NORWALK POLICE UNION, LOCAL 1727, COUNCIL #15, AFSCME, AFL-CIO v. CITY OF NORWALK et al., SC 19667

Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Stamford

 

      Arbitration; Whether Court Properly Vacated Arbitration Award Upholding Police Officer’s Termination on Ground That Termination Constituted a Second Punishment for the Same Misconduct in Violation of Double Jeopardy.  Stephen Couture was employed by the defendant city of Norwalk’s police department as a sergeant and served as the commander of the department’s Youth Bureau.  After engaging in misconduct, Couture was reassigned to the Patrol Division in a non-commander position.  The department later conducted an investigation into the misconduct and terminated Couture’s employment, and the plaintiff contested the termination through the grievance process outlined in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.  An arbitration panel heard the matter and issued an award upholding Couture’s termination.  The plaintiff union filed an application to vacate the arbitration award with the trial court, claiming that Couture’s reassignment constituted discipline for his misconduct and that his subsequent termination violated fundamental fairness and double jeopardy in that it constituted an improper second punishment for a single incident of misconduct.  The trial court agreed and vacated the arbitration award.  It interpreted the collective bargaining agreement to provide that the reassignment constituted discipline and found nothing in the collective bargaining agreement permitting the defendants to twice discipline a police officer for the same incident of misconduct.  The city of Norwalk appeals, claiming that, because the submission to arbitration was unrestricted, the trial court erred in failing to defer to the arbitration panel’s findings that Couture’s reassignment to the Patrol Division was not discipline and that he was discharged for good cause.  The city also claims that the trial court wrongly found that the arbitration award was in manifest disregard of the law.  The city contends that the constitutional principle of double jeopardy is not the “law” in civil actions and has never been considered to be law applicable in an arbitration proceeding that addresses whether there was just cause for discipline or discharge of an employee under a collective bargaining agreement.