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Housing Authority of the Town of Greenwich v. Weitz

Appellate Court of Connecticut

March 15, 2016

HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE TOWN OF GREENWICH
v.
JULIANA WEITZ

         Submitted on briefs December 15, 2015.

          Summary process action brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, Housing Session, where the court, Rodriguez, J., denied the defendant's motion for a continuance; thereafter, the court defaulted the defendant for failure to appear and rendered judgment for the plaintiff; subsequently, the court denied the defendant's motion to open the judgment, and the defendant appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff housing authority sought, by way of summary process, to regain possession of certain premises leased to the defendant tenant. When the parties, through their counsel, appeared in court for trial, the defendant was not present. The defendant's counsel asked the trial court for a continuance of the case on the basis of the defendant's alleged poor health and indicated that he would have her transported to court if the motion for a continuance was denied. The court then passed the matter so that the parties could meet with a housing mediator to attempt to resolve their dispute. When the parties reported to the court that they had been unable to reach a final agreement, the defendant's counsel renewed his request for a continuance and stated that he would rather commence trial in the defendant's absence than have a default enter against her. The trial court denied the defendant's motion for a continuance, defaulted the defendant for failure to appear at trial and rendered judgment of possession in favor of the plaintiff. The court thereafter denied the defendant's motion to open the judgment, and the defendant appealed to this court. The defendant claimed that the trial court had improperly defaulted her for failing to appear at trial when she had appeared through her counsel, who indicated that he would have her brought to court despite her illness and was prepared to proceed with trial in her absence. Held that the trial court erred in defaulting the defendant solely on the basis of her failure to appear for trial, as her attorney was present in court and prepared to proceed with trial in her absence, and our rules of practice do not require parties to be present for trial in civil cases but, rather, permit them to appear through counsel; accordingly, the judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with direction to vacate the default judgment against the defendant.

         Richard H. G. Cunningham filed a brief for the appellant (defendant).

         Louis P. Pittocco filed a brief for the appellee (plaintiff).

         Lavine, Beach and Sheldon, Js.

          OPINION

Page 750

          [163 Conn.App. 779] PER CURIAM.

          In this summary process action, the defendant, Juliana Weitz, appeals from the judgment of immediate possession rendered by the trial court in favor of the plaintiff, the Housing Authority of the Town of Greenwich, after she was defaulted for failure to appear at trial. The defendant claims on appeal that the trial court erred in " ordering a default judgment for failure of the defendant to appear at trial where the defendant appeared by counsel, counsel requested a continuance, and when the continuance was denied, [counsel] stated he was ready to proceed on trial, no motion was made for default, counsel indicated that the defendant was not personally present due to illness, and the court had already indicated that the case would have to be sent to Stamford for scheduling a trial." We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         On March 1, 2011, the parties entered into a written lease agreement, in which the defendant agreed to lease from the plaintiff an apartment located at 27 Havemeyer Place in Greenwich. The plaintiff served this summary process action upon the defendant, a section eight tenant, on February 21, 2014, seeking immediate possession of the subject premises on the ground that the defendant was allegedly in noncompliance with the lease because she had failed inspections of her unit on multiple occasions and had been storing her furniture in the common areas. On March 19, 2014, the defendant [163 Conn.App. 780] filed an appearance with the court. The defendant also filed an extensive answer to the plaintiff's complaint on that date. The matter was scheduled for trial on April 3, 2014. After

Page 751

several continuances,[1] the trial was scheduled for June 17, 2014.

         On June 17, 2014, the parties, through their counsel, appeared before the court. The defendant herself was not present. Counsel for the defendant asked for another continuance on the basis of the defendant's alleged poor health. He indicated that he had attempted to obtain medical documentation supporting his claims regarding the defendant's health condition, but had been unable to do so in time for the hearing. Despite the defendant's poor health, counsel indicated that he would have someone transport her to court if the motion for continuance was denied. The parties agreed, with the court's approval, to pass the matter briefly and [163 Conn.App. 781] meet with a housing mediator to attempt to resolve their dispute. Shortly thereafter, the parties reported back to the court that although the meeting with the mediator had been productive, they had not been able to reach a final agreement. Counsel for the defendant renewed his request for a continuance ...


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