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Doyle Grp. v. Alaskans For Cuddy

Appellate Court of Connecticut

March 29, 2016

THE DOYLE GROUP
v.
ALASKANS FOR CUDDY

         Argued October 27, 2015.

          Action to recover damages for breach of contract, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Litchfield, where the defendant filed a counterclaim; thereafter, David Cuddy was added as a party defendant; subsequently, the matter was tried to the jury before Roche, J.; verdict for the plaintiff on the complaint and on the counterclaim; thereafter, the court, Roche, J., denied the defendants' motion to set aside the verdict and rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict, from which the defendants' appealed to this court, which affirmed the judgment of the trial court; subsequently, the court, Roche, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for a supplemental judgment awarding contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees and rendered judgment thereon; thereafter, the court, Roche, J., denied the defendants' motion to reargue, and the defendants appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The defendants appealed from the supplemental judgment of the trial court awarding contractual prejudgment interest and contractual attorney's fees to the plaintiff, a political consulting firm. The defendants had hired the plaintiff to perform consulting work for a political campaign. The parties' written contract provided that the defendants would pay a monthly fee for a minimum of three months, that any payment more than 60 days late would bear interest at an annual rate of 8 percent, and that the defendants would be responsible for the plaintiff's legal fees incurred in order to collect amounts due under the contract, but not more than 33 percent of the overdue amount. The defendants terminated the contract after one month, and the plaintiff commenced the present action for breach of contract seeking, inter alia, costs, interest and legal fees. The plaintiff submitted a request to charge that included an instruction on contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees. The trial court, however, specifically instructed the jury not to consider those provisions of the contract. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff and the trial court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict. The defendants appealed to this court, which affirmed the judgment. While the prior appeal was pending, approximately five and one-half months after the original judgment, the plaintiff filed a motion for a supplemental judgment requesting contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees. The defendants objected, claiming that the trial court lacked the statutory (§ 52-212a) authority to entertain the motion because a ruling on the motion would require opening the judgment and more than 120 days had passed since the judgment was rendered. Following a hearing, the trial court rendered a supplemental judgment for the plaintiff awarding contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees. The court explained that the original judgment need not be opened because the addition of contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees remained an open issue that was collateral to the original judgment. On appeal, the defendants claimed that the original judgment that was the subject of the prior appeal to this court was not a final judgment until the trial court had ruled on the plaintiff's claim for contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees, and, therefore, this court's decision in the earlier appeal was void. The defendants further claimed that the trial court improperly rendered the supplemental judgment because the plaintiff waived its claim to contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees, and because the trial court acted outside of its authority and in contravention of § 52-212a by adding prejudgment interest and attorney's fees more than four months after the original judgment had been rendered. Held :

         1. The defendants could not prevail on their claim that this court's decision in the prior appeal was void, as the trial court's later determination of contractual attorney's fees and contractual prejudgment interest did not affect the finality of the judgment on the jury's verdict for appellate purposes; because a judgment on the merits of the case had been rendered and the plaintiff's entitlement to contractual prejudgment interest and contractual attorney's fees was not discretionary or necessary to the judgment, the fact that the plaintiff had not yet been awarded the fees and costs to which it was entitled pursuant to the parties' contract following proof of the defendants' breach did not affect the finality of the underlying judgment on the merits.

         2. This court declined to review the defendants' claim that the trial court had improperly rendered the supplemental judgment because the plaintiff purportedly had waived its right to contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees, the defendants having failed to preserve that claim for appellate review: the defendants did not raise a claim to the trial court that the plaintiff had waived its right to pursue contractual attorney's fees and prejudgment interest by failing to object to the court's removal of those issues from the jury's consideration, by failing to move for reargument or to set aside the verdict, or by otherwise objecting to the trial court rendering judgment on the verdict before deciding the claim for contractual fees and interest; furthermore, although the defendants claimed in their motion to reargue the supplemental judgment that the plaintiff had waived its right to recover contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees, the law is clear that raising an issue for the first time in a motion to reargue does not preserve that issue for appellate review.

         3. The trial court was not required to open the judgment pursuant to § 52-212a to add contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees because those fees were collateral to the judgment, and the trial court retained continuing jurisdiction over such matters; it is well established that a request for attorney's fees is not a motion to open, set aside, alter or modify a judgment, but rather is a request that raises legal issues collateral to the main cause of action.

         James P. Sexton, with whom were Michael S. Taylor and, on the brief, Matthew C. Eagan, for the appellants (defendants).

         Robert P. Hanahan, with whom, on the brief, was Terrence D. Mariani, for the appellee (plaintiff).

         Keller, Mullins and Kahn, Js. MULLINS, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

          [164 Conn.App. 212] MULLINS, J.

          The defendants, Alaskans for Cuddy and David Cuddy,[1] appeal from the judgment of the trial court, supplementing its original judgment by adding contractual prejudgment interest and contractual attorney's fees to the damages awarded to the plaintiff, The Doyle Group, Inc. The defendants claim that the court improperly supplemented its judgment because (1) the plaintiff waived its right to request contractual prejudgment interest and attorney's fees, and (2) the court had no authority to award the interest and fees because it was required to open the judgment in order to do so, and more than four months had passed since it rendered judgment.

         In the alternative, the defendants claim that the judgment forming the basis of the earlier appeal of this case; see Doyle Group v. Alaskans for Cuddy, 146 Conn.App. 341, 77 A.3d 880 (2013); was not final and the case was not ripe for appeal until the trial court ruled on the plaintiff's claim for contractual prejudgment interest and contractual attorney's fees, and that, therefore, our decision in the earlier appeal is void.[2] We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history, as set forth in the previous appeal, inform our review. " The plaintiff is a Connecticut based political consulting firm located in Hartford. In late 2007 into early 2008, Cuddy contemplated running in Alaska as a candidate for the United States Senate against then Senator Theodore [164 Conn.App. 213] 'Ted' Stevens. In late February, 2008, following discussions between Cuddy and a principal of the plaintiff, Thomas J. D'Amore, Jr., the plaintiff's president, John A. Doyle, sent a proposed contract to Cuddy, who signed the contract on March 1, 2008. Cuddy sent the contract to the plaintiff in Connecticut along with his personal check for $10,000. On March 5, 2008, Doyle signed the contract and deposited Cuddy's check in the plaintiff's Webster Bank account.

         " The first paragraph of the contract identifies the plaintiff and its address in Hartford. Among other things, the contract provides: 'The first $10,000 payment shall be due on or before March 3, 2008 and subsequent payments on the first day of each of the succeeding months for which this Contract is in force. . . .

         " 'It is understood and agreed that the foregoing payments are to cover all in-state expenses of [the plaintiff]. . . . Amounts incurred for out-of-state activities and/or for expenses for the retention of [nonplaintiff] legal or other professional services shall only be reimbursed by the Client if he approves such expenses in writing in advance.

         " 'This Contract is effective March 3, 2008 and shall be in force for 3 months.'

         " In March and April, 2008, the plaintiff performed consulting work from Connecticut for the defendants. Consulting services were provided via numerous e-mails and telephone calls to Cuddy and his agents. The relationship between Cuddy and the plaintiff deteriorated, however, and Cuddy terminated the contract on April 10, 2008, without further payment to the plaintiff." Id., 343-44.

         The plaintiff brought an action against the defendants seeking, among other relief, " costs, interest, and legal fees as provided for by the contract." Attached to the [164 Conn.App. 214] plaintiff's complaint was a copy of the parties' contract, which provided in relevant part: " In return for such services the Client agrees to pay [the plaintiff] $10,000 per month for each month this Contract is in force. The first $10,000 payment shall be due on or before March 3, 2008 and subsequent payments on the first day of each of the succeeding months for which this Contract is in force. Any payment not made within 60 days after it is due shall bear interest at the annual rate of 8 [percent]. If the Client does not make any payment within 30 days after it is due, [the plaintiff has] the right to terminate this Contract, and/or to require the Client to pay immediately all amounts then due plus the entire remainder of fees for the balance of the month term. The Client shall also be responsible for legal fees (not to exceed 33 [percent] of any overdue amount) incurred by [the plaintiff] in order to collect amounts due under this Contract."

         In January, 2012, the case was tried to a jury. During opening statements on January 4, 2012, the plaintiff's attorney explained to the jury that the plaintiff was " seeking the $20,000 that he . . . claim[ed] [was] still owe[d] on the contract . . . and [that] there [was] also a provision in the contract . . . for interest on the overdue balances and for lawyer's fees." The plaintiff submitted to the court a request to charge, dated January 3, 2012, which included an instruction on both contractual attorney's fees and contractual prejudgment interest. Following the close of evidence on January 6, 2012, the court explained to counsel that it wanted to " put on the record [their] understanding concerning certain aspects of the contract involving attorney's fees and interest after argument, and [that it would] make that part of [its] instructions to the jury concerning those two items at the appropriate time." [3]

          [164 Conn.App. 215] When reading its closing instructions to the jury, the court removed the issue of contractual interest and attorney's fees from the jury's consideration, by instructing: " Now, in this particular contract, there are provisions relating to interest and attorney's fees that may be awarded. You are not to take into consideration in this matter, during your deliberations, either one of those provisions, nor render any decision concerning those two particular items."

         Later, " [t]he jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on all counts and awarded the plaintiff $20,000 in damages as to both defendants. The court, Roche, J., denied the defendants' subsequent motion to set aside the verdict [on April 16, 2012, and it rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict that same day]." Doyle Group v. Alaskans for Cuddy, supra, 146 Conn.App. 344. The defendants then appealed, and, on October 8, 2013, we affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Id., 354.

         While that appeal was pending, however, the plaintiff, on October 2, 2012, filed a motion for supplemental judgment with the trial court, requesting that the court add $13,797.11 to its judgment " in accordance with the provisions of the underlying contract, which entitles the plaintiff to interest of 8 percent on the overdue amount of $20,000 and legal fees not to exceed 33 percent, i.e., $6666.66, as provided for in the contract." The defendants, on October 11, 2012, then filed an objection to the plaintiff's motion for supplemental judgment on the grounds that the trial court lacked ...


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