Turn of River Fire Department Inc. v. City of Stamford
A municipality can be entitled to a trial by jury on claims that volunteer fire chiefs and fire marshals were dismissed from their positions as a result of amendments to a town charter. In 2012, Stamford residents voted to amend the provisions in the town charter that govern fire departments. Fire chief and fire marshals of volunteer fire departments lost their command positions and were reduced in rank when volunteer departments merged. Fire chiefs and fire marshals sued, alleging that the 2012 charter amendments violate the town charter and the bylaws of volunteer fire departments. The defendants filed a jury claim. The right to a trial by jury may not be abrogated for causes of action that were triable by jury before the Constitution of 1818. Breach-of-contract claims have always been triable by jury, and to the extent that the plaintiffs claim that the defendants violated the management contracts of the volunteer fire departments, the municipal defendants are entitled to a trial by jury. The court also considered whether the plaintiffs' allegations that they were dismissed from their positions as fire chief and fire marshal would have been tried to a jury prior to 1818. Although 'the specific right that the individual plaintiffs claim the defendants have violated is statutorily created subsequent to 1818,' wrote the court, 'it is essentially a claim of wrongful discharge which has its roots in the protection of individuals from [tortious] conduct.' The court found that the defendants are also entitled to a trial by jury on the plaintiffs' wrongful-discharge claims. Allegations that the defendants violated the statutory rights of the volunteer fire departments are not triable by jury, because these rights apparently did not exist at common law. Takings allegations that the government effectively took private property of the volunteer fire departments and the individual plaintiffs, or decreased its value, are equitable and are not triable by jury. As a matter of right, the defendants are not entitled to a trial by jury on the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief, although the trial judge can exercise its discretion to permit a trial by jury.