Posts tagged with "insurance company"

School Liability in a Student Bullying Case: It’s Fact-Driven

It’s a new day, and [expectantly] the news brings us yet another bullying story. Brandon Myers was a 12-year-old student in the Blue Springs (Missouri) School District. He was born with a cleft palate, and for that he “faced constant bullying from his classmates. … [O]n one occasion at recess, several students threatened to ‘fill up the hole’ in Brandon’s face before shoving him to the ground. They then reportedly pushed grass and dirt in his nose and mouth.”[1] Brandon’s parents taught him to be the bigger person and ignore the teasing and bullying. They also “encouraged their son to tell a teacher about the bullying. When he did… he was [rebuked and] told to stop being a ‘tattletale.’”[2]

Between the “constant tormenting” and teachers who simply would not listen, Brandon was pushed to one conclusion: suicide by hanging was his only recourse. Brandon’s parents just reached a settlement with the school district’s insurance company to the tune of $500,000. The agreement also included “making two administrators be retrained in bullying awareness” and the implementation of a bullying awareness day.[3]

Connecticut law is presently unsettled with respect to whether school districts are liable for bullying in schools. Each case is typically very fact-driven: “whether a parent can prevail on [a negligence claim] is dependent on the unique facts and circumstances surrounding their child’s case.”[4] It also depends on whether the action on part of the school was governmental or ministerial.

Governmental acts are performed to benefit the public and involve discretion and supervision. For public policy reasons, the Connecticut legislature has elected to grant qualified immunity to school personnel who perform acts of this nature. Therefore, liability will not attach in a negligence action unless one of three exceptions applies: 1) the act involves malice or intent to injure; 2) there is a statutory cause of action against the municipal employee; or 3) the municipal employee’s failure to act directed at an identifiable person subject to an imminent harm.[5]

On the other hand, ministerial acts do not allow the exercise of discretion or judgment. They are “usually secondary in nature and executed according to established policy, rule or practice,”[6] such as inspecting and keeping hallways clean or adult supervision at recess.[7] The failure to adequately perform a ministerial duty may result in liability of the school district. However, Connecticut courts are in disagreement as to whether or not “a school’s failure to take action against bullying when it knew or should have known about the misconduct constitutes a misperformance of a ministerial function.”[8]

The extent to which a school district details its anti-bullying policy appears to play a key role in the court’s decision, and “[a] parent will likely have a better chance to prevail on a negligence claim under a ‘ministerial action’ theory if the school fails to discharge a responsibility that was spelled out in the plan in such exquisite detail that it eliminated or marginalized a school employee’s judgment or discretion.”[9]

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 lawyers 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.


[1] “Blue Springs School District’s insurance company settled bullying lawsuit for $500,000,” by Melissa Yaeger. October 15, 2012: http://www.kshb.com/dpp/news/local_news/investigations/blue-springs-school-districts-insurance-company-settled-bullying-lawsuit-for-500000?hpt=ju_bn5

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq. pp. 104-05.

[5] Esposito v. Town of Bethany, No. CV065002923, 2010 WL 2196910, at *4 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 3, 2010).

[6] Id. at *3.

[7] See Footnote 4 at pp.105.

[8] Compare Dornfried v. Berlin Board of Education, No. CV064011497S, 2008 WL 5220639, at *1 (Conn. Super. Ct. Sept. 26, 2008) with Esposito, supra, at *8.

[9] See Footnote 4 at pp.106.

Connecticut Non-Compete Prohibits Client Solicitation in Investment Services Industry

In Robert J. Reby & Co. v. Byrne, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2115, Mr. Patrick Byrne worked at Robert J. Reby & Co., a financial firm in Danbury, Connecticut, as a registered investment advisor from June 2005 to July 2005.  The company advises high net worth individuals and families in the areas of trusts, wealth management, and taxation.  Mr. Byrne signed an employment contract with Robert J. Reby & Co. wherein it contained a non-compete agreement that stipulated he be prohibited from soliciting the company’s clients or disclosing any of its confidential information in the event of his termination.  Following Mr. Byrne’s short employment with Robert J. Reby & Co. he began to work at Aspetuck Financial Management, LLC, a wealth management firm based in Westport.   Robert J. Reby & Co. alleged that Mr. Byrne solicited its clients for his new firm, Aspetuck, in direct violation of the non-compete agreement.  Mr. Byrne countered that the provisions of the non-compete were unreasonable in the sense that it placed an excessive restraint on his trade and prevented him from pursuing his occupation.

The court held that the non-compete agreement between Mr. Byrne and Robert J. Reby & Co. contained reasonable terms and was enforceable.  It failed to see any merits in Mr. Byrne’s claim that the agreement was too broad and created an insurmountable occupational hardship.  The provisions of the agreement only restricted a very small segment of Mr. Byrne’s occupational activities.  The terms he agreed to only prevented him from soliciting the specific and limited group of people that were clients of Robert J. Reby & Co..  The court held that the covenant was not a pure anti-competitive clause because it did not prevent him from engaging in the investment services industry as a whole.  This limited scope with regard to the prohibition levied upon Mr. Byrne caused the agreement to be reasonable and therefore enforceable.

The court also took time to discuss the public policy behind finding the non-compete agreement enforceable and establishing the legitimacy of the agreement.  Companies, according to the court, have a legitimate interest in protecting their business operations by preventing former employees from exploiting or appropriating the goodwill of its clients that it developed at its own, and not the employees’, expense.

If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment contract, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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Court Uses Connecticut Law to Supersede Massachusetts Law in Application of Non-Compete Agreement

In Custard Insurance Adjusters v. Nardi, 2000 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1003, Mr. Robert Nardi worked at Allied Adjustment Services’ Orange, CT office beginning in September 1982 as the vice president of marketing, overseeing the adjustment of claims for insurance companies and self-insurers.  The company had Mr. Nardi sign non-compete and confidentiality agreements as a term of his employment.  The agreements established that he could not solicit or accept claims within a fifty-mile radius of Allied’s Orange office for a period of two years following his termination.  The agreements further specified that the names and contact information of Allied’s clients were the company’s confidential property.  The choice of law provision stated that Massachusetts law would be controlling (Allied had its headquarters in Massachusetts).  On September 1, 1997, Allied sold its business and all its assets, including its non-compete agreements, to Custard Insurance Adjusters.  Mr. Nardi became increasingly worried about future employment at Custard when the company restructured its compensation format, allegedly decreasing his annual income by 25%.  At this point, Mr. Nardi began to inquire about employment at other companies and in particular contacted Mr. John Markle, the president of Mark Adjustment, with whom he had a previous professional history.  He also arranged meetings between Mr. Markle and four other current Custard employees to discuss switching companies.  While the companies are competitors in the insurance industry, Mark’s business was restricted to the New England region while Custard operated nationally.  Custard terminated Mr. Nardi and asked the court to enforce the non-compete agreement.

The court first sought to tackle the issue of the choice of law provision since it designated Massachusetts law as controlling but this lawsuit was brought in Connecticut state court.  The court asserted its authority over the issue and case because it could not ascertain any “difference between the courts of Connecticut and Massachusetts in their interpretation of the common law tort breach of fiduciary obligation brought against a former officer of a corporation”.  The court emphasized that above all else, the legal issue at hand was that of contractual obligations and a company’s business operations.  It asserted its authority in this respect by stating it believed “that the Massachusetts courts interpret the tort of tortious interference with contractual and business relationships the same way our [Connecticut’s] courts do”.  Additionally, the court cited that the application of Massachusetts law would undermine Connecticut’s policy to afford legal effect to the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) and Connecticut Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA), two-state statutes used by Custard to sue Mr. Nardi.

Next, the court addressed the enforceability of the non-compete agreement signed by Mr. Nardi and Allied.  Mr. Nardi contended that the provisions of the agreement were only binding upon the signatory parties (himself and Allied) and that Custard lacked the authority to enforce its provisions.  He asked the court to deny Custard’s request to enforce the non-compete because it was “based on trust and confidence” between the signatory parties and “was thus not assignable”.  The court rejected this train of thought because the non-compete explicitly contained an assignability clause and it held that the non-compete covenant was properly and legally transferred to Custard under Massachusetts law.

Mr. Nardi based a substantial portion of his defense on the claim that Custard violated, and therefore invalidated, the agreement when it modified his compensation format.  He alleged that he was the victim of unjustified reductions in his professional responsibilities and compensation following Custard’s acquisition of Allied in 1997.  Mr. Nardi however was still an executive at the new company despite a reduction in rank and he himself had expressed excitement about becoming an executive at a national, instead of a regional, company.

The court ultimately found the non-compete to be valid and enforceable, therefore granting Custard’s request for injunctive relief.  It assessed the facts of the case and Mr. Nardi’s current position to amend the time restriction of the agreement, however.  Taking into account that he was starting a family and had a young child in conjunction with estimates that the full restrictions could amount to a 60-70% loss of business for Mr. Nardi, the court reduced the time limitation from two years to six months.  The court concluded that while the provisions were reasonable at face value, they could have unforeseen consequences that would have severely impaired Mr. Nardi’s ability to make a living in order to provide for his family.

If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Enforceability of Non-Solicitation Agreement for Potential Clients of Former Employer

Webster Financial Corporation v. McDonald, 2009 Conn. Super. LEXIS 169

USI Insurance Services of Connecticut, Inc., formerly Webster Insurance, Inc., employed Mr. William McDonald as a senior vice president at its Westport, CT office. The company had Mr. McDonald sign an employment agreement dated February 11, 2003 that contained non-compete and non-solicitation clauses in the event of his termination. The agreement prohibited Mr. McDonald from soliciting any of USI’s contacts that had been clients or potential clients in the twelve months prior to his termination and established a geographical limit of twenty-five miles within USI’s Westport office. As for the time limitation, the covenant was applicable for the great period of two years following Mr. McDonald’s termination or as long as he received benefits from a deferred compensation plan. Mr. McDonald resigned on September 21, 2007 and began to work at Shoff Darby, Inc., an industry competitor well within the prohibited twenty-five radius of USI’s Westport office. At his new firm, Mr. McDonald proceeded to solicit and sell insurance products to USI’s former and current clients. Additionally, he contacted several USI employees and urged them to leave the company to seek employment with Shoff Darby.
USI sued Mr. McDonald and asked the court to enforce the provisions of the restrictive covenant. Mr. McDonald presented two defenses to the court, arguing that the agreement was overly broad and therefore unenforceable. He claimed that the prohibition of potential clients and the potential unlimited duration made the non-compete agreement unreasonable and unenforceable. USI asserted the validity of the agreement and emphasized to the court that it contained a “blue pencil” provision that authorized the court to amend the time and/or geographical limitation in order to comply with Connecticut law. Mr. McDonald countered this argument stating that this legal procedure would require the court to essentially rewrite the non-compete contract, an act forbidden under Connecticut law.
The court found in favor of USI with regard to the issue of the agreement’s enforceability with its holding stating, “taking the covenant as whole, nothing on the face of the contract renders the covenant unenforceable as a matter of law”. While deliberating about the claim that the prohibition on potential clients was unreasonable, the court stated that there is no direction or precedent from the Connecticut Appellate Courts and that the Superior Courts throughout the state were divided on the issue. This court took the approach used in Cuna Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Butler (2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1623) that such limitations on potential clients are reasonable so long as they are “readily identifiable and narrowly defined”. The court concluded that the potentially unlimited applicable duration of the agreement was not “per se unreasonable” because the agreement as a whole contained several other definitive restrictions such as the twenty-five radius from the Westport office and the limited group of clients for the anti-solicitation clause.

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Enforcing a Non-Compete Agreement in the Connecticut Insurance Industry

Enforcing a Non-Compete Agreement in the Connecticut Insurance Industry
Grayling Associates, Inc. v. Villota, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1859

Grayling Associates, Inc., an executive recruiting agency for large national insurance companies, employed Mr. Albert Villota from October 2002 to April 8, 2004. The parties executed a non-compete agreement at the start of Mr. Villota’s employment that prohibited him from working at a competing firm within a one hundred mile radius of Grayling’s Connecticut office for a period of two year after his termination. He began to work at a direct competitor, Park Avenue Group, Inc. (PAG), after he voluntarily terminated his employment with Grayling. The company sued Mr. Villota in Connecticut state court and sought the enforcement of the provisions contained in the non-compete agreement.
The court found in favor of Grayling and granted the company’s request for injunctive relief. It enjoined Ms. Villota from working at PAG or other companies in competition with Grayling until April 8, 2006, the end of the two-year period as stipulated in the non-compete agreement. The court went on to confirm that the time and geographical restrictions in the agreement were reasonable so that they properly balanced the interests of the parties.
The major point of contention in the case focused on the one hundred mile radius restriction. Grayling was based in Hartford, referred to by many in the business world as the “insurance capital of the world” and as such, the nature of its services was very dependent on its location and proximity to the city. Many of the nation’s most prominent insurance firms have their headquarters in Hartford and Mr. Villota’s actions within the vicinity of the city could negatively affect Grayling’s business interests and operations. Grayling noted that the non-compete agreement allowed for the application of the “blue pencil rule” that would allow the court to modify the terms of the geographical restriction. The court held that the restriction was enforceable as stated in the agreement and enforced the one hundred mile radius provision to protect Grayling’s legitimate interests.
If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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Appellate Court Considers Whether Evidence of Previously-Set Fire Was Improperly Admitted in Arson Trial

In “Double Jeopardy Not Implicated in Case Where Man Purposefully Burned Down His Home to Collect Nearly $400,000 in Insurance Payments,” the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claims that his constitutional protections against double jeopardy were violated when he was convicted of both larceny in the first degree and insurance fraud. The Court considered other matters on his appeal, including whether or not the court improperly admitted testimony.

In her sworn statement, the defendant’s daughter informed police that the defendant had purposefully set her car on fire during the summer of 2001. She explained that she did not want to have to continue making her car payments, so the defendant “told [her] that he was going to start a fire in the car and make it look like an electrical fire so that she could collect the insurance and pay off the automobile loan.” His effort was a success: police determined the damage was accidental, the car was deemed a total loss, and the insurance company, as expected, paid her claim.

Prior to the defendant’s trial for arson, insurance fraud, and larceny, he filed a motion seeking to exclude any evidence related to car fire. He argued that he did not receive any of the proceeds, was never charged for a crime, and the evidence was more prejudicial than probative. The State countered that this evidence of misconduct was admissible because it was relevant in establishing intent as to whether the house fire was accidental and showed a common scheme. The court denied the motion but issued a jury instruction that the purpose of the evidence was to establish “a method or plan or scheme… in the commission of criminal acts or the existence of intent or the absence of accident.”

Generally, evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts is inadmissible to prove guilt on a present charge. However, “evidence of crimes so connected as to tend directly to prove the commission of the charged crime is admissible.” Such evidence will be admitted only if it is relevant to a statutory exception, such as proving intent, and the probative value outweighs the prejudicial effect. In this case, the Appellate Court agreed with the defendant that the daughter’s statement was inadmissible to show a common scheme or plan because the car fire occurred more than a year before the house fire. However, the Court sided with the State and found the evidence was admissible “to prove the closely related issues of intent… lack of accident or mistake.” As the Court elaborated:

The evidence that the defendant started a fire in the automobile in order that his daughter might recover insurance proceeds tended to prove that he knew how to start a fire that appeared to be accidental in nature and that he intentionally set the fire to his residence to recover insurance proceeds.

Whether or not the house fire was accidental in nature became an issue in the case, so the evidence regarding the car fire made “utterly limpid his subsequent intent to burn down his house… to recover the insurance proceeds.” After determining the evidence would not “shock the sensibilities” of the jury, resulting in undue prejudice to the defendant, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment as to this aspect of the defendant’s appeal.

When faced with a charge of arson, fraud, or larceny, 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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