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Town of Trumbull v. Palmer

Appellate Court of Connecticut

December 1, 2015

TOWN OF TRUMBULL
v.
LINDA A. PALMER, EXECUTRIX (ESTATE OF MICHAEL A. KNOPICK), ET AL

Argued September 25, 2015.

Action to foreclose municipal tax liens on certain real property allegedly owned by the named defendant et al., brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield, where the action was withdrawn as against the named defendant; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court, E. Richards, J.; judgment of foreclosure by sale, from which the defendant Helene B. Knopick appealed to this court, which affirmed the judgment and remanded the case for the purpose of setting a new sale date; subsequently, the court, Blawie, J., denied the motion to open and vacate the judgment filed by the defendant Helene B. Knopick, and denied the motion to intervene filed by Linda A. Palmer, and the defendant Helene B. Knopick and the proposed intervenor appealed to this court; thereafter, the court, Blawie, J., granted the plaintiff's motion to open the judgment and rendered a modified judgment, from which the defendant Helene B. Knopick and the proposed intervenor filed an amended appeal with this court; subsequently, the court, Blawie, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for a new sale date and denied the motion to intervene filed by the proposed intervenor, and the defendant Helene B. Knopick and the proposed intervenor filed an amended appeal with this court, which dismissed the appeal in part and affirmed the judgment; thereafter, the court, Bellis, J., dismissed the case for the plaintiff's failure to attend a status conference; subsequently, the court, Bellis, J., granted the plaintiff's motion to open the judgment and vacated the judgment of dismissal, and the defendant Helene B. Knopick appealed to this court; thereafter, the court, Bellis, J., issued an articulation of its decision.

SYLLABUS

The plaintiff town of Trumbull sought to foreclose municipal tax liens on certain real property owned by the defendant H. The trial court rendered judgment of foreclosure by sale, from which H appealed to this court, which affirmed the judgment of the trial court. After a new sale date was set by the trial court, H again appealed to this court, which affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Subsequently, the case was placed on the dormancy docket of the Superior Court and a status conference was scheduled. When the plaintiff's attorney, who mistakenly believed that the status conference had been scheduled for the following day, did not appear in court on the scheduled date, the trial court dismissed the case due to counsel's failure to attend. The plaintiff, two days after the dismissal, filed a motion to open the judgment of dismissal pursuant to statute (§ 52-212a), which the trial court granted, and H appealed to this court. H claimed that the trial court lacked the authority to grant the motion to open because the motion was not accompanied by an affidavit and, thus, the plaintiff had failed to comply with the requirements of the statute (§ 52-212) pertaining to the opening of a judgment upon default or nonsuit, which requires the motion to be verified by the oath of the complainant or his attorney. Held that the trial court had the authority to grant the plaintiff's motion to open the judgment, as the motion was governed by § 52-212a, which does not require an affidavit, rather than by § 52-212, which applies when a judgment has been rendered upon a default or nonsuit; the trial court here rendered a judgment of dismissal in response to the failure of the plaintiff's counsel to attend a dormancy status conference and did not render a judgment upon nonsuit or default as contemplated by § 52-212, and because, under the plain language of § 52-212a, a trial court has the authority to open a civil judgment provided a motion to open is filed within four months following the entry of judgment, and the plaintiff filed such a timely motion, the court had the authority to grant the plaintiff's motion.

Helene B. Knopick, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

Matthew Hausman, with whom was Darin L. Callahan, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Gruendel, Lavine and Bishop, Js. BISHOP, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

OPINION

Page 134

BISHOP, J.

[161 Conn.App. 596] The defendant Helene B. Knopick[1] appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting the motion of the plaintiff, the town of Trumbull, to open a judgment of dismissal and return the present action to the Superior Court docket. On appeal, the defendant claims, inter alia, that the court lacked the authority to grant the plaintiff's motion to open.[2] We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

This appeal arises in conjunction with a foreclosure action filed by the plaintiff against the defendant in August, 2002, that resulted in the entry of a judgment of foreclosure by sale on September 13, 2005. Following this initial judgment, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed to this court; see Trumbull v. Palmer, 104 Conn.App. 498, 934 A.2d 323 (2007), cert. denied, 286 Conn. 905, 944 A.2d 981 (2008); and, after

Page 135

the judgment was affirmed and a new sale date was set by the trial court, the defendant again appealed; see Trumbull v. Palmer, 123 Conn.App. 244, 1 A.3d 1121, cert. denied, 299 Conn. 907, 10 A.3d 526 (2010); further delaying implementation of the terms of the judgment. Indeed, throughout its tortured procedural course, this action has been the subject of a multitude of defense filings [161 Conn.App. 597] that have served to delay resolution of the action and, after the entry of judgment, effectuation of its terms.[3]

Ultimately, and likely due to its vintage, the case was placed on the dormancy docket of the Superior Court and a status conference was scheduled for March 3, 2014. When the plaintiff's attorney, who mistakenly believed that the status conference had been scheduled for March 4, 2014, did not appear in court on March 3, 2014, the court dismissed the case due to counsel's failure to attend. On March 6, 2014, the court sent notice of the judgment of dismissal to the parties. On March 4, the plaintiff's attorney realized his mistake, contacted the court, and learned of the dismissal. Thereafter, on March 5, 2014, the plaintiff filed a motion to open the judgment of dismissal pursuant to General Statutes § 52-212a and Practice Book § 17-4. In the motion, counsel represented that he, " by mistake, accident, inadvertence, reasonable cause and/or excusable neglect incorrectly entered the date of [the] status conference on his calendar for March 4, 2014." Additionally, counsel represented in the motion to open that this was " the first such time the undersigned counsel ha[d] missed a status conference or any other court mandated appearance in this matter" and that " this [was] not a matter where a plaintiff failed to close the pleadings or otherwise push the matter to trial. . . . [Rather] a judgment in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendants existed at the time of dismissal. . . . [A]nd given that the undersigned's failure to appear at the March 3, 2014 status conference was the result of an isolated incident of mistake, ...


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