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Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Ruggiri

Appellate Court of Connecticut

April 12, 2016

WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A.
v.
CYNTHIA S. RUGGIRI ET AL

         Argued February 10, 2016.

          Action to foreclose a mortgage on certain real property owned by the named defendant, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury, where the court, Matasavage, J., granted the plaintiff's motion to cite in Victoria Camber as a party defendant; thereafter, Martin Ruggiri, administrator of the estate of Cynthia S. Ruggiri, was substituted as a defendant; subsequently, the defendant IMC Financial, LLC, was defaulted for failure to appear; thereafter, the defendant Victoria Camber was defaulted for failure to appear; subsequently, the defendant First Resolution Investment Corporation was defaulted for failure to plead; thereafter, the court, Hon. Joseph H. Pellegrino, judge trial referee, granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to liability; subsequently, the court, M. Taylor, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for judgment of strict foreclosure and rendered judgment thereon; thereafter, the plaintiff withdrew the action as against the defendant Martin Ruggiri, administrator of the estate of Cynthia S. Ruggiri; subsequently, the court, M. Taylor, J., denied the defendant Martin Ruggiri's motion to open the judgment and to reargue and issued an order opening the judgment and setting a new law day, and the defendant Martin Ruggiri appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff bank sought to foreclose a mortgage on certain real property owned by the named defendant. The defendant M became the owner of the equity of redemption in the subject property by way of a quitclaim deed from the named defendant, his wife, shortly before she died. The trial court granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to liability only and, subsequently, rendered judgment of strict foreclosure. M did not file a motion to reargue either of the trial court's rulings. Thereafter, M filed a motion to open the judgment, challenging the validity of the court's granting of the motion for summary judgment and subsequent rendering of the judgment of strict foreclosure. The trial court denied M's motion to open, which was not filed within twenty days of the judgment, and issued an order opening the judgment for the limited purpose of setting a new law day. M subsequently appealed to this court, claiming that the trial court improperly denied his motion to open the judgment because that court had improperly granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to liability, on which the judgment of strict foreclosure was based. Held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying M's motion to open the judgment of strict foreclosure: because M's motion to open was filed more than twenty days after the judgment of strict foreclosure had been rendered, M's appeal from the denial of that motion could test only whether the trial court abused its discretion in failing to open the judgment and not the propriety of the merits of the underlying judgment, and, therefore, M could not challenge the merits of the judgment of strict foreclosure or the court's granting of the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability on which the foreclosure judgment was predicated; moreover, insofar as M sought to reargue the propriety of the court's prior rulings by way of his motion to open, his motion was essentially a belated motion to reargue filed nearly three months late with respect to the judgment of strict foreclosure, and, therefore, on that basis alone, the trial court properly exercised its discretion in denying M's motion to open the judgment.

         Martin Ruggiri, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

         David Bizar, with whom, on the brief, was Benjamin T. Staskiewicz, for the appellee (plaintiff).

         DiPentima, C. J., and Beach and Mullins, Js.

          OPINION

          [164 Conn.App. 481] PER CURIAM.

          The defendant Martin Ruggiri[1] appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying his " motion to reopen judgment of strict foreclosure and motion to reargue and set aside motion for summary judgment" (motion to open). In the motion to open, the defendant sought to reargue the motion for summary judgment as to liability filed by the plaintiff, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., which the court previously had granted. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court erred in granting the plaintiff's summary judgment motion, on the basis of which it rendered a judgment of strict [164 Conn.App. 482] foreclosure.[2] The plaintiff counters that the defendant may not use the current appeal, which relates only to the ruling on the motion to open, to raise issues regarding the judgment of strict foreclosure and the granting of the motion for summary judgment. Because the only issue properly before us is whether the court abused its discretion in denying the motion to open, and because we conclude that it did not, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.[3]

         The plaintiff commenced this action on March 8, 2010, seeking to foreclose a mortgage on real property then owned by Cynthia S. Ruggiri, the defendant's late wife, at 421 Andrew Avenue, Naugatuck. The defendant initially was named as a defendant because he was alleged to have an interest in the property by virtue of a mortgage recorded on June 8, 2009, in the Naugatuck land records. He subsequently became the owner of the equity of redemption in the property subject to foreclosure by way of a quitclaim deed from Cynthia S. Ruggiri executed on March 19, 2011. When she died shortly [164 Conn.App. 483] thereafter, the defendant, in his capacity as administrator of her estate, was substituted for her as a defendant.

         On November 2, 2011, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment as to liability only, which the court, M. Taylor, J., denied without opinion on December 12, 2011. On July 11, 2013, the plaintiff filed another motion for summary judgment as to liability only, which the court, Hon. Joseph H. Pellegrino, judge trial referee, granted without opinion on May 16, 2014. The defendant did not move to reargue the motion for summary judgment. See Practice Book § 11-12.

         On June 25, 2014, the plaintiff filed a motion for judgment of strict foreclosure. On July 7, 2014, the court granted the plaintiff's motion, rendered judgment of strict foreclosure, and set October 7, 2014, as the law day. Notice of this judgment was sent to the parties on July 18, 2014. The defendant did not move to reargue; see Practice Book § 11-11; or appeal from the judgment of strict foreclosure.

         On October 22, 2014, the defendant filed the motion to open that is the subject of this appeal.[4] On November 4, 2014, the court, M. Taylor, J., held a hearing on the motion and opened the judgment to reset the law day to December 16, 2014,[5] and to allow the plaintiff to withdraw the action as to the defendant in his capacity as administrator of Cynthia S. Ruggiri's estate. On December 12, 2014, the court held a second hearing on the motion[6] at which it indicated that it was denying [164 Conn.App. 484] the motion except that it would extend the law day. Accordingly, after the hearing, the court issued an order opening the judgment to reset the law day to March 31, 2015. The defendant timely appealed from the denial of the motion to open on December 31, 2014.

         As a threshold matter, we must decline the defendant's invitation to review the merits of the court's ruling on the motion for summary judgment and judgment of strict foreclosure. " Generally, an appeal must be filed within twenty days of the date notice of the judgment or decision is given. Practice Book § 63-1 (a). In the context of an appeal from the denial of a motion to open judgment, [i]t is well established in our jurisprudence that [w]here an appeal has been taken from the denial of a motion to open, but the appeal period has run with respect to the underlying judgment, [this court] ha[s] refused to entertain issues relating to the merits of the underlying case and ha[s] limited our consideration to whether the denial of the motion to open was proper. . . . When a motion to open is filed more than twenty days after the judgment, the appeal from the denial of that motion can test only whether the trial court abused its discretion in failing to open the judgment and not the propriety of the merits of the underlying judgment. . . . This is so because ...


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