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Nuzzi v. Nuzzi

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 19, 2016


Argued January 11, 2016

(Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, Tierney, J. [dissolution judgment]; S. Richards, J. [motion for modification, motion for contempt].)

Kevin F. Collins, for the appellant (defendant).

Norman A. Roberts II, with whom, on the brief, was Anthony L. Cenatiempo, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Lavine, Sheldon and Mullins, Js.



This appeal presents us with ‘‘procedur-ally dysfunctional matrimonial litigation . . . .’’ Grimm v. Grimm, 276 Conn. 377, 379, 886 A.2d 391 (2005), cert. denied, 547 U.S. 1148, 126 S.Ct. 2296, 164 L.Ed.2d 815 (2006). The defendant, Carmine Nuzzi, appeals from the judgment of the trial court in which the court denied his postdissolution motion to modify his unallocated alimony and child support obligation (unallocated support) to the plaintiff, Cynthia E. Nuzzi, and found him in contempt. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court abused its discretion by (1) denying his motion to modify his unallocated support order and (2) finding him in contempt. We affirm, in part, and reverse, in part, the judgment of the trial court.

The following procedural history provides the context for the issues in this appeal. The plaintiff commenced the underlying action for dissolution of her marriage to the defendant in January, 2006.[1] On June 13, 2007, following an uncontested hearing, the court, Tierney, J., rendered a judgment of dissolution that incorporated the parties’ separation agreement (agreement).[2] Almost immediately following the judgment of dissolution, the parties began filing postdissolu-tion motions, which concerned their various nonsupport obligations, modification of the parenting plan, and other matters related to their then minor children.

On May 12, 2008, the defendant filed the subject motion to modify, which is number 173 on the trial court docket. In the motion to modify, the defendant recited §§ 8.3 and 8.4 of the agreement; see footnote 2 of this opinion; and petitioned ‘‘the court for relief from his alimony payments, and request[ed] the court to take a second and de novo look at the financial state of the parties, and set a revised order effective June 13, 2008, relative to alimony and/or child support.’’[3] On May 24, 2008, a state marshal served the plaintiff with a copy of the motion to modify and a notice and order to appear. The notice indicated a hearing on the motion to modify was to be held on June 23, 2008, at 9:30 a.m. The plaintiff did not file an objection to the motion to modify, but the hearing did not take place. The plaintiff instead initiated discovery as to the defendant’s assets.[4]Although the motion to modify was not heard or ruled on by the court, the defendant unilaterally reduced his monthly payments to the plaintiff from $3000 per month to $1200 per month. Almost four years passed by.

On May 2, 2012, the parties appeared before the court, Shay, J., at which time the court accepted the parties’ stipulations as to certain moneys the plaintiff owed the defendant.[5] Motion to modify number 173 also appeared on the short calendar that day. Judge Shay inquired as to whether the motion to modify had been served in order to consider whether any modification should apply retroactively.[6] Thereafter, confusion ensued.

Counsel for the parties were under the misapprehension that number 173 had been filed on behalf of the plaintiff by her prior counsel. After reviewing the file, however, Judge Shay informed the parties that number 173 was the defendant’s motion to modify. Both counsel reviewed the court’s file and learned that the plaintiff, in fact, never had filed a motion to modify the unallocated support order. Counsel who was then representing the plaintiff stated that she would be filing a motion for contempt against the defendant for his failure to pay the plaintiff unallocated support in accordance with the agreement.

The subsequent colloquy betweenthecourtandcoun-sel focused on the general practice of family courts to hear motions to modify support and related motions for contempt simultaneously.[7] Although Judge Shay offered the defendant’s counsel the opportunity to go forward with his motion to modify, counsel, after consulting with opposing counsel, elected not to proceed on the motion to modify that day. Judge Shay observed that the motion to modify was four years old and asked, ‘‘why should the court even entertain a four year old motion.’’

On May 3, 2012, the plaintiff filed a motion for contempt (number 207), alleging that the defendant had failed to pay her unallocated support in accordance with the agreement and had failed to provide her with the documents necessary to calculate his earned income. In her contempt motion, the plaintiff asked the court to find the defendant in contempt and order him to pay the cost of bringing the motion for contempt, including attorney’s fees, to pay her the amount he owed her under § 8.1 of the agreement, and to provide her with monthly calculations and redacted 1099 forms.

The parties appeared before the court, S. Richards, J., on March 5 and 6, 2013, for a hearing on the defendant’s motion to modify and the plaintiff’s motion for contempt. Following the hearing, each of the parties filed a memorandum of law. On October 1, 2013, Judge Richards issued a memorandum of decision in which she denied the defendant’s motion to modify, granted the plaintiff’s motion for contempt, and imposed sanctions on the defendant.[8] In sanctioning the defendant, the court ordered the defendant to pay the plaintiff $210, 640.80, which represented the amount of alimony for which he was in arrears pursuant to § 8.1 of the agreement. The court also awarded the plaintiff reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.[9] The defendant appealed.

‘‘As a general matter, [a]n appellate court will not disturb a trial court’s orders in domestic relations cases unless the court has abused its discretion or it is found that it could not reasonably conclude as it did, based on the facts presented. . . . In determining whether a trial court has abused its broad discretion . . . we allow every reasonable presumption in favor of the correctness of its ...

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