November 30, 2005
By: David K. Jaffe
In Connecticut, there is a mandatory arbitration program for certain civil actions meeting the statutory requirements. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Section 52-549u et seq., any civil action in which in the discretion of the court, the reasonable expectation of a judgment is less than $50,000, exclusive of interest and costs and in which a claim for a trial by jury and a certificate of closed pleadings have been filed, may be referred to an arbitrator. Connecticut Practice Book Section 23-61 provides that the court, on its own motion, may refer such a case to an arbitrator. An award under these statutory sections may not exceed $50,000, exclusive of legal interest and costs.
The arbitration program, which was established in 1982 by Public Act 82-441, "An Act Concerning Fact Finding and Arbitration in Civil Litigation and Jurisdiction and Appointment of Magistrates," was designed to clear congestion in Connecticut civil jury dockets. In Southington '84 Assoc. v. Silver Dollar Stores, Inc., 237 Conn. 758, 767 (1996), the court emphasized "the important goal of judicial economy" that underlies the arbitration program.
The legislative history of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-549u reveals the legislators' goal of alleviating a huge court backlog. Judge Maurice Sponzo, then Chief Court Administrator, endorsed the 1982 Public Act when he spoke to the Legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary: "This is a tremendous challenge with respect to the overcrowding of the court dockets. ... What we are proposing is that court cases where the amount in demand is under $15,000 may be referred to a fact finder and the same thing with jury cases where the amount in demand is less than $15,000, the matter may be referred to an arbitrator. Now that does not take the constitutional right of the jury away from a litigant. Because if the litigant is unhappy with the award being given by the arbitrator, that individual does have the right to seek a trial de novo by a jury. We think there about 15,000 cases that we could dispose of on the civil side. Roughly, we have about 59,000 pending." Proc. of Jt. Comm. on Jud., March 8, 1982. See Seal Audio, Inc. v. Bozak, Inc., 199 Conn. 496, 505 (1986); see also Shelby Mutual Ins. Co. v. Bishop, Kirk & Saunders, Inc.,13 Conn. App. 189, 192 (1988).
That this legislation was designed to cut down on the backlog of civil jury cases is reflected in the words of Senator Owens in the legislative debate: "The court system in the State is being choked by new cases, by speeding cases, reckless driving, all types of civil cases, small claims, everything. It's just, they're inundated with the stuff and is some stage we're going to have to start weeding this out and I think this [arbitration program] is a step in the right direction." S. Proc., 1982 Sess., p. 3658, remarks of Senator Owens. The 1982 Public Act was passed and rules were made in the form of Connecticut Practice Book Sections 23-60 to 23-67.
 Public Acts 1997, No. 97-24 changed the amount to less than fifty thousand dollars, effective January 1, 1998.