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Guzman v. Yeroz

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 2, 2016

JUAN GUZMAN
v.
ZEYNULLAH YEROZ ET AL.

          Argued April 4, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Hon. John C. Flanagan, judge trial referee [judgment]; Frechette, J. [motion to open judgment].

          Hugh D. Hughes, for the appellant (named defendant).

          Robert F. Carter, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Keller, Prescott and Cremins, Js.

          OPINION

          PRESCOTT, J.

         The defendant Zeynullah Yeroz appeals from the trial court’s denial of his motion to open the judgment, rendered after a hearing in damages, awarding the plaintiff, Juan Guzman, compensatory and statutory damages for personal injuries that Guzman suffered while employed in a pizza restaurant owned and operated by the defendant.[1] We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff sustained a serious laceration and permanent injury to his left hand while working for the defendant in the defendant’s restaurant. Because the defendant did not have workers’ compensation insurance, the plaintiff brought this action against the defendant pursuant to General Statutes § 31-284 (b). The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the defendant failed to provide a reasonably safe work environment and that his employment was terminated unlawfully by the defendant in retaliation for the plaintiff’s attempt to exercise his rights under the Workers’ Compensation Act (act), General Statutes § 31-275 et seq. See General Statutes § 31-290a. The plaintiff sought compensatory damages for his injuries and punitive damages for the defendant’s violation of § 31-290a.

         The defendant, who was served ‘‘in hand’’ with the summons and complaint, was subsequently defaulted for failure to appear.[2] The court, Hon. John C. Flanagan, judge trial referee, conducted a hearing in damages, at which the defendant also did not appear. Following the hearing, the court, in a written memorandum of decision, awarded the plaintiff $287, 570 in compensatory damages, and $96, 500 in punitive damages for the defendant’s wilful violation of the act. The court awarded the plaintiff a total of $386, 070.[3] Judgment entered accordingly on June 23, 2014.

         On August 6, 2014, forty-four days after judgment was rendered, the defendant first appeared in this action and moved to open the judgment. In his motion to open, the defendant asserted that he never had been served with the complaint, and, thus, he was prevented from defending the action ‘‘by [reason of] mistake, accident or other reasonable cause . . . .’’ General Statutes § 52-212.

         On November 5, 2014, the court, Frechette, J., denied the defendant’s motion to open. The court concluded, after an evidentiary hearing, that the defendant’s testimony that he lacked knowledge of this action and was never served with process was not credible.

         On November 24, 2014, the defendant filed this appeal. Despite the fact that the twenty day period in which to appeal from the judgment on the complaint had expired on July 14, 2014; see Practice Book § 63-1 (a); and the defendant’s motion to open the judgment was not filed within that period; see Practice Book § 63-1 (c) (1); Worth v. Korta, 132 Conn.App. 154, 158-59, 31 A.3d 804 (2011), cert. denied, 304 Conn. 905, 38 A.3d 1201 (2012); the defendant’s appeal form indicates that he is attempting to appeal from both the original judgment and the denial of the motion to open. The plaintiff, however, did not move to dismiss that portion of the appeal challenging the merits of the underlying judgment.

         In his preliminary statement of the issues and his brief on appeal, the defendant has not raised any challenge to the court’s denial of the motion to open. Instead, the defendant’s claims on appeal address only the merits of the underlying judgment. Specifically, the defendant claims in his brief that the trial court (1) improperly found that the plaintiff suffered a permanent disability to his left hand because the expert report admitted at the hearing in damages states that the injury was to the plaintiff’s right hand, (2) awarded excessive non-economic damages, and (3) improperly construed the act to permit an award of punitive damages under the circumstances of this case.

         Following oral argument before this court, we ordered the parties to file simultaneous supplemental briefs addressing two questions: ‘‘Should this court review the merits of the underlying judgment rendered after a hearing in damages when the appellant did not file a motion to open or a direct appeal within twenty days of the date the court issued notice of its judgment on June 23, 2014? (See Dziedzic v.Pine Island Marina, LLC, 143 Conn.App. 644, 651, [72 A.3d 406] [2013]; Practice Book § 63-1 [b] and [c] [1])’’; and ‘‘If we conclude the appellant’s claims are reviewable, since he ...


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