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Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 22, 2016


Argued January 4, 2016.

Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Vacchelli, J.

Rodney Thompson, self-represented, the appellant (named defendant).

Jordan W. Schur, for the appellee (substitute plaintiff).

Beach, Sheldon and Harper, Js.



In this foreclosure action, the self-represented defendant Rodney Thompson[1] appeals from the judgment of strict foreclosure, rendered in favor of the plaintiff, Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, as trustee.[2] On appeal, the defendant claims, among other things, that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring this action because it was not in possession of the subject note at the time the action was commenced.[3] Because the resolution of this claim is dependent upon a factual finding that is not part of the appellate record, and because this claim implicates the subject matter jurisdiction of the trial court, we are unable to review the merits of this appeal. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings.

The following facts and procedural history guide our analysis. On January 25, 2007, the defendant executed a fixed-rate balloon note in favor of New Century Mortgage Company in exchange for a loan in the principal amount of $213, 600 to purchase real property in West Hartford. On March 9, 2009, the plaintiff commenced foreclosure proceedings against the defendant. In paragraph four of the plaintiff’s complaint, it alleged that the defendant executed and delivered a mortgage to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS), that MERS assigned said mortgage to the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff is the holder of said mortgage and the note securing the mortgage.[4]

On August 18, 2009, the plaintiff filed a motion for default for failure to plead, which was granted by the clerk. The defendant never filed a motion to open judgment following entry of default, nor did he ever move to set aside the default. Also on August 18, 2009, the plaintiff filed a motion for judgment of strict foreclosure. The motion for judgment of strict foreclosure was granted by the court, Vacchelli, J., but not until September 16, 2013-more than four years after it was filed. The reasons for delay were that the parties underwent lengthy foreclosure mediation and the defendant attempted to remove the case to federal court.

On November 6, 2013, the defendant filed a petition in bankruptcy under chapter 7 of the United States Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Connecticut. On April 16, 2014, the bankruptcy court, Dabrowski, J., issued a discharge of debtor order pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 727. The plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to open judgment and reset the law days on August 22, 2014. This motion was granted by the court, Vacchelli, J., on September 22, 2014. The court did not file a memorandum of decision with either the initial September 16, 2013 judgment of strict foreclosure or the September 22, 2014 order opening the judgment and setting new law days, and no transcript of any proceedings before the trial court was filed with this court. This appeal followed.

On appeal, the defendant challenges the plaintiff’s standing to bring the present foreclosure action. Specifically, the defendant claims that the plaintiff did not own or hold the subject note when it filed the foreclosure complaint, and that the defendant’s mortgage lien- which the defendant claims is invalid-did not survive the bankruptcy proceedings. The plaintiff responds that the record is inadequate for review. The plaintiff further argues that because it alleged that it was the holder of the note, and because the defendant failed to plead and was defaulted, the defendant has admitted these crucial jurisdictional allegations and cannot challenge them on appeal.

‘‘We begin our analysis with the subject matter jurisdiction claim and the applicable standard of review. . . . Subject matter jurisdiction involves the authority of the court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented by the action before it. . . . [A] court lacks discretion to consider the merits of a case over which it is without jurisdiction . . . . [T]his court has often stated that the question of subject matter jurisdiction, because it addresses the basic competency of the court, can be raised by any of the parties, or by the court sua sponte, at any time.’’ (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Peters v. Dept. of Social Services, 273 Conn. 434, 441–42, 870 A.2d 448 (2005). ‘‘A court does not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear a matter unless the plaintiff has standing to bring the action.’’ Western Boot & Clothing Co. v. L’Enfance Magique, Inc., 81 Conn.App. 486, 488, 840 A.2d 574, cert. denied, 269 Conn. 903, 852 A.2d 737 (2004).

‘‘Standing is the legal right to set judicial machinery in motion. One cannot rightfully invoke the jurisdiction of the court unless he [or she] has, in an individual or representative capacity, some real interest in the cause of action, or a legal or equitable right, title or interest in the subject matter of the controversy. . . . [When] a party is found to lack standing, the court is consequently without subject matter jurisdiction to determine the cause. . . . We have long held that because [a] determination regarding a trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, our review is plenary. . . . In addition, because standing implicates the court’s subject matter jurisdiction, the issue of standing is not subject to waiver and may be raised at any time.’’ (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Equity One, Inc. v. Shivers, 310 Conn. 119, 125–26, 74 A.3d 1225 (2013).

It is well established that ‘‘the holder of a note has standing to bring an action for strict foreclosure . . . .’’ Mengwall v.Rutkowski, 152 Conn.App. 459, 463, 102 A.3d 710 (2014); see also Fleet National Bank v.Nazareth, 75 Conn.App. 791, 794–95, 818 A.2d 69 (2003) (plaintiff who held mortgage but not note lacked standing to institute foreclosure proceedings). ‘‘[A] holder of a note is presumed to be the owner of the debt, and unless the presumption is rebutted, may foreclose the mortgage under [General Statutes] § 49-17. The possession by the bearer of a note [e]ndorsed in blank imports prima facie that he acquired the note in good faith for value and in the course of business, before maturity and without notice of any circumstances impeaching its ...

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