The issue that we must resolve in this appeal is whether the trial court properly vacated an arbitration award that had found that the defendant city of Norwalk (city) had just cause to terminate the employment of Stephen E. Couture, a police sergeant employed by the Norwalk Police Department (department). The plaintiff,
After Couture notified a fellow police officer, Thomas Cummings, of a pending criminal investigation against him, Harry W. Rilling, the chief of the department, reassigned Couture to the department's patrol division. Thereafter, Rilling determined that Couture may have violated a number of department rules and regulations by telling Cummings about the investigation. The allegations of misconduct were litigated in a public trial before the Board of Police Commissioners (board of commissioners). The board of commissioners concluded that Couture had violated a number of departmental rules and that his employment should be terminated. Couture disputed the board of commissisoners' decision through the grievance procedures set forth in the agreement and ultimately
The record reveals the following procedural history and facts that were found by the arbitration board or are undisputed. Couture started working at the department in 1984. He was promoted to the rank of detective in approximately 1987 and to the rank of sergeant in 1991. In 2001, Rilling appointed Couture as commander of the department's youth bureau.
During his tenure at the youth bureau, Couture became an experienced investigator of crimes involving persons under the age of majority. Couture's supervisor, Captain Rosemary Arway, considered him to be a leader in the development of team approaches to interviewing child sexual assault victims and Internet sting operations.
Cummings was a lieutenant in the department and the commander of the detective division. Couture and Cummings had worked together for many years and were on friendly terms, although they were not social friends.
On Friday, October 26, 2007, Couture's subordinate, Detective Charles Perez, returned a telephone call that he had received earlier in the week from Jill Ruggiero, a detective with the Westport Police Department. Ruggiero informed Perez that there was an ongoing sexual assault investigation that was possibly going to be transferred to the department. Perez told Couture about his conversation with Ruggiero, and Couture instructed Perez to get further information. When Perez spoke again with Ruggiero that same day, the information that she provided led Perez to believe that the suspect in the investigation might be Cummings. Perez told Ruggiero that she should speak directly to Couture about the matter. Perez also called Richard Colangelo, an assistant state's attorney, and told him that the sexual assault suspect possibly was Cummings. At approximately 2:43 p.m., Ruggiero called Couture and gave him information about the investigation, and Couture confirmed that the suspect indeed was Cummings. At the end of that telephone call, both Couture and Ruggiero stated that they would report the situation to their respective chiefs of police.
Minutes after speaking to Ruggiero, Couture called Cummings' cell phone and made arrangements to meet him in a parking lot across the street from Norwalk High School. Couture spoke to Perez by cell phone while he was driving to the parking lot, but he did not inform him that he was on his way to meet Cummings.
That same day, October 26, 2007, at 5:34 p.m., Couture telephoned Ruggiero from his extension at the police station. Couture told Ruggiero that the sexual assault investigation of Cummings was a "really big deal" and that, if word of it became public, it would likely draw the attention of the national news media. Couture further stated that if that occurred, it would be a very bad development for the department. Ruggiero had the impression that Couture was trying to tell her not to make the situation "any bigger than it already was" and not to pursue the matter.
On the morning of Monday, October 29, 2007, Colangelo went to the department to meet with Rilling. When Colangelo told Rilling about the investigation of Cummings, Rilling indicated that he was concerned that Cummings might have been notified about it.
Later that day, Couture went to Colangelo's office and gave a sworn statement regarding the events of October 26, 2007. Couture stated that Ruggiero had advised him that the criminal investigation would be closed if the alleged victims did not come forward. Couture also stated that, while he was speaking to Cummings in the parking lot, Colangelo had called Couture and informed him that the matter would be investigated by the Westport Police Department. At that point, Couture knew that the investigation against Cummings was ongoing.
On February 12, 2008, Rilling reassigned Couture to the department's patrol division. On March 11, 2008, after being informed by Colangelo that Couture would not be the subject of any criminal charges, Rilling ordered an internal investigation to determine whether Couture had violated any of the department's policies or procedures when he informed Cummings about the sexual assault investigation. Captain Ernest Vitarbo conducted the investigation and provided a report to Rilling and, after reviewing the report, Rilling concluded that Couture may have violated several of the department's rules and directives.
The board of commissioners conducted a hearing over four days, at which Couture was represented by both counsel for the plaintiff and his own private counsel. The board of commissioners found that Couture had violated §§ 4.1, 4.16 and 4.21 of the rules of conduct set forth in the department's police manual; see footnote 4 of this opinion; and concluded that Couture should be discharged from employment. The city terminated Couture on September 23, 2008, the same day the board of commissioners issued its decision.
On the same date, the plaintiff filed a grievance contending that the city had terminated Couture without just cause, in violation of the agreement, and seeking his reinstatement. After exhausting internal grievance procedures, the plaintiff invoked its right to submit the matter to arbitration. The issues to be determined by the arbitration board were: "Was the discharge of ... Couture for just cause?"; and "If not, what should be the remedy consistent with the [agreement]?" The plaintiff contended that Couture's termination violated double jeopardy principles because he previously had been subject to discipline for the same misconduct, namely, Rilling's reassignment of Couture to the patrol division.
A majority of the arbitration board concluded that "[t]he question of double jeopardy is easily disposed of for two reasons, as follows: (1) [t]here was no grievance filed for this question and if there was, it is not before this panel of arbitrators;
Thereafter, the plaintiff filed an application to vacate the arbitration award pursuant to § 52-418.
During a subsequent hearing on the plaintiff's application to vacate, the trial court permitted the plaintiff to elicit testimony from Couture about the circumstances surrounding his transfer to the patrol division. The city objected to the admission of this testimony on the ground that the reason for the transfer was not an issue to be decided by the trial court. The trial court overruled the city's objection on the ground that it was unclear whether "this issue was fully covered by the arbitration...."
In its memorandum of decision, the trial court concluded that Rilling's reassignment of Couture to the patrol division constituted discipline and that the plaintiff properly had raised the issue of double jeopardy before the arbitration board.
The city then filed this appeal in which it claims that the trial court improperly allowed Couture to testify regarding the circumstances surrounding his reassignment to the patrol division and found that the reassignment constituted discipline for the incident involving Cummings despite the arbitration board's finding to the contrary. The city further contends that, even if the reassignment did constitute discipline, there is no "`[well-defined], explicit, and clearly applicable'" law providing that double jeopardy principles apply to disputes involving employee discipline.
At the outset, we set forth the standard of review. "When the parties
Nevertheless, this court previously has recognized that "an award that manifests an egregious or patently irrational application of the law is an award that should be set aside pursuant to § 52-418 (a) (4) because the arbitrator has `exceeded [his] powers or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.'" Garrity v. McCaskey, supra, 223 Conn. at 10, 612 A.2d 742. We have emphasized, however, that "the `manifest disregard of the law' ground for vacating an arbitration award is narrow and should be reserved for circumstances of an arbitrator's extraordinary lack of fidelity to established legal principles." Id.
"[T]hree elements ... must be satisfied in order for a court to vacate an arbitration award on the ground that the arbitration panel manifestly disregarded the law: (1) the error was obvious and capable of being readily and instantly perceived by the average person qualified to serve as an arbitrator; (2) the arbitration panel appreciated the existence of a clearly governing legal principle but decided to ignore it; and (3) the governing law alleged to have been ignored by the arbitration panel is [well-defined], explicit, and clearly applicable." Saturn Construction Co. v. Premier Roofing Co., supra, 238 Conn. at 305, 680 A.2d 1274.
With these principles in mind, we address the city's claim that the trial court improperly found that Rilling had disciplined Couture when he reassigned Couture to the patrol division despite the arbitration board's finding to the contrary. We agree that the question of whether the reassignment was disciplinary is purely a question of fact. Our research has not revealed, and neither the plaintiff nor the trial court has cited, any authority for the proposition that the reassignment of an employee constitutes discipline as a matter of law, much less any such authority that is "[well-defined], explicit, and clearly applicable."
The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded to the trial court with direction to deny the plaintiff's application to vacate the arbitration award.
In this opinion the other justices concurred.