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Town of Ledyard v. WMS Gaming, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 21, 2017

TOWN OF LEDYARD
v.
WMS GAMING, INC.

          Considered December 14, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New London, Vacchelli, J.

          Lloyd L. Langhammer, in support of the motion.

          Aaron S. Bayer and David R. Roth, in opposition to the motion.

          DiPentima, C. J., and Beach, Alvord, Sheldon and Prescott, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          DiPENTIMA, C. J.

         The motion before the court challenges our jurisdiction over the appeal of the defendant, WMS Gaming, Inc., from the decision of the trial court rendering summary judgment as to liability only in favor of the plaintiff, the town of Ledyard, with respect to certain attorney's fees incurred by the plaintiff. The plaintiff moves to dismiss the defendant's appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, claiming that the trial court's decision is not an appealable final judgment because the trial court has not determined the amount of the attorney's fees. We conclude that the trial court's decision rendering summary judgment as to liability only in favor of the plaintiff with regard to the attorney's fees at issue is not an appealable final judgment. Accordingly, we grant the plaintiff's motion to dismiss the defendant's appeal.

         The record before the court reveals the following facts and procedural history. In 2008, the plaintiff commenced the underlying action to collect unpaid personal property taxes that it had imposed on slot machines that the defendant owned and leased to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (Tribal Nation) for use in its gaming facilities. As relief, the plaintiff sought $18, 251.23 in unpaid personal property taxes, plus costs, interest, and penalties. In addition, the plaintiff sought attorney's fees pursuant to General Statutes § 12-161a.

         Shortly after the plaintiff had commenced the underlying state action, the Tribal Nation filed an action in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut challenging the authority of the state of Connecticut and the plaintiff[1] to impose the taxes at issue in the present state action.[2] Although it was not a party to the federal action commenced by the Tribal Nation, the defendant filed a motion to stay the present state action pending the outcome of the federal action, which the trial court, Martin, J., granted.

         On March 27, 2012, the District Court ruled on cross motions for summary judgment filed in the consolidated federal action. The District Court, determining that the authority of the state and the plaintiff to impose the taxes was preempted by federal law, granted the Tribal Nation's motion for summary judgment and denied separate motions for summary judgment filed by the plaintiff and the state, respectively. See Mashantucket Pequot Tribe v. Ledyard, United States District Court, Docket No. 3:06CV1212 (WWE), 2012 WL 1069342, *12 (D. Conn. March 27, 2012), rev'd, 722 F.3d 457 (2d Cir. 2013). On July 15, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the District Court's judgment, concluding that the authority of the state and the plaintiff to impose the taxes was not preempted by federal law. See Mashantucket Pequot Tribe v. Ledyard, 722 F.3d 457, 477 (2d Cir. 2013).

         After the proceedings had resumed in the present state action, the parties executed a stipulation. Under the stipulation, the parties agreed that the defendant had tendered payment to the plaintiff for all outstanding taxes, accrued interest, and accrued penalties at issue. They further agreed that the plaintiff was entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred in the underlying state action, the amount of which would be determined by the trial court and the payment of which would be accepted by the plaintiff as satisfaction of all of the taxes, interest, penalties, attorney's fees, and costs recoverable by the plaintiff with respect to the underlying state action. They disputed, however, whether the trial court could also find the defendant liable for attorney's fees incurred by the plaintiff in defense of the federal action commenced by the Tribal Nation to which the defendant was not a party (federal action attorney's fees). The parties agreed to submit to the trial court the issue of whether the defendant was liable for the federal action attorney's fees.

         After executing the stipulation, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment as to liability only with respect to the federal action attorney's fees. On October 6, 2016, the trial court, Vacchelli, J., issued its memorandum of decision granting the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, denying the defendant's motion for summary judgment, and rendering summary judgment as to liability only in favor of the plaintiff with respect to the federal action attorney's fees. The trial court concluded that the defendant was liable for the federal action attorney's fees pursuant to § 12-161a.[3] The trial court further stated that the plaintiff could file a motion for attorney's fees within thirty days and that a hearing would be scheduled thereafter to determine the amount of the attorney's fees to which the plaintiff is entitled. Shortly thereafter, on October 11, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion for attorney's fees.

         On October 25, 2016, prior to the trial court scheduling a hearing on the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees, the defendant appealed the trial court's decision with respect to the federal action attorney's fees. The plaintiff's motion to dismiss the defendant's appeal followed.

         The plaintiff moves to dismiss the defendant's appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting that the trial court's decision rendering summary judgment as to liability only in favor of the plaintiff with respect to the federal action attorney's fees is not an appealable final judgment because the trial court has not determined the amount of the attorney's fees to which the plaintiff is entitled. In response, the defendant contends that the trial court's ...


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