consider the merits of a case over which it is without jurisdiction . . ." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Peters v. Dept. of Social Services, 273 Conn. 434, 441, 870 A.2d 448 (2005). "When a . . . court decides a jurisdictional question raised by a pretrial motion to dismiss, it must consider the allegations of the complaint in their most favorable light . . . In this regard, a court must take the facts to be those alleged in the complaint, including those facts necessarily implied from the allegations, construing them in a manner most favorable to the pleader." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Cox v. Aiken, supra, 278 Conn. 211.

In his memorandum in support of the motion, the defendant argues that sovereign immunity bars this claim. The defendant argues that the plaintiff only sued the defendant in his official capacity as an officer of the state. The defendant argues that since a suit against an officer of the state is essentially a suit against the state itself, sovereign immunity must bar this claim. The plaintiff replies that sovereign immunity does not apply in this case. The plaintiff argues that the defendant acted in violation of the constitution and that an officer of the state who acts in violation of the constitution ceases to represent the state. As such, sovereign immunity will not bar such a suit.

"Pursuant to the rules of practice, a motion to dismiss is the appropriate motion for raising a lack of subject matter jurisdiction." St. George v. Gordon, 264 Conn. 538, 545, 825 A.2d 90 (2003). "[T]he doctrine of sovereign immunity implicates subject matter jurisdiction and is therefore a basis for granting a motion to dismiss." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Kozlowski v. Commissioner of Transportation, 274 Conn. 497, 501, 876 A.2d 1148 (2005).

First, the court must determine whether the plaintiff is suing the defendant in his official or individual capacity. Here, the complaint does not indicate in which capacity the defendant appears. The plaintiff's argument concedes that he served the defendant through the Office of the Attorney General, which is the manner used for serving an officer of the state. See General Statutes § 52-64. The plaintiff states that the Attorney General is designated as the appropriate agent to accept service for employees of the state. Furthermore, the marshal's return indicates that the marshal, at the direction of the plaintiff, served process at the Office of the Attorney General. The plaintiff did not serve process "by leaving a true and attested copy . . . with the defendant, or at his usual place of abode, in this state." General Statutes § 52-57. Therefore, the plaintiff has sued the defendant only in his official capacity, not as an individual.

"The principle that the state cannot be sued without its consent, or sovereign immunity, is well established under our case law . . . It has deep roots in this state and our legal system in general, finding its origin in ancient common law . . . Not only have [courts] recognized the state's immunity as an entity, but [courts] have also recognized that because the state can act only through its officers and agents, a suit against a state officer concerning a matter in which the officer represents the state is, in effect, against the state." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) C.R. Klewin Northeast, LLC v. Fleming, 284 Conn. 250, 258, 932 A.2d 1053 (2007).

Courts have carved out exceptions for sovereign immunity where either the legislature has created an exception or where the plaintiff seeks declaratory or injunctive relief for a violation of constitutional rights. See Miller v. Egan, 265 Conn. 301, 314, 828 A.2d 549 (2003). No such exception exists, however, for monetary damages. See id., 317 ("Even where the monetary award is . . . minimal . . . [courts have] refused to sanction a monetary judgment against the state in the absence of explicit statutory authority.").

In this case, the plaintiff has failed to attach a prayer for relief, which would indicate what the plaintiff hopes to receive if this lawsuit is successful. The summons indicates that he is seeking both money damages in excess of $15,000 and other relief in addition to or in lieu of money damages. Since the defendant appears in his official capacity only, and since the plaintiff has failed to cite any statutory authority abrogating sovereign immunity for a claim for money damages, sovereign immunity bars this claim with respect to any money damages.

Next, the court must determine whether a claim for injunctive relief or declaratory relief can survive sovereign immunity in this case. "[A]ctions that seek injunctive or declaratory relief against a state officer acting in excess of statutory authority or pursuant to an unconstitutional statute do not conflict with the policies underlying the doctrine of sovereign immunity." Miller v. Egan, supra, 265 Conn. 314. Courts allow such equitable relief against the state and its officers rather than monetary damages because the court can tailor such relief to avoid "serious interference with the performance of their functions and with their control over their respective instrumentalities, funds and property." Id.

Here, according to the facts alleged in the complaint, the plaintiff is essentially asserting a negligence cause of action. The plaintiff does not allege that the defendant acted in excess of statutory authority or pursuant to an unconstitutional statute. Rather, the complaint sounds in negligence. Therefore, this case does not fit into the injunctive relief exception to sovereign immunity.

Accordingly, the motion to dismiss must be granted on the grounds that sovereign immunity bars any claim against the defendant in his official capacity.

The defendant also argued that General Statutes § 4-165 shields him from immunity because the complaint only alleges negligence in the course of the defendant's official duties. Since sovereign immunity bars suit in this case, it is unnecessary to determine whether § 4-165 applies. See Antinerella v. Rioux, 229 Conn. 479, 498, 642 A.2d 699 (1994) ("Section 4-165, however, is implicated only after it has been determined that the state may rightfully be sued.") The court need not reach this issue.

III CONCLUSION AND ORDER

For the above-stated reasons, the defendant's motion to dismiss is granted.

SO ORDERED