Mills v. Commissioner of Transportation
The notice requirement contained in Connecticut General Statutes §13a-144 is a condition precedent and prevents the destruction of sovereign immunity if its requirements are not met. Willie Mills was injured when his motorcycle struck a pothole in Milford. He sent the commissioner of transportation a notice letter. The commissioner responded indicating receipt of the notice letter and that the claim would be investigated. Mills commenced this action seeking damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained due to a highway defect against the commissioner and city of Milford. The commissioner filed a motion to dismiss the count against it claiming that sovereign immunity barred the plaintiff's claims because the plaintiff failed to comply with the statutory notice requirements of C.G.S. §13a-44 and without such notice, no cause of action existed. The commissioner contended that the letter failed to provide it with notice that the plaintiff intended to file a claim against the state, as opposed to a claim against Milford. The trial court denied the motion and the commissioner appealed. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment. Nowhere in the notice letter did the plaintiff allege that he filed or intended to file a claim against the state. Because the notice requirements of C.G.S. §13a-144 are strictly construed, the letter failed to satisfy the statutory requirements as the Supreme Court has interpreted them. The trial court accorded substantial weight to the fact that the notice letter did not actually mislead the defendant. Although relevant to determining whether the letter provided adequate notice, before making such a determination, a trial court must address whether a purported notice patently fails to meet the statutory requirement as a matter of law. Without more, actual notice is insufficient to satisfy the requirements of C.G.S. §13a-144 as a matter of law. The court also erred in concluding that the reference in the letter to an "intention to commence suit against the above parties," in the plural satisfied the statutory requirements because the commissioner was referenced in the address and salutation. Given the exclusive identification of Milford as the entity against which a claim of damages would be filed, the mere reference in the notice letter to C.G.S. §13a-144 did not provide notice that the plaintiff intended to sue the state.