MICHAEL WOODRUFF v. TASHA HEMINGWAY, SC 18512
Judicial District of Waterbury
Torts; Immunity; Whether General Statutes § 4-165 Barred Negligence Action Against State Employee in her Individual Capacity; Whether Action was one for Reimbursement for Damages Caused by Armed Forces Personnel or for Damages Caused by Negligence of State Employee Operating State Motor Vehicle; Whether Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Extended Time to Cure Defects in Action. The plaintiff brought this action to recover damages for personal injuries that he sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the action was barred by General Statutes § 4-165 because, at the time of the accident, she was acting in the course of her employment with the Connecticut National Guard. Pursuant to § 4-165, "[n]o state officer or employee shall be personally liable for damage or injury, not wanton, reckless or malicious, caused in the discharge of his or her duties or within the scope of his or her employment. . . ." The trial court agreed with the defendant and granted the motion to dismiss. The court noted that the complaint did not indicate that the actions of the defendant were wanton, reckless or malicious or that the defendant was being sued in her official capacity. Rather, the court noted, the complaint showed that the defendant was being sued individually. The court rejected the plaintiff's argument that his claim was authorized by General Statutes § 52-556, which permits an action against the state by persons injured due to the negligence of a state employee operating a motor vehicle owned and insured by the state. The court noted that § 52-556 only authorizes suits against the state, not the state employee, and that it was undisputed in this case that the only defendant named and served was the individual defendant. The court also rejected the plaintiff's argument that, because the defendant was on active military duty during part of the time that this action was pending, any defects in his suit could be cured under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 U.S.C. Appendix § 501. The court noted that the act, which stays civil proceedings against persons in the military service, does not protect the plaintiff. The act, instead, protects persons, such as the defendant, from having to defend civil suits during periods of active military service so that they may devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the nation. The court additionally found that the plaintiff had failed to provide the court with any substantive discussion to support his claim that this action was authorized by General Statutes § 27-70, which provides for reimbursement for damages caused by armed forces personnel. The plaintiff challenges the trial court's findings in this appeal to the Supreme Court.