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McCarthy v. City of Bridgeport

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 1, 1990

Charles McCARTHY, Jr.

Argued Nov. 14, 1989.

Benson A. Snaider, New Haven, for appellant (plaintiff).

John F. Fallon, with whom, on the brief, were Jay S. Kogan and Barbara J. O'Brien, for appellee (defendant).


Page 227


This appeal arises from proceedings involving the condemnation of real estate. The plaintiff[21 Conn.App. 360] appeals from the judgment and order of a committee of state referees that reduced by $120,000 the amount of compensation the defendant owed as a result of a taking by eminent domain. The plaintiff raises two issues on appeal. One is that the committee failed to submit a detailed report to the Superior Court. The second is that the committee lacked jurisdiction to reduce the assessment of compensation. A third issue, although not separately claimed, is whether the committee was authorized to add interest, at the statutory rate, to the amount that the plaintiff was required to return because of the reduction in the assessment of compensation.

On September 9, 1987, the Bridgeport Economic Development Corporation acquired through eminent domain, as the condemning authority for the city, a parcel of land at 280-284 Fairfield Avenue and a second parcel at 286-288 Fairfield Avenue for a public project known as the Fairfield Avenue Development Project. The defendant submitted a statement of compensation to the Superior Court, appraising the combined worth of the parcels at $475,000. Pursuant to General Statutes § 8-130, the defendant deposited $475,000 with the clerk of the Superior Court for the use of the plaintiff, and the plaintiff withdrew the money on deposit. On September 18, 1987, however, the plaintiff applied to the Superior Court for a review of the statement of compensation pursuant to General Statutes § 8-132. Then on March 16, 1988, the plaintiff moved that the matter be referred, pursuant to General Statutes § 52-434a(b), to a committee of three state referees.

On August 17, 1988, the committee issued a memorandum of decision, ruling that the value of the two parcels was $355,000, and that the plaintiff had been overpaid in the amount of $120,000. The committee ordered the plaintiff to repay to the city the amount [21 Conn.App. 361] of $120,000, plus 10 percent interest to accrue "from the date of the withdrawal of the money to the date of the repayment of the overage."

On November 17, 1988, the plaintiff filed in the Superior Court a motion to reopen and vacate the judgment of the committee. The motion was denied on February 17, 1989. The plaintiff filed this appeal on March 9, 1989. [1]


The plaintiff claims that he was deprived of his property without due process under the law, in violation of the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution of the United States, because the committee rendered judgment in the case, instead of submitting to the Superior Court a report meeting the requirements of Practice Book § 434. [2] According to the plaintiff, General Statutes § 8-132 [3] embodies a legislative mandate that such a report be submitted. The plaintiff's position is that the function of the committee was limited to the submission of a factfinding report for the Superior Court to accept or reject. In short, the plaintiff's due process argument is grounded on the supposition that only the Superior Court, and not the committee, had the power to render a judgment in the case.

[21 Conn.App. 362] One requirement of due process is a tribunal with proper jurisdiction to render judgment. See Marshall v. Clark,

Page 228

170 Conn. 199, 205, 365 A.2d 1202 (1976). We disagree, however, with the plaintiff's contention that his right to due process was violated because the committee lacked jurisdiction to decide this case. Under the law, as explained below, the committee consisting of state trial referees had the same powers as judges of the Superior Court. Transportation Plaza Associates v. Powers, 203 Conn. 364, 369, 525 A.2d 68 (1987). Among these powers is the ability to render judgment through a memorandum of decision. Practice Book § 4059.

The committee's power to render judgment derives from the fact that the committee consisted of three retired Superior Court judges, all of whom have been designated as state trial referees by the Chief Justice pursuant to General Statutes § 52-434(a). The constitution of Connecticut, article fifth, § 6, as amended, [4] and General Statutes § 52-434(a) make all retired Superior Court judges eligible for appointment as state referees. From among the eligible retired judges, appointments are made by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to the position of trial referee. General Statutes § 52-434(a). Retired judges so appointed have been referred to as state constitutional referees. Seal Audio, Inc. v. Bozak, Inc., 199 Conn. 496, 499 n. 1, 508 A.2d 415 (1986).

In any case referred to a state constitutional referee, article fifth, § 6, as amended, and General Statutes [21 Conn.App. 363] §§ 52-434a(a) and 52-434b(a) authorize the referee to exercise all the powers of the referring court. A similar authorization is contained in Practice Book § 430. Three referees were required for the committee in this case because of the value placed on the property by the defendant. General Statutes § 52-434a(b) provides in part: "In condemnation proceedings in which the assessment fixed by the condemning authority exceeds the sum of two hundred thousand dollars the court may, at the request of either party, or on its ...

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