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Cornelius v. Arnold

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 4, 2016

FREDERICK CORNELIUS
v.
LINDA ARNOLD, TAX ASSESSOR TOWN OF FARMINGTON

          Argued February 11, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New Britain, Hon. Arnold W. Aronson, judge trial referee.

          Frederick Cornelius, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

          Duncan J. Forsyth, with whom wereKellyC. McKeon and, on the brief, Michael C. Collins, for the appellee (defendant).

          Keller, Mullins and Norcott, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The self-represented plaintiff, Frederick Cornelius, appeals from the summary judgment rendered in favor of the defendant, Linda Arnold, the tax assessor of the town of Farmington. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court improperly concluded that (1) his action for relief from wrongful assessment was untimely because he commenced the action beyond the one year time limitation set forth in General Statutes § 12-119, [1] and (2) he failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a continuing course of conduct tolled that time limitation. We disagree with both claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history inform our review. On January 29, 2013, the plaintiff commenced this action by service of a summons and two count complaint on the defendant. In count one of the amended complaint, the plaintiff alleged the following. On October 1, 2011, he was the owner of a parcel of real property located at 1509 Farmington Avenue in Farmington (property).[2] On that date, the defendant valued the property at $238, 714 and assessed the property at a value of $167, 100. The assessment, on which the tax laid on the property was computed, ‘‘was manifestly excessive and could not have been arrived at except by disregarding duties of the assessor established under . . . General Statutes §§ 12-62 and/or 12-55.''[3]

         The defendant pleaded the time limitation set forth in § 12-119asa special defense, alleging that the plaintiff had not commenced the action within one year of the October 1, 2011 assessment he challenged. The defendant thereafter moved for summary judgment on the basis of the special defense. The plaintiff objected, arguing that his action was timely pursuant to § 12-119 as properly read or, in the alternative, that a continuing course of conduct had tolled the limitations period.[4]

         By memorandum of decision, the trial court rendered summary judgment as to count one. See footnote 2 of this opinion. The court concluded that ‘‘[t]he plaintiff's failure to bring the appeal, as alleged in count one, within the one year period starting with October 1, 2011, supports the defendant's motion for summary judgment.''[5] The court further concluded that the plaintiff failed to raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether the defendant had engaged in an illegal course of conduct that would have tolled the limitations period in § 12-119. This appeal followed. Additional facts will follow as necessary.

         On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly rendered summary judgment for two principal reasons. First, he claims that his commencement of the action on January 29, 2013, was timely because the October 1, 2011 date of the allegedly illegal assessment of the property was not the ‘‘date as of which the property was last evaluated for purposes of taxation, '' on which the one year limitations period in § 12-119 begins. Second, he claims that whether a continuing course of conduct tolled the limitations period was a genuine issue of material fact that precluded summary judgment.

         ‘‘Summary judgment may be granted where the [claim] [is] barred by the statute of limitations.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Flannery v. Singer Asset Finance Co., LLC, 312 Conn. 286, 310, 94 A.3d 553 (2014). ‘‘The question of whether a claim is barred by the statute of limitations is a question of law over which we exercise plenary review.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Brusby v. Metropolitan District, 160 Conn.App. 638, 661, 127 A.3d 257 (2015).

         ‘‘Practice Book [§ 17-49] provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. . . . In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. . . . [T]he scope of our review of the trial court's decision to grant the [defendant's] motion for summary judgment is plenary. . . .

         ‘‘[I]n the context of a motion for summary judgment based on a statute of limitations special defense, a defendant typically meets its initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact by demonstrating that the action had commenced outside of the statutory limitation period. . . . When the plaintiff asserts that the limitations period has been tolled by an equitable exception to the statute of limitations, the burden normally shifts to the plaintiff to establish a disputed issue of material fact in avoidance of the statute.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Flannery v. Singer Asset Finance Co., LLC, supra, 312 Conn. 309-10.

         I

         The plaintiff first claims that summary judgment was improper because he commenced his action within the one year limitation period in § 12-119, as that statute properly is read. He argues that the ‘‘date as of which the property is last evaluated for purposes of taxation'' within the meaning of § 12-119 is the date on which the assessment is ‘‘finalized'' because ‘‘the evaluation process is ongoing.'' Because the date of finalization will vary according to the circumstances of a given case, he argues, the statute is ambiguous and must be read in his favor. He also contends that the limitations period is directory rather than mandatory or subject to a balancing of the equities, and that an action pursuant to § 12-119 does not exclude the pursuit of other equitable remedies not subject to the time limitation. We are not persuaded.

         ‘‘The legislature, in creating the municipal taxation scheme, placed precise statutes of limitations over most substantive taxpayer claims.'' National CSS, Inc. v. Stamford, 195 Conn. 587, 594, 489 A.2d 1034 (1985) (citing, among other statutes, § 12-119). ‘‘It is well settled that, if the owner of the [property] at the [time] of the [assessment] in question . . . want[s] to challenge the [assessment], [he is] required to follow the appropriate statutory procedures, either by (1) timely appealing from the [assessment] to the city's board of assessment appeals pursuant to General Statutes §§ 12-111 and 12-112, and from there by timely appealing to the trial court pursuant to General Statutes § 12-117a, or (2) timely bringing a direct action pursuant to . . . § 12-119. [A] taxpayer who has failed to utilize the available statutory remedies [may not] assert . . . that the tax has not been properly assessed. . . . The rationale for this rule is the need on the part of the government for fiscal certainty. A municipality, like any governmental entity, needs to know with reasonable certainty what its tax base is for each fiscal year, so that it responsibly can prepare a budget for that year. . . . Public policy requires, therefore, that taxes that have not been challenged timely cannot be the subject of perpetual litigation, at any time, to suit the convenience of the taxpayer. . . . A taxpayer who has not sought redress in an appropriate manner is foreclosed from continuing litigation outside [those] statutes.'' (Citations omitted; footnotes omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Danbury v. Dana Investment Corp., 249 Conn. 1, 12-15, 730 A.2d 1128 (1999).

         A

         The plaintiff first argues that the reference in § 12-119 to the ‘‘date as of which the property was last evaluated for purposes of taxation'' is ambiguous because, under the circumstances of a given case, that date may be either (1) January 31 following the October 1 assessment date, in the event that the assessor conducts an interim assessment of the property; see General Statutes § 12-55 (b); (2) May 1 following the assessment date, in the event that the assessment is appealed to the board of assessment appeals; see General Statutes § 12-111; or (3) August 1 following the assessment date, the date on which taxes become due, because ‘‘[p]ayment finalizes the [assessment] process . . . .'' He argues that we must resolve this ambiguity in his favor and conclude that he timely commenced the present action. We disagree.

         ‘‘[I]f there is no ambiguity in the language of [a] statute, it does not become ambiguous merely because the parties contend for different meanings.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Hardt v. Watertown, 95 Conn.App. 52, 57, 895 A.2d 846 (2006), aff'd, 281 Conn. 600, 917 A.2d 26 (2007). ‘‘When construing a statute, [o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature. . . . In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of [the] case, including the question of whether the language actually does apply. . . . In seeking to determine that meaning, General Statutes § 1-2z directs us first to consider 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.) Kasica v. Columbia, 309 Conn. 85, 93, 70 A.3d 1 (2013).

         Section 12-119 provides in relevant part: ‘‘When it is claimed that . . . a tax laid on property was computed on an assessment which, under all the circumstances, was manifestly excessive and could not have been arrived at except by disregarding the provisions of the statutes for determining the valuation of such property, the owner thereof . . . may . . . make application for relief to the [S]uperior [C]ourt for the judicial district in which such town or city is situated. Such ...


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