WINDHAM COMMUNITY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL v. WILLIMANTIC

166 Conn. 113 (1974) | Cited 21 times | Supreme Court of Connecticut | March 5, 1974

This is an action brought by theplaintiff, the Windham Community Memorial Hospital,to recover from the defendant, the city ofWillimantic, for hospital services rendered toDonald Loiseau, who had been shot and wounded by apolice officer in Willimantic while Loiseau wasattempting to flee after having been discovered inthe act of committing a felony in that city. Theofficer summoned an ambulance and Loiseau wastaken to the hospital, where he remained for aperiod of time. The plaintiff billed the city forthe hospitalization which the defendant refused topay. Following a trial in which a recovery wassought, the court rendered judgment for thedefendant and the plaintiff has appealed.

The plaintiff assigns error in the trial court'srefusal to find certain facts which it claims are

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     admitted or undisputed, in finding certain factsin language of doubtful meaning, in reachingcertain conclusions unsupported in the finding, inoverruling its claims of law and in renderingjudgment for the defendant.

The appeal is defective in form because it istaken from the court's memorandum of decisionrather than from the final judgment. Practice Book600; General Statutes 52-263; Howarth v.Northcott, 152 Conn. 460, 462, 208 A.2d 540; Levayv. Levay, 137 Conn. 92, 95, 75 A.2d 400;Maltbie, Conn. App. Proc. 10. The defendant, however,by failing to move to dismiss the appeal, has waivedthe defect. Teitelman v. Bloomstein, 155 Conn. 653,655, 236 A.2d 900; Desmarais v. Pinto, 147 Conn. 109,110, 157 A.2d 596.

The plaintiff has assigned error in the refusalby the court to find certain facts which it claimsare admitted or undisputed. Two of the paragraphsin dispute, containing material facts, are notcontested by the defendant as stated in its counterfinding, and also are supported by evidence printedin the appendix to the plaintiff's brief. Theseare added to the finding.1 Practice Book622 (b); see also King v. Spencer, 115 Conn. 201,204, 161 A. 103; Maltbie, Conn. App. Proc.158. As to the remaining paragraphs recited inthe draft finding, we find no merit to theother corrections sought. We also find no meritto the claim that the facts found in two

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     paragraphs of the court's finding of facts appearin language of doubtful meaning so that their realsignificance does not clearly appear.

The court's finding, as corrected, recites thefollowing facts: On December 27, 1964, Edward Haddad,a police officer employed by the city ofWillimantic, while in the course of performing hisduties and in attempting to apprehend DonaldLoiseau, shot and wounded Loiseau, who had beenengaged in a felony within the city ofWillimantic. After having been shot, Loiseau wasin need of immediate medical and hospital care andOfficer Haddad telephoned for an ambulance. Thepolice department of the city of Willimantic hadauthorized Officer Haddad to exercise hisdiscretion as to whether medical care should besought for a prisoner. Loiseau was removed to theplaintiff hospital, where he was a patient for aperiod of twenty-five days, from December 27,1964, to January 21, 1965. During that time he wasguarded by the police of the defendant city on anaround-the-clock basis. Calculated at privatepatient or published rates, the reasonable amountof the hospital bill for the necessary servicesrendered to Loiseau is $1261.95. The plaintiff,through its administrator, notified the defendantby letter dated December 29, 1964, that Loiseauwas a patient in the hospital under police arrestand that the plaintiff looked to the defendant forpayment of the hospital bill. The plaintiff alsobilled the towns of Windham and Columbia as wellas Loiseau and his parents. The chief of police ofthe city of Willimantic has charge of a jail orstation house which includes a lockup for prisonersand has charge of, and custody and control of, allpersons committed to or confined in said station

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     house. Meals and lodging for prisoners held incustody by the police department were customarilypaid for by the city of Willimantic.

The court reached the following conclusions: Thesummoning of an ambulance by a police officer inorder that a person wounded by him may haveimmediate medical care does not constitute animplied promise that the resulting hospital billwill be paid by the municipality; there was noexpress or implied promise by the defendant to paythe bill; a requirement of the charter and ordinancesof the defendant city that its chief ofpolice be responsible for any prisoner confined inthe station house, or a policy of paying formeals for any person so confined, does not justifya conclusion as to responsibility for a hospitalbill; the rendering of hospital services with theexpectation of payment does not imposeresponsibility on the defendant even thoughnotified; the plaintiff has failed to show apromise by the defendant to pay the hospital billor a duty to do so and has failed to establish thedefendant's liability for payment.

The plaintiff assigns error in these conclusionsof the court. The court's conclusions are to betested by the finding. Walsh v. Turlick, 164 Conn. 75,79, 316 A.2d 759; Brauer v. Freccia, 159 Conn. 289,293, 268 A.2d 645. The conclusions which thecourt reached must stand unless they are legallyor logically inconsistent with the facts found orunless they involve the application of someerroneous rule of law material to the case. Walshv. Turlick, supra; Hames v. Hames, 163 Conn. 588,592, 316 A.2d 379; Covino v. Pfeffer, 160 Conn. 212,216, 276 A.2d 895.

Before discussing the claims of law made by theplaintiff, we note that a substantial part of the

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     appendix to its brief, upon which it relies forsupport of its claims, consists of "Opinions andAdvices of Attorney General." These opinions,covering the period from 1961 to 1970, set forthgenerally that there exists a town's legalresponsibility for necessary medical and hospitalbills for persons held under arrest by its police.In its brief, the plaintiff urges that theseopinions are usually regarded by courts> as highlypersuasive and entitled to substantial weight. Wehave no reason to dispute this valid contention.We point, however, to General Statutes 3-125,which sets forth the duties of the attorneygeneral. The opinions of the attorney general havein no sense the effect of judicial utterances.Where a question of law is before a court fordetermination, an opinion previously rendered bythe attorney general on that question, whileentitled to careful consideration and quitegenerally regarded as highly persuasive, is notbinding on the court. 7 Am.Jur.2d, AttorneyGeneral, 8. Accordingly, while we give dueconsideration to these opinions, we must be guidedby the applicable law as it may relate to theissues on appeal.

The plaintiff makes the basic claim that thedefendant had the duty to provide necessarymedical care and hospitalization for one who hasbeen arrested and is being held pending originalpresentment in court, and that it is bound to paythe reasonable value of necessaries, includingnecessary hospital and medical care, furnished toa prisoner awaiting trial and being held by thedefendant's police department.2

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Prior to October 1, 1960, responsibility forcertain care and treatment of prisoners in jailwas imposed upon the various counties of thestate. General Statutes 18-40 required thefurnishing of suitable bedding and fuel at theexpense of the county. Section 18-41 required thecounty commissioners to provide a safe roomwithin the jail building for the confinement ofsick prisoners with provision for their propercare and nursing. Section 18-48 required jailersto procure suitable food, clothing and medical aidfor prisoners committed on criminal process. Byvirtue of Public Acts 1959, No. 152, whichabolished county government, the aforementionedstatutes, among others, were repealed. Theplaintiff contends, however, that In the adoptionof 7-134, 7-135 and 7-135a,3 the legislativeintent was to place the expense of hospitalizationin a case like that of Loiseau prior to

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     his presentment upon the defendant city. Theconstruction of a statute depends upon its expressedintent when it is taken as a whole. ConnecticutChiropody Society, Inc. v. Murray, 146 Conn. 613,617, 153 A.2d 412; Fox v. Zoning Board of Appeals,146 Conn. 70, 73, 147 A.2d 472; Clark v. TownCouncil, 145 Conn. 476, 485, 144 A.2d 327. "Thewords used [in a statute] are to be construedaccording to their commonly approved usage.General Statutes 1-1; Hardware Mutual CasualtyCo. v. Premo, 153 Conn. 465, 474, 217 A.2d 698;State v. Benson, 153 Conn. 209, 214,214 A.2d 903; Baker v. Norwalk, 152 Conn. 312, 315,206 A.2d 428. Or, stated another way, statutorylanguage is to be given its plain and ordinarymeaning. State v. Taylor, 153 Conn. 72, 82,214 A.2d 362." Klapproth v. Turner, 156 Conn. 276,280, 240 A.2d 886. We cannot agree with the

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     claim that these statutes have any relevancy here.There is nothing in these statutes which in anyway lends support to the plaintiff's claim ofplacing the expense of hospitalization upon thedefendant. They touch in no way upon the claimmade on a city, as a subdivision of government, inrelation to the facts before us. We further pointout that these statutes apply only to a town andin 7-134 include a borough. They do not include acity and if the legislature had so intended itwould have made that clear, as it has in numerousother statutes.4 The city of Willimanticcomprises territorial limits; the powers conferredupon it as a city are by special act of theGeneral Assembly. We take judicial notice of thefact that the city of Willimantic lies within thetown of Windham and that there is no town ofWillimantic. The city of Willimantic is created bycharter from the state. 11 Spec. Laws, No. 729, p.1111 (1893). Thus, it became an independentmunicipal body, separate and distinct from thetown of Windham, and its status as a municipalcorporation is not affected by the fact that itsterritorial limits are embraced within those ofthe town of Windham. "A community of prescribedarea is thereby constituted a body politic andcorporate, with corporate name and continuoussuccession, for the purpose and with the authorityof subordinate self-government and improvement toregulate local and internal affairs of thedesignated territory, through officers, selectedby the corporation [citations omitted]." Sachem'sHead Property Owners' Assn. v. Guilford, 112 Conn. 515,517, 152 A. 877. Cities and towns are creatures of the state.

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     Lacava v. Carfi, 140 Conn. 517, 519,101 A.2d 7955 "As a creature of the state, a municipalitycan exercise only such powers as are expresslygranted to it or such powers as are necessary toenable it to discharge the duties and carry intoeffect the objects and purposes of its creation."New Haven Water Co. v. New Haven, 152 Conn. 563,566, 210 A.2d 449; Baker v. Norwalk, 152 Conn. 312,314, 206 A.2d 428; Bredice v. Norwalk,152 Conn. 287, 292, 206 A.2d 433; Ingham v. Brooks,95 Conn. 317, 328, 111 A. 209; Crofut v. Danbury,65 Conn. 294, 300, 32 A. 365.

The essential contention made by the plaintiffis that the defendant was bound to providenecessary medical care and hospitalization forits prisoners and is thereby made responsiblefor the costs incurred; in any event, apromise to pay such expenses is necessarilyimplied.6 One who demands payment

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     of a claim against a municipality must show somelaw authorizing it, or that it arises from somecontract, express or implied, which is sanctionedby law. 17 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations (3dEd. Rev.), p. 50. The defendant claims thatneither it nor its agents, such as the police,have authority to enter into a binding contractwith the plaintiff for the benefit of Loiseau. Itis generally considered that a municipalcorporation may become liable on an impliedcontract within the scope of its corporate powers,where the contract is deduced by inference fromcorporate acts or is a contract implied in law. Inorder that an implied contract, however, bebinding on, and the basis of a recovery against, amunicipality, it must be within the scope of itscorporate powers; it must appear that there isstatutory authority in the city to contract forthe particular services. 63 C.J.S. 524, 526,Municipal Corporations, 975. Section 12-1 of thecharter of the defendant city provides, in part,as to the duties of the chief of police: "He shallhave charge of the station house, and all personswho shall be committed to, or be confined in saidstation house shall be in his custody andcontrol, by whomsoever arrested."

We have found no statute, no provision of itscharter or ordinance that imposed a duty upon thedefendant to provide medical and hospital servicesto one in the custody of the police, as was Loiseau.

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     The finding discloses that prisoners held incustody by the city police department werecustomarily furnished meals and lodging paid forby the defendant city; that Officer Haddad wasauthorized by the city's police department toexercise discretion as to seeking medical care fora prisoner; that because of having been shotLoiseau was in need of immediate medical andhospital care; that Officer Haddad summoned anambulance; that during Loiseau's entire stay atthe plaintiff hospital he was guarded around theclock by police of the defendant city. The courtalso found that on December 29, 1964, theplaintiff wrote to the defendant that it looked tothe city for payment of the hospital bill.Nevertheless, these circumstances in themselves donot impose upon the defendant the legalresponsibility of paying the hospital bill.

It has been held that, in the absence of expressstatutory authority, a police officer has noauthority to create liability against the cityupon a contract, express or implied, for medicalservices or hospital care to a person in officialcustody, and one furnishing such services or caremay not recover from the city therefor in theabsence of an agreement, acceptance, orratification on the part of the governing body.Trinity Hospital Assn. v. Minot, 76 N.W.2d 916(N.D.); 60 Am.Jur.2d 17, Penal and CorrectionalInstitutions, 16; 61 Am.Jur.2d, Physicians,Surgeons, and Other Healers, 227. On the otherhand, most of the cases cited by the plaintiffinvolve statutory authority for the imposition ofliability. For example, in Miller v. DickinsonCounty, 68 Iowa 102, 26 N.W. 31, it was held thatwhere the circumstances are such that a prisonercannot be confined in jail because he was shot and

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     dangerously wounded, the county is liable fornecessaries furnished him. This, however, waspredicated upon a statute specifically requiringthe sheriff to "furnish necessary bedding,clothing, fuel and medical aid for all prisonersunder his charge." Also cited is the case ofSpicer v. Williamson, 191 N.C. 487, 132 S.E. 291,where liability on the part of countycommissioners to provide necessary medical care toprisoners confined in jail was based on astatutory duty. Also, in Tulsa v. HillcrestMedical Center, 292 P.2d 430 (Okla.), whererecovery was had against the city for medicalservices rendered by the defendant hospital to aprisoner on orders of the city's chief of police,the court concluded that under various statutesand a city ordinance making the chief of policeresponsible for the safekeeping of prisoners, thecity became liable for necessary medical servicesthus obtained in the care of indigent cityprisoners. Another case cited by the plaintiff,Sisters of Charity v. Washington County, 244 Ore.499, 419 P.2d 36, was an action in which ahospital recovered against a county for treatmentof a self-wounded prisoner who, while in thehospital, was kept under guard by a sheriff.Certain statutes specifically required that thekeeper of the jail furnish medical aid toprisoners in his custody and that expenses formaintaining persons committed to jail for trial bepaid out of the county treasury and the court heldthat the obvious purpose of the statutes was toassure medical services to persons imprisoned bythe county.

In the present case, the court properlyconcluded that the summoning of an ambulance bythe police officer did not constitute an impliedpromise that the resulting hospital bill will bepaid by the defendant.

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     This is true even though the finding disclosesthat the police department authorized theofficer to exercise discretion as to whethermedical aid should be sought for a prisoner.The further conclusion, properly reached, isthat there was no express or implied promiseby the defendant city to pay the bill. Finally,the plaintiff has failed to establish that thedefendant is liable for the bill and the court wascorrect in rendering judgment for the defendant.

There is no error.

In this opinion the other judges concurred.

1. These paragraphs recite the following:"9. The Police Department of the City of Willimantichad authorized Officer Haddad to exercise hisdiscretion as to whether or not medical careshould be sought for a prisoner . . . . 15. Mealsand lodging for prisoners held in custody by theCity of Willimantic Police Department werecustomarily paid for by the City of Willimantic."

2. We note that the statement of factscontained in the plaintiff's brief recites:"Although the Hospital wrote to the Towns ofWindham, Columbia, and the patient seekingpayment, none was forthcoming because the patientwas a minor, his parents were indigent, and theTowns were not liable under any statute or ruleof law." We also note in the defendant's brief adiscussion of statutes relating to a town'sobligations concerning support, and medical andhospital care for paupers. The record, however, iscompletely devoid of any reference to thefinancial status of Donald Loiseau or his parents.The finding is silent in that regard.

3. "(General Statutes] Sec. 7-134. LOCKUP. Theselectmen of any town and the warden and burgessesof any borough may erect or lease a suitablebuilding or apartments within their respectivecommunities for a lockup in which persons awaitingtrial or examination for offenses committed insuch town or borough may be confined until theircases are disposed of according to law. "[General Statutes] See. 7-135. USE OF MUNICIPALLOCKUP AND COMMUNITY CORRECTIONAL CENTER INANOTHER TOWN. As used in this section and section7-135a, "lockup" means any municipal jail, lockupor place of detention of prisoners. Subject to theprovisions of section 54-64, any officerauthorized to make arrests in any town in whichthere is no suitable lockup, or in which thefacilities of such lockup are exhausted orinadequate, shall procure a suitable lockup in anadjoining or nearby town or shall makearrangements with the nearest available communitycorrectional center or the ConnecticutCorrectional Institution, Niantic, as the case maybe, and shall remove thereto and cause to bedetained therein any person under arrest pendingarraignment before the court having jurisdiction,and any municipal lockup, community correctionalcenter or the Connecticut Correctional Institution,Niantic, as the case may be, to which request ismade for the detention of any such person, whichlockup, center or institution has suitable availablefacilities, may receive, provide for and feed suchperson, taking from such officer a temporary surrenderstatement, in such form as the commissioner ofcorrection shall prescribe, and giving to such officera receipt for such person. Such officer or hisdesignated deputy shall have custody of andresponsibility for such person to, from and at theplace of arraignment and to and at the place oftrial and the same authority over such person asif the lockup, community correctional center orinstitution were operated by the town in which theoffense was committed." Note: Section 54-64provides that police officials and Circuit Courtclerks may take a written promise to appear in theCircuit Court or take a bond. General Statutes 7-135a, entitled "Reimbursementof towns for keeping and transporting prisoners, "provides, in part: "The town operating any lockupwherein prisoners are detained for arraignmentbefore, or trial by, the circuit court shall bereimbursed by the town where the offense tookplace for keeping, providing for and feeding suchprisoners at the rate of two dollars and fiftycents for each twenty-four hours or fractionthereof of detention until the prisoner has beenarraigned and thereafter such town shall be soreimbursed by the state."

4. This court has held that a city, boroughor town constitutes a subdivision of the state.Norwalk v. Daniele, 143 Conn. 85, 88, 119 A.2d 732.

5. We point to distinctions made by theGeneral Assembly between a town, a city and aborough. As examples we cite a few: In GeneralStatutes 1-1 (m) the words "legislative body" aredistinctly applied to towns, cities and boroughs.In General Statutes title 7, entitled"Municipalities," chapters 90, 91 and 92 relatealmost entirely to "towns," except where adistinction is clearly made as to other municipalsubdivisions. In chapter 97, under "GeneralProvisions," 7-101 refers to "town"; 7-101arefers to "town, city, borough, consolidated townand city and consolidated town and borough"; 7-103refers to a "town, city or borough" officer; 7-108refers to "city and borough"; 7-110, 7-113, 7-125b,7-125c, 7-125d, 7-127a, 7-129, 7-130, 7-131,7-131l refer to "town, city or borough." As statedearlier, 7-134 refers to "town" and "borough"; 7-135to "town"; 7-135a to "town"; 7-139, 7-140, 7-142 referto "city or borough"; 7-144, 7-146, 7-147 refer to"town, city or borough."

6. In its brief, the defendant points to threestatutes, 17-273, 17-274 and 17-292, as legislationby which provision is made for the medical needs ofpaupers. While, under 17-272, the word "town" isdefined as "the municipality liable," and even ifwe assume without deciding that the three statutescited may have application to a city as well as atown in regard to support of paupers, there is nota single finding made by the

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