ENVIROTEST SYSTEMS CORP. v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT, COMMISSIONER OF MOTOR VEHICLES, SC 18156

Judicial District of Hartford

 

Sovereign Immunity; Breach of Contract; Whether General Statutes 14-164c (e) Permits Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to Waive State's Sovereign Immunity. The plaintiff entered into a contract with the state to establish and operate the state's motor vehicle emission inspection facilities pursuant to General Statutes 14-164c (e). Section 14-164c (e), in relevant part, provides that "the commissioner of motor vehicles may enter into a negotiated inspection agreement . . . with an independent contractor or contractors, to provide for the leasing, construction, equipping, maintenance or operation of a system of official emission inspection stations in such numbers and locations as may be required to provide vehicle owners reasonably convenient access to inspection facilities." The plaintiff later claimed that the state breached its duties under the contract, and it commenced the present action seeking to compel the state to submit to arbitration. The plaintiff asserted that section twelve of the parties' contract provides that any disputes not resolved through consultation between the parties are to be resolved through arbitration. Section twelve of the contract further states that "[e]xcept as provided in General Statutes 14-164c, et seq., pursuant to which this [c]ontract is executed, the [s]tate has not waived its right of sovereign immunity." The state moved to dismiss the plaintiff's action, claiming that there had been no waiver of sovereign immunity that would allow the plaintiff to compel it to submit to arbitration. In denying the state's motion, the trial court concluded that 14-164c (e) does not contain any express waiver of sovereign immunity. It further determined that the statute waived the state's sovereign immunity as to the plaintiff's demand for arbitration by necessary implication. It reasoned that it would be unlikely for an outside vendor such as the plaintiff to undertake a project of great magnitude without the right to negotiate over the terms of the undertaking and that such negotiations would "almost certainly include contractual terms setting forth the rights of the parties concerning disputes that might be expected to arise under the contract." It therefore determined that 14-164c (e) gave the commissioner the right to waive the state's sovereign immunity, and it found that in the present case, the commissioner waived such immunity in agreeing to the provisions of section twelve of the contract. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the trial court was correct in concluding that 14-164c (e) gave the commissioner the right to waive the state's sovereign immunity.