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Lafrance v. Lodmell

Supreme Court of Connecticut

September 6, 2016

JOAN LAFRANCE
v.
DEAN W. LODMELL

          Argued April 6, 2016

          Dana M. Hrelic, with whom were Wesley W. Horton and, on the brief, Brendon P. Levesque, for the appellant (defendant).

          Mathew P. Jasinski, with whom was Laura W. Ray, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Robinson and Vertefeuille, Js. *

          OPINION

          EVELEIGH, J.

         This consolidated appeal arises from a marital dissolution action brought by the plaintiff, Joan LaFrance, against the defendant, Dean W. Lodmell. On appeal, the defendant asserts that the trial court improperly: (1) applied General Statutes § 46b-66 (c) to an agreement to arbitrate contained within a prenuptial agreement between the parties and limited arbitration to the sale of a jointly owned residential property (residence); (2) denied the defendant's request for leave to file an amended cross complaint to assert certain claims against the plaintiff in the dissolution action; and (3) confirmed the arbitration awards where the arbitrator exceeded the scope of her authority and the scope of the submission. We reject the defendant's claims and affirm the judgment of the trial court.[1]

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the resolution of the defendant's appeal. ‘‘In contemplation of marriage, the parties entered [a pre-nuptial agreement] on November 22, 2000. They were married on November 25, 2000. Neither party contests the enforceability of the [prenuptial] agreement. On March 15, 2010 . . . an action for dissolution of marriage [was commenced]. [The agreement to arbitrate in] the [prenuptial] agreement provides: ‘In the event of any dispute hereunder, such dispute shall be resolved by first submitting the matter to mediation. If mediation fails, then the matter shall be submitted to binding arbitration in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association.' . . . [The trial court] ordered the parties to proceed to arbitration on the matter of ‘the sale of the [residence] . . . and what procedures are to be followed, and what proceeds each party is entitled to from a sale.' '' Lodmell v. LaFrance, 154 Conn.App. 329, 330-31, 107 A.3d 975 (2014), cert. denied, 315 Conn. 921, 107 A.3d 959 (2015).

         The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court from the trial court's order and the plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment. Id., 331. On November 16, 2011, the Appellate Court granted the plaintiff's motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment. Id. In October, 2012, the parties participated in a three day hearing before an arbitrator, Donna M. Wilkerson, who issued ‘‘a partial award on November 9, 2012, which was modified on December 17, 2012, and a final award on December 17, 2012 . . . .'' Id.

         On December 30, 2013, the trial court rendered judgment confirming the partial arbitration award and confirming in part, modifying in part, and vacating in part the final arbitration award, from which the defendant appealed. Thereafter, on April 3, 2014, the defendant filed a request for leave to file an amended answer and cross complaint in the present case, which was denied.

         On January 15, 2015, the trial court rendered judgment dissolving the marriage, allocating property, interpreting the prenuptial agreement and deciding all pending motions. The defendant then filed a second appeal. These two appeals were then consolidated and transferred to this court pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199 and Practice Book § 65-1. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         The defendant first claims that the trial court improperly applied § 46b-66 (c) to the agreement to arbitrate contained within the prenuptial agreement. Specifically, the defendant asserts that § 46b-66 (c) applies only to an agreement to arbitrate that has been entered into after an action for dissolution has been filed. The defendant further claims that, even if § 46b-66 (c) applies to agreements to arbitrate contained in prenuptial agreements, the trial court improperly contravened the terms of the prenuptial agreement in the present case by limiting the scope of the arbitration. In response, the plaintiff asserts that the trial court properly applied § 46b-66 (c) to the agreement to arbitrate in the prenuptial agreement. The plaintiff further asserts that the trial court properly found, pursuant to § 46b-66 (c), that it would not be ‘‘ ‘fair and equitable under the circumstances' '' to require the parties to arbitrate claims for damages that were not allowed by the prenuptial agreement. We agree with the plaintiff.

         A

         The resolution of whether § 46b-66 (c) applies to an agreement to arbitrate in a prenuptial agreement presents an issue of statutory construction.[2] In conducting this analysis, ‘‘we are guided by the well established principle that [i]ssues of statutory construction raise questions of law, over which we exercise plenary review. . . . We are also guided by the plain meaning rule for statutory construction. See General Statutes § 1-2z.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Cales v. Office of Victim Services, 319 Conn. 697, 701, 127 A.3d 154 (2015).

         Section 46b-66 (c) provides: ‘‘The provisions of chapter 909 shall be applicable to any agreement to arbitrate in an action for dissolution of marriage under this chapter, provided (1) an arbitration pursuant to such agreement may proceed only after the court has made a thorough inquiry and is satisfied that (A) each party entered into such agreement voluntarily and without coercion, and (B) such agreement is fair and equitable under the circumstances, and (2) such agreement and an arbitration pursuant to such agreement shall not include issues related to child support, visitation and custody. An arbitration award in such action shall be confirmed, modified or vacated in accordance with the provisions of chapter 909.''[3]

         The statutory language provides no express guidance as to whether the legislature intended for it to apply to agreements to arbitrate that are entered into as part of a prenuptial agreement. The legislature's use of the term ‘‘any agreement'' rather than the term ‘‘an agreement, '' however, strongly suggests an intent to include all agreements to arbitrate matters related to dissolutions of marriage. See, e.g., Dowling v. Slotnik, 244 Conn. 781, 802, 712 A.2d 396 (use of term ‘‘ ‘any person' '' indicative of legislature's intent to include all persons), cert. denied sub nom. Slotnik v. Considine, 525 U.S. 1017, 119 S.Ct. 542, 142 L.Ed.2d 451 (1998).

         The defendant asserts, however, that the use of the phrase ‘‘in an action for dissolution'' limits the applicability of § 46b-66 (c) to only those agreements to arbitrate that are entered into after an action for dissolution has been filed and, therefore, excludes agreements to arbitrate that are entered into as part of prenuptial agreements. We disagree. There is nothing in the plain language of the statute that indicates that § 46b-66 (c) applies only to an agreement to arbitrate that is entered into after an action for dissolution has been filed. To the contrary, the broad language of § 46b-66 (c) includes ‘‘any agreement to arbitrate in an action for dissolution . . . .'' Agreements to arbitrate contained in prenuptial agreements, like the agreement to arbitrate in the present case, are by definition agreements to arbitrate issues that would only arise once the parties are involved ‘‘in an action for dissolution . . . .'' General Statutes § 46b-66 (c).

         If the legislature intended to exclude agreements to arbitrate that are contained within prenuptial agreements, it could have expressly done so. ‘‘[I]t is a well settled principle of statutory construction that the legislature knows how to convey its intent expressly . . . or to use broader or limiting terms when it chooses to do so.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Marchesi v. Board of Selectmen, 309 Conn. 608, 618, 72 A.3d 394 (2013); see also Gould v. Freedom of Information Commission, 314 Conn. 802, 818, 104 A.3d 727 (2014). Indeed, the legislature did use limiting language elsewhere in § 46b-66 (c), when it provided that ‘‘such agreement and an arbitration pursuant to such agreement shall not include issues related to child support, visitation and custody.'' The use of such limiting language in other portions of § 46b-66 (c) is further indication that if the legislature had intended to exclude agreements to arbitrate contained in prenuptial agreements it could have done so.

         Furthermore, reading § 46b-66 (c) in relationship to the entire statutory scheme of which it is a part lends additional support to our understanding that § 46b-66 (c) covers all agreements to arbitrate controversies between parties to a marriage, regardless of when the parties entered into that agreement. ‘‘In seeking to determine [the] meaning [of a statute, § 1-2z] directs us first to consider the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. v. Freedom of Information Commission, 321 Conn. 805, 816, 139 A.3d 585 (2016).

         It is important to recognize that § 46b-66 (c) explains the conditions under which agreements to arbitrate between parties to a marriage are governed by the provisions of chapter 909 of the General Statutes; see General Statutes § 52-406 et seq.; which contains the procedures governing arbitration. Therefore, before chapter 909 can apply to an agreement to arbitrate between parties to a marriage, it must meet the requirements set forth in § 46b-66 (c). In turn, chapter 909 also explains what agreements to arbitrate are governed by its provisions. Specifically, General Statutes § 52-408 provides in relevant part: ‘‘[A]n agreement in writing between two or more persons to submit to arbitration any controversy existing between them at the time of the agreement to submit, or an agreement in writing between the parties to a marriage to submit to arbitration any controversy between them with respect to the dissolution of their marriage, except issues related to child support, visitation and custody, shall be valid, irrevocable and enforceable, except when there exists sufficient cause at law or inequity for the avoidanceof written contracts generally.'' In reading these two statutes together, ‘‘[w]e are . . . guided by the principle that the legislature is always presumed to have created a harmonious and consistent body of law . . . . [T]his tenet of statutory construction . . . requires us to read statutes together when they relate to the same subject matter . . . . Accordingly, [i]n determining the meaning of a statute . . . we look not only at the provision at issue, but also to the broader statutory scheme to ensure the coherency of our construction.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Styslinger v. Brewster Park, LLC, 321 Conn. 312, 317, 138 A.3d 257 (2016). Accordingly, because these two statutes are designed to relate to the same subject matter, we read them to operate harmoniously. Indeed, it is important to note that the relevant provisions within §§ 46b-66 (c) and 52-408 were both adopted by the legislature in 2005. See Public Acts 2005, No. 05-258, §§ 1 and 2. Therefore, we conclude that § 46b-66 (c) explains that if a court finds an agreement to arbitrate fair and equitable, it will be subject to the provisions of chapter 909. In turn, § 52-408 includes agreements to arbitrate between parties to a marriage in those agreements to arbitrate that are governed by chapter 909, subject to the court's finding that the agreement to arbitrate is fair and equitable.[4]

         We reject the interpretation proposed by the defendant because it leads to absurd and unworkable results. ‘‘It is axiomatic that [w]e must interpret the statute so that it does not lead to absurd or unworkable results.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Wilkins v. Connecticut Childbirth & Women's Center, 314 Conn. 709, 723, 104 A.3d 671 (2014); see also State v. Courchesne, 296 Conn. 622, 710, 998 A.2d 1 (2010) (‘‘it is axiomatic that ‘those who promulgate statutes . . . do not intend . . . absurd consequences or bizarre results' '').

         The reading of § 46b-66 (c) proposed by the defendant and the concurring and dissenting opinion would mean that any agreement to arbitrate that is entered into as part of a prenuptial agreement is not afforded the protections of § 46b-66 (c) and, accordingly, would make such prenuptial agreements less desirable. Such a result is contrary to the public policy of this state regarding prenuptial agreements, which has been previously recognized by this court. ‘‘[R]ecent statistics on divorce have forced people to deal with the reality that many marriages do not last a lifetime. As desirable as it may seem for couples to embark upon marriage in a state of optimism and hope, the reality is that many marriages end in divorce. There is a growing trend toward serial marriage; more people expect to have more than one spouse during their lifetime. . . . [B]oth the realities of our society and policy reasons favor judicial recognition of prenuptial agreements. Rather than inducing divorce, such agreements simply acknowledge its ordinariness. With divorce as likely an outcome of marriage as permanence, we see no logical or compelling reason why public policy should not allow two mature adults to handle their own financial affairs. . . . The reasoning that once found them contrary to public policy has no place in today's matrimonial law.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Bedrick v. Bedrick, 300 Conn. 691, 698-99, 17 A.3d 17 (2011). In light of this state's policy, which favors recognizing prenuptial agreements, it would not be reasonable to conclude that the legislature would have intended to exclude parties who enter into agreements to arbitrate contained within prenuptial agreements from the protections afforded by § 46b-66 (c). Moreover, the position advocated by the defendant and the concurring and dissenting opinion would allow parties that enter into an agreement to arbitrate one day prior to the filing of an action for dissolution of marriage to be subject to a different standard for enforcement of that agreement-namely, unconscionability and contractual defenses-while parties who enter into the same agreement one day after an action for dissolution has been filed receive the greater protections afforded by the standard of ‘‘fair and equitable'' under § 46b-66 (c). It is not reasonable to think that the legislature intended to afford parties who agree to arbitrate controversies related to dissolution different protections based solely on when they entered into that agreement.

         Furthermore, the defendant's interpretation of § 46b-66 (c) is also inconsistent with prior judicial interpretations of the statute. In Budrawich v. Budrawich, 156 Conn.App. 628, 648-49, 115 A.3d 39, cert. denied, 317 Conn. 921, 118 A.3d 63 (2015), the Appellate Court concluded that ‘‘[p]ursuant to . . . § 46b-66 (c), parties may agree, with the court's permission, to pursue arbitration to resolve certain issues related to their dissolution. A court does not, however, have the authority to order parties to submit such issues to arbitration absent a voluntary arbitration agreement executed between the parties. ‘Arbitration is a creature of contract and without a contractual agreement to arbitrate there can be no arbitration. . . . [T]he basis for arbitration in a particular case is to be found in the written agreement between the parties.' . . . Young v. Metropolitan Property & Casualty Ins. Co., 60 Conn.App. 107, 115-16, 758 A.2d 452, cert. denied, 255 Conn. 906, 762 A.2d 912 (2000). ‘Parties who have contracted to arbitrate certain matters have no duty to arbitrate other matters which they have not agreed to arbitrate. Nor can the courts, absent a statute, compel the parties to arbitrate those other matters.' American Universal Ins. Co. v. Del-Greco, 205 Conn. 178, 185, 530 A.2d 171 (1987).'' (Emphasis added; footnote omitted.) These prior judicial interpretations of § 46b-66 (c) are consistent with our understanding of that statute as applying to all agreements to arbitrate between parties to a marriage, regardless of when the parties enter into those agreements.[5]

         The defendant and the concurring and dissenting opinion urge this court to interpret § 46b-66 (c) as applying only to agreements to arbitrate issues related to dissolution proceedings that are entered into after an action for dissolution has been filed, and not those entered into within prenuptial agreements. That interpretation is inconsistent with the language of § 46b-66 (c) and prior judicial interpretations of the statute that recognize that the legislature intended to give the trial court the authority to oversee agreements to arbitrate matters related to dissolution proceedings.

         Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court properly applied § 46b-66 (c) to the agreement to arbitrate contained in the prenuptial agreement in the present case.

         B

         The defendant next claims that, even if § 46b-66 (c) applies to agreements to arbitrate contained within pre-nuptial agreements, the trial court improperly applied that statute in the present case. Specifically, the defendant claims that § 46b-66 (c) requires the trial court to determine only whether the parties entered into an agreement to arbitrate voluntarily and without coercion and whether that agreement, as a whole, is fair and equitable under the circumstances. The defendant asserts that, in the present case, the trial court improperly applied § 46b-66 (c) so as to limit the scope of the issues that were submitted to arbitration pursuant to the prenuptial agreement.[6] In response, the plaintiff claims that the trial court properly applied § 46b-66 (c) in the present case. Specifically, the plaintiff claims that the trial court properly determined the scope of the parties' agreement to arbitrate and properly determined that it would be fair and equitable to arbitrate only those issues that were within the scope of the parties' agreement. We agree with the plaintiff.

         We begin by setting forth the applicable standard of review. ‘‘The well settled standard of review in domestic relations cases is that this court will not disturb trial court orders unless the trial court has abused its legal discretion or its findings have no reasonable basis in the facts. . . . As has often been explained, the foundation for this standard is that the trial court is in a clearly advantageous position to assess the personal factors significant to a domestic relations case . . . . Simms v. Simms, 283 Conn. 494, 502, 927 A.2d 894 (2007), quoting Borkowski v. Borkowski, 228 Conn. 729, 739, 638 A.2d 1060 (1994). In determining whether a trial court has abused its broad discretion in domestic relations matters, we allow every reasonable presumption in favor of the correctness of its action. . . . Bender v. Bender, 258 Conn. 733, 740, 785 A.2d 197 (2001). Notwithstanding the great deference accorded the trial court in dissolution proceedings, a trial court's ruling . . . may be reversed if, in the exercise of its discretion, the trial court applies the wrong standard of law. Bor-kowski v. Borkowski, supra, 740. . . . See In re T.K., 105 Conn.App. 502, 506, 939 A.2d 9 ([t]he application of a statute to a particular set of facts is a question of law to which we apply a plenary standard of review), cert. denied, 286 Conn. 914, 945 A.2d 976 (2008); Unkelbach v. McNary, 244 Conn. 350, 357, 710 A.2d 717 (1998) (interpretation of statutory scheme that governs child support determinations constitutes question of law).'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Tuckman v. Tuck-man, 308 Conn. 194, 200, 61 A.3d 449 (2013).

         In the present case, the trial court determined as follows: ‘‘The prenuptial agreement between the parties dated November 22, 2000, addresses the disputed claims of the parties [regarding the sale of joint assets] . . . . [The prenuptial agreement] . . . specifically addresses arbitration. The only matter in dispute for arbitration is the sale of the [residence] . . . and what procedures are to be followed, and what proceeds each party is entitled to from a sale.'' On the basis of this determination, the trial court submitted only that one issue to the arbitrator. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion for articulation. In her motion for articulation, the plaintiff asked the following: ‘‘Having found in pertinent part that: ‘the only issue in dispute for arbitration is the sale of the [residence]' . . . did the [trial] court conclude based on its interpretation and construction of [the prenuptial] agreement . . . that the relief ‘fixed, ' ‘limited, ' and agreed upon between these parties did not include damages?'' (Citation omitted; emphasis omitted.) In framing this question, the plaintiff then quoted the following language from the prenuptial agreement: ‘‘Whereas, the parties, to promote marital tranquility, desire to fix, limit, and determine by this [a]greement the interest, rights, and claims that may accrue to each of them in the property and estate of the other by reason of their marriage or in the event of marital difficulties herein referred to, and to accept the provisions of this [a]greement in lieu and in full discharge, settlement, and satisfaction, of any and all interests, rights, and claims that otherwise each might or could have under the law, in and to the property and estate of the other, both before and after the other's death . . . .'' (Emphasis omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) In response to the plaintiff's question, the trial court answered as follows: ‘‘Granted.''

         In doing so, the trial court followed the requirements of § 46b-66 (c). Specifically, the trial court engaged in a thorough inquiry into the agreement of the parties. Indeed, in its memorandum of decision, the trial court explained that ‘‘[t]he parties . . . have agreed that the [prenuptial] agreement between them is in full force and effect.'' The trial court further explained that, on the basis of the prenuptial agreement, specifically the provision related to the sale of joint assets and the agreement to arbitrate, it was appropriate to submit the matter of the sale of the residence to the arbitrator. In reaching this conclusion, the trial court implicitly determined, in accordance with § 46b-66 (c), that applying the agreement to arbitrate to the sale of the residence was fair and equitable under the circumstances.

         As the trial court explained in response to the plaintiff's motion for articulation, it had determined, after a thorough inquiry of the parties' agreement to arbitrate, that claims for damages arising out of the marriage were barred under the prenuptial agreement. We agree with the trial court's interpretation of the prenuptial agreement and, therefore, conclude that the trial court properly refused to submit any claims for damages to the arbitrator. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court properly applied § 46b-66 (c) to the facts of present case.

         II

         The defendant next claims that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his request for leave to file an amended answer and cross complaint. Specifically, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly denied his request for leave to file an amended cross complaint in which he asserted eight claims that were not submitted to the arbitrator. In response, the plaintiff asserts that the trial court properly denied the defendant's motion for leave to file an amended answer and cross complaint. The plaintiff claims that the trial court properly precluded the defendant's request to raise claims for damages based on the law of the case because the trial court had previously determined that the prenuptial agreement barred claims for damages. The plaintiff further asserts that the trial court properly denied the defendant's request to amend because it was untimely and any amendment at that point would have been prejudicial to the plaintiff. We agree with the plaintiff.

         On April 3, 2014, the defendant filed a request for leave to file an amended answer and cross complaint. The defendant asserted eight claims that he was not able to raise in the arbitration proceeding because they were not contained within the arbitration order entered by the trial court. In his proposed amended cross complaint, the defendant sought to assert the following claims: (1) breach of contract; (2) civil theft; (3) conversion; (4) violation of General Statutes § 53a-250 et seq., which governs computer crimes; (5) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (6) unjust enrichment; (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress. The defendant sought compensatory damages; treble damages under General Statutes § 52-564; ...


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