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Holdmeyer v. Thomas

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 9, 2016

LEROY HOLDMEYER
v.
VAL THOMAS

          Argued April 12, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New London, geographical area twenty-one, Bates, J.

          Vol Thomas, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

          Beach, Alvord and Gruendel, Js.

          OPINION

          BEACH, J.

         The defendant tenant, Val Thomas, appeals from the trial court's judgment of possession in favor of the plaintiff landlord, Leroy Holdmeyer, in a summary process action. The defendant claims that the plaintiff did not meet his burden of rebuttmg the presumption of retaliatory eviction because he did not prove any of the four statutory exceptions enumerated in General Statutes § 47a-20a.[1] We agree and reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following relevant facts. On July 11, 2014, the defendant called the Uncas Health District to complain that the apartment he rented from the plaintiff had been infested with bed bugs. A representative inspected the building and confirmed that it had been infested by bed bugs, and an order of violation was issued on July 18. The plaintiff testified that he did not receive the order until July 30, 2014. On August 29, 2014, the plaintiff commenced a summary process action against the defendant, seeking to remove him from the plaintiffs property. The complaint alleged that the week-to-week tenancy had terminated by lapse of time and the plaintiff attached a copy of the notice to quit, dated August 15, 2014.

         The court determined that the evidence submitted by the defendant supported the finding of a presumption of retaliation under General Statutes § 47a-20.[2] The court found that the plaintiff successfully rebutted this presumption by showing that the eviction was not in fact retaliatory. Accordingly, the court rendered a judgment of possession in favor of the plaintiff.

         The defendant filed a motion to open and reargue, and the court held a rehearing on October 16, 2014. In an addendum to the memorandum of decision, the court again found that the plaintiff had rebutted the presumption of a retaliatory eviction.[3] "[The defendant] has failed to persuade the court that the underlying reason for the [notice to quit] was retaliatory. Rather, it appears that the [plaintiff] . . . became discouraged about the tenant's performance and willingness to help resolve the maintenance issues . . . ." The court rendered a judgment of immediate possession in favor of the plaintiff. This appeal followed.[4]

         The defendant claims that the plaintiff did not meet his burden of rebuttmg the presumption of retaliatory eviction. He argues that the only means available to rebut a presumptively retaliatory eviction, pursuant to § 47a-20, are the four specific exceptions enumerated in § 47a-20a, none of which the court found in this case. We agree.

         We employ a plenary standard of review. The defendant's claim with respect to § 47a-20a "presents] an issue of statutory construction. Statutory construction is a Question of law and. therefore, our review is Dlenarv.. . . The meaning of a statute shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Wilson v. Jefferson, 98 Conn.App. 147, 153-54, 908 A.2d 13 (2006).

         Section 47a-20 "establishes retaliation as a presumption, if a summary process action is initiated within six months of a complaint, which the landlord must successfully rebut." Visco v. Cody, 16 Conn.App. 444, 450 n.7, 547 A.2d 935 (1988). Once the defendant establishes a prima facie case under § 47a-20, "the plaintiff [is] limited to rebutting the presumption using one of the four enumerated grounds in § 47a-20a." Correa v. Ward, 91 Conn.App. 142, 148, 881 A.2d 393 (2005). The four enumerated grounds in § 47a-20a (a) are as follows: "(1) The tenant is using the dwelling unit for an illegal purpose or for a purpose which is in violation of the rental agreement or for nonpayment of rent; (2) the landlord seeks in good faith to recover possession of the dwelling unit for immediate use as his own abode; (3) the condition complained of was caused by the wilful actions of the tenant or another person in his household or a person on the premises with his consent; or (4) the landlord seeks to recover possession on the basis of a notice to terminate a periodic tenancy, which notice was given to the tenant before the tenant's complaint."

         The posture of this case is identical to that in Correa v. Ward, supra, 91 Conn.App. 142. There, the trial court found that the tenant had shown that the eviction was presumptively retaliatory, [5] but that the landlord had rebutted the presumption by proving that the eviction was motivated by the tenant's use of "abusive" language and refusal to pay for one half of the cost of a new stove. Id., 145. The trial court found that the eviction was not motivated by the tenant's request to make repairs to an appliance in the premises. Id., 148. This court, however, held that once retaliation was shown pursuant to § 47a-20, the only effective means of rebuttal were the four prescribed in § 47a-20a. Id., 149.

         In the present case, the court found that the presumption of retaliation was proved pursuant to § 47a-20, but it determined that the plaintiff had rebutted the presumption. The court made no finding, however, that the plaintiff had proved any of the four exclusive grounds enumerated by § 47a-20a. In light of the principles set forth in Correa v. Ward, supra, 91 Conn.App. ...


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