Posts tagged with "insufficient"

In Negligence Suit, Superior Court Finds in Favor of Defendant School District, Citing Qualified Immunity

In a recent negligence action, the Superior Court of Connecticut in Litchfield granted a motion to strike filed by school officials and a town board of education (collectively the defendants) because no exception to qualified immunity for discretionary acts applied to the case.

One day during recess, a parent’s daughter was kicked and injured by a classmate (defendant student). The defendants were aware that the daughter was frequently bullied and harassed by the defendant student. Therefore, the parent filed suit, alleging that the defendants “failed in its duty to protect [his daughter] against any future bullying.”  However, the defendants asserted that they were not subject to liability because of governmental immunity.

Generally, municipal employees enjoy “qualified immunity in the performance of a governmental duty,”[1] which involves the exercise of discretion. However, even this immunity may be surmounted by a plaintiff if he or she can establish the applicability of one of three exceptions. One of these exceptions is the “identifiable person-imminent harm” exception, which requires: “(1) an identifiable victim; (2) an imminent harm; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[2] This is a narrowly applied exception, however, because the harm itself must be “limited both in duration and in geography to make it apparent to the defendants that schoolchildren were subject to imminent harm.”[3] In other words:

Imminent harm excludes risks which might occur, if at all, at some unspecified time in the future. In order to meet the imminent harm prong of this exception… the risk must be temporary and of short duration.[4]

In this case, the Court found that although the plaintiff satisfied the first prong, he failed to do so with the second two. He failed to “allege a temporary condition which placed [his daughter] in imminent harm;” rather, it could have happened anytime, anywhere during the school day.[5] The defendants’ knowledge of the previous bullying and harassment, without more, was insufficient to satisfy the remainder of the test. Therefore, the Court ruled that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and granted the motion to strike.

If you are the parent of a child who has been bullied or harassed at school, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. If you have any questions regarding school liability or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] Burns v. Board of Education, 228 Conn. 640, 645 (1994).

[2] Violano v. Fernandez, 280 Conn. 310, 319-20 (2006).

[3] Doe v. Board of Education, 76 Conn. App. 296, 302-03 (2003).

[4] Cady v. Tolland, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3526.

[5] Antalik et al. v. Thomaston Board of Education, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2082.

In Reviewing Evidentiary Inferences, Whether They Are Reasonable and Logical is Paramount Consideration on Appeal

As described in an article posted yesterday, the Appellate Court of Connecticut agreed with the State that a jury made permissible inferences regarding a defendant’s fraudulent receipt of worker’s compensation benefits. Prior to this decision, the Court heard additional matters regarding the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict the defendant of charges stemming from the hotel robbery itself.

As the police investigation proceeded, the evidence began to indicate that the defendant was not an innocent victim of the robbery, but rather an active participant. As such, she was arrested for and charged with larceny in the first degree and falsely reporting an incident in the second degree, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 53a-122(a)(2) and 53a-180c(a)(3). A jury returned guilty verdicts on both counts, and the defendant received a total effective sentence of twelve years’ incarceration, execution suspended after five years, with five years of probation.

On appeal, the defendant asserted four arguments, including the claim that the trial court erred by not granting her motion for a judgment of acquittal (MJOA) for both crimes. After the State closed its case-in-chief, defense counsel orally moved for acquittal, arguing that “the evidence was insufficient to permit a finding of guilt as to either crime in general.” The court denied this motion, and defense counsel promptly rested its own case.

The defendant initially attempted to diminish the evidence’s sufficiency by noting it was circumstantial, rather than direct, in nature. However, there is no legal distinction between these two types of evidence with respect to probative force. As long as a jury is convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, either form may be used.

The defendant further asserted her insufficiency of the evidence claim by arguing that police did not spend enough time on this case to pursue other possible perpetrators, such as the defendant’s coworkers. In her appellate brief, the defendant argued that the jury should have disagreed with the State’s interpretation of the evidence to favor her own, asserting “‘plausible’ ways to interpret the evidence so as to reach a [not guilty] verdict.”

When a jury considers evidence, it need not “accept as dispositive those inferences that are consistent with the defendant’s innocence. … The [finder of fact] may draw whatever inferences from the evidence or facts established by the evidence that it deems to be reasonable and logical.” Therefore, when a reviewing court determines whether or not a jury’s inference was proper, it asks whether there is “a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the [finder of fact’s] verdict of guilty.” In this case, it was the jury’s authority to weigh the credibility of witness testimony and choose which inferences to accept – here, those asserted by the State. Therefore, the Court found that there was ample evidence to support the defendant’s convictions, and the denial of the MJOA was not erroneous.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, conspiracy, or attempt, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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Liability Under Dram Shop Act Requires “Visible Intoxication”

Last year, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether or not a trial court’s denial of a motion to set aside the verdict was an abuse of discretion, because a required element of the offense charged was not established by the plaintiff.

In this case, a citizen and his friend were at a restaurant-bar where they were playing billiards. The citizen consumed five beers, two alcoholic shots, and a blackberry brandy within a four-hour period, but did not exhibit any physical signs of intoxication. Nonetheless, while drunk, he purchased an alcoholic beverage from the restaurant’s bartender. Subsequently, the citizen and his friend left the restaurant-bar and were involved in an accident, resulting in the friend’s death.

The estate of the friend (plaintiff) brought a wrongful death action against the owners of the restaurant (defendant), claiming liability under the Dram Shop Act, Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 30-102. A jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded $4 million in damages, though the defendant sought reduction to the statutory $250,000, which the court granted. The defendant also filed a motion to set aside the verdict and a directed verdict, arguing, in part, that “no evidence was presented from which the jury reasonably could have concluded that [the citizen] was intoxicated” under CGS § 30-102. The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion.

CGS § 30-102 is the statutory mechanism through which a plaintiff may recover damages from one who sells alcohol to an intoxicated person, and such person subsequently causes an injury. For the plaintiff to prevail in such an action, he or she must prove that “there was (1) a sale of intoxicating liquor (2) to an intoxicated person (3) who, in consequence of such intoxication, causes injury to the person or property of another.” At issue on appeal in this case was whether or not the second element requires proof of “visible intoxication” or what amounts to per se intoxication.

The Appellate Court agreed that a showing of visible intoxication was required, and stated that for purposes of CGS § 30-102, “an individual must exhibit some type of physical symptomology in such a way that an observer could perceive that the individual was indeed under the influence of alcohol to some noticeable extent.” In addition, the plaintiff must present evidence that shows the subject in question was either visibly or perceivably intoxicated.

In this case, the Appellate Court noted that while the evidence presented at trial may establish intoxication as it is used in our DUI law (CGS § 14-227a), it was insufficient to prove intoxication under CGS § 30-102. As the Court elaborated, the plaintiff did not present any evidence of visible intoxication – indeed, there was no evidence at all showing that the citizen “was exhibiting any visible or perceivable indications that he was intoxicated.” Therefore, the court abused its discretion in denying the motion to set aside the verdict, because based on the evidence presented, a jury could not have found the required element of “intoxicated person.” Therefore, the judgment was reversed and case remanded.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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