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Gillis v. Gillis

Supreme Court of Connecticut

March 27, 1990

Howard T. GILLIS et al.
Frank L. GILLIS et al.

Argued Jan. 10, 1990.

Page 324

Ben A. Solnit, with whom, on the brief, was David W. Schneider, New Haven, for appellants (defendants).

Maureen Danehy Cox, Waterbury, for appellees (plaintiffs).


[214 Conn. 337] COVELLO, Associate Justice.

This is an appeal from the denial of the motions of the defendant Frank L. Gillis [1] to open or set aside stipulated judgments rendered by the trial court that purported to settle all claims arising out of two actions brought by the plaintiff, Howard T. Gillis, [2] against the defendant. The principal issue is whether the trial court, in denying the defendant's motions, acted unreasonably and in clear abuse of its wide discretion in determining such matters. Because the trial court's conclusion is amply supported by the evidence found in the record, we find no error.

Page 325

On July 19, 1983 and August 8, 1983, the plaintiff initiated two actions against the defendant, his brother. In the first action [3] the plaintiff sought to recover more than $300,000 for legal and administrative services that he had rendered to the defendant's insurance business. He also sought $519,000 representing the balance due on two promissory notes. In the second action [4] the [214 Conn. 338] plaintiff claimed the return of $40,000 that the defendant had allegedly taken without permission from the plaintiff's personal savings account.

On October 4, 1988, the day trial was to begin, the parties appeared in court and requested that the trial court render judgment in accordance with their stipulation. The stipulation was thereafter recited for the record. The parties agreed: that judgment might enter for the plaintiff in both actions to recover from the defendant the sum of $300,000; that this sum would be paid within six months together with interest from the date of judgment at 10 percent; that the plaintiff and the defendant would exchange mutual releases of any and all claims and that the releases "would be specifically including any claims made regarding Spartan Properties [5] and arbitration arising from them"; and that the plaintiff would be entitled to any receivables due to Gillis Underwriters, Inc., and Frank L. Gillis, Inc. The trial court thereafter rendered judgments in accordance with the parties' agreement.

On February 1, 1989, the defendant moved to open or set aside the stipulated judgments. The defendant claimed that he had not consented to the judgments as rendered and that the stipulation was founded upon accident or mistake. On March 17, 1989, the trial court conducted a hearing on the motions. The defendant, his former counsel, Donald McPartland, and the plaintiff all testified.

The defendant testified that he had intended to dispose only of the pending lawsuits and that he had not understood that the exchange of releases was to include a claim that he had against the plaintiff concerning [214 Conn. 339] Spartan Properties. Both the plaintiff and the defendant's former counsel testified that the parties' agreement was correctly reflected in the judgments as rendered by the court and that their agreement, as the judgments stated, had included the exchange of mutual releases as to all claims.

On March 20, 1989, the trial court denied the defendant's motions to open or set aside the stipulated judgments. On April 10, 1989, the defendant filed this appeal with the Appellate Court. We thereafter transferred the appeal to ourselves pursuant to Practice Book § 4023.

The defendant first claims that the trial court erred in denying his motions to open when the evidence in the whole record demonstrated that the stipulated judgments were entered into without the defendant's understanding or consent. Specifically, he claims that the releases ordered in the stipulated judgments were not to include his claims concerning Spartan Properties.

A stipulated judgment "is not a judicial determination of any litigated right." New York Cent. & H.R.R. Co. v. T. Stuart & Son Co., 260 Mass. 242, 248, 157 N.E. 540 [1927]; Dulles v. Dulles, 369 Pa. 101, 107, 85 A.2d 134 [1952]. It may be defined as a contract of the parties acknowledged in open court and ordered to be recorded by a court of competent jurisdiction. Owsiejko v. American Hardware Corporation, 137 Conn. 185, 187, 75 A.2d 404 [1950]; Risk v. Director, 141 Neb. 488, 496, 3 N.W.2d 922 [1942]. '[It is] the result of a contract and its embodiment in a form which places it and the matters covered by it beyond further controversy.' 3 Freeman, Judgments (5th Ed.) p. 2774. The essence of the judgment is that the parties to the litigation

Page 326

have voluntarily entered into an agreement setting their dispute or disputes at rest and that, upon this agreement, [214 Conn. 340] the court has entered judgment conforming to the terms of the agreement. Harter v. King County, 11 Wash.2d 583, 591, 119 P.2d 919 [1941].

"It necessarily follows that if the judgment conforms to the stipulation it cannot be altered or set aside without the consent of all the parties, unless it is shown that the stipulation was obtained by fraud, accident or mistake. Riggs v. Barrett, 308 Ill.App. 549, 564, 32 N.E.2d 382 [1941]; Byron v. Concord National Bank, 299 Mass. 438, 443, 13 N.E.2d 13 [1938]; Barnes v. American Fertilizer Co., 144 Va. 692, 720, 130 S.E. 902 [1925]; 3 Freeman, op. cit., § 1352. For a judgment by consent is just as conclusive as one rendered upon controverted facts. Fidelit ...

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