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Multilingual Consultant Associates, LLC v. Ngoh

Appellate Court of Connecticut

March 15, 2016

MULTILINGUAL CONSULTANT ASSOCIATES, LLC
v.
JERRY NGOH, ET AL

         Argued January 20, 2016.

Page 98

          Action to recover damages for, inter alia, theft, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield, where the defendants were defaulted for failure to plead; thereafter, the court, Hon. Edward F. Stodolink, judge trial referee, after a hearing in damages, rendered judgment for the plaintiff; subsequently, the court denied the motions to open the judgment filed by the named defendant et al. and granted the motions to open the judgment filed by the defendant Malvern Ngoh et al., and the named defendant et al. appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff, a limited liability company engaged in tax preparation services, commenced this action against the defendant J, a former employee, alleging that he wrote several checks from the plaintiff's bank account, forged the signature of the person authorized to issue those checks, and made them payable to himself and to certain family members, including his defendant father, N, and his defendant siblings, M and A. In 2011, N filed an appearance as a self-represented party. Additionally, J, who is not an attorney, filed an appearance as a self-represented party, and also purported to appear on behalf of M and A, and listed his own home address for all defendants. In 2014, the court clerk granted the plaintiff's motion for a default for failure to plead as to each of the defendants, and the trial court scheduled a hearing in damages at which the defendants did not appear. Thereafter, the trial court rendered judgment against each of the defendants on the basis of the uncontroverted affidavit filed by the plaintiff's sole member, and awarded treble damages for theft, as well as punitive damages and attorney's fees. Shortly thereafter, J and N filed motions to set aside the default judgment and included defenses to the action. In addition, M and A filed appearances on their own behalf, listing their respective home addresses, and sought to set aside the default judgment on the ground that they had never received any notices from the court. The trial court denied the motions to open as to J and N, reasoning that they still had not adequately explained what happened to the money paid to themselves, and J and N appealed to this court. Held that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motions to open and set aside the default judgment rendered against J and N, as they had provided sufficient information to the trial court to demonstrate reasonable cause that a good defense existed at the time the default judgment was rendered and that they were prevented by mistake, accident or other reasonable cause from making the defense: this court concluded that J and N, as self-represented parties, had satisfied the requirements to open a default judgment pursuant to statute (§ 52-212 [a]) and our rules of practice (§ 17-43) when J presented evidence that he had received no correspondence concerning the case since it was filed in 2011 and that he had been out of the country during the time period in 2014 when the trial court sent notices concerning the defaults for failure to plead and the hearing in damages, and J presented evidence of a defense in that the sole member of the plaintiff was aware that J had written many of the checks to pay clients their tax refunds, and other checks were written to pay for company supplies and expenses and to compensate himself for his services because he was not on the payroll as compared to the status of the plaintiff's other employees, and N averred that he sought to alert the trial court that J was out of the country prior to the hearing in damages, but court personnel had told him that only J had the authority to reschedule anything with respect to the case.

         Jerry Ngoh, self-represented, and Nelson Ngoh, self-represented, the appellants (named defendant et al.).

         Christopher Greenwood, for the appellee (plaintiff).

         Alvord, Sheldon and Keller, Js. ALVORD, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

Page 99

          [163 Conn.App. 726] ALVORD, J.

          The self-represented defendants Jerry Ngoh and Nelson Ngoh[1] appeal from the trial court's denial of their motions to open and vacate the default judgment[2] rendered in favor of the plaintiff, Multilingual Consultant Associates, LLC. On appeal, the defendants [163 Conn.App. 727] claim that the court's denial was an abuse of its discretion. We agree and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the defendants' appeal. The plaintiff is engaged in the business of preparing and filing federal and state tax returns for its clients. Jerry Ngoh was the plaintiff's office manager.[3] Approximately ten years after he began working for the plaintiff, he and Danh Nguyen, the sole member of the plaintiff limited liability company, had a disagreement, and Jerry Ngoh left the business to pursue other opportunities.

         After Jerry Ngoh's departure, the plaintiff filed an eight count complaint against the defendants and also against Malvern Ngoh and Martha Ngoh.[4] The plaintiff alleged that Jerry Ngoh " wrote numerous checks from the bank account of the plaintiff and forged the signature of the person authorized to sign said checks and made said checks payable to himself, his family members and other persons not entitled to receive them." It further alleged that the

Page 100

value of the checks totaled $182,000, and it claimed: treble damages for theft and embezzlement, double damages for forgery, and attorney's fees and punitive damages under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), General Statutes § 42-110a et seq.

         With respect to Nelson Ngoh, the plaintiff alleged in its entirety that Jerry Ngoh gave him a check in the amount of $10,000, " which the defendant, Nelson Ngoh, was not entitled to and was forged by the defendant, Jerry Ngoh." The plaintiff sought treble damages against Nelson Ngoh for this alleged theft. With respect to Malvern Ngoh, the plaintiff alleged that he was liable for treble damages for theft because he received three checks from Jerry Ngoh, totaling $51,000, " which the defendant, Malvern Ngoh, was not entitled to and [were] forged by the defendant, Jerry Ngoh." With respect to Martha Ngoh, the plaintiff alleged that Jerry Ngoh gave her a check in the amount of $2500, " which the defendant, Martha ...


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