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Friedman v. Gomez

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 11, 2017


          Argued January 18, 2017

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, Housing Session, Rodriguez, J.

          Frederic S. Brody, with whom was Anne Louise Blanchard, for the appellants (defendants).

          Hale C. Sargent, for the appellee (substitute plaintiff).

          Lavine, Alvord and Beach, Js.


          ALVORD, J.

         The defendants, Maria Margarita Gomez, Guillermo Sanchez, Jr. (Sanchez Jr.), and Eric Sanchez, appeal from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a trial to the court, in favor of the plaintiff Drew Friedman[1] on his summary process complaint and against the defendants on their special defenses and counterclaims. On appeal, the defendants claim that the court (1) improperly limited its jurisdiction when it concluded that it did not have the authority to determine title to the subject property, (2) improperly determined that Guillermo Sanchez, Sr. (Sanchez Sr.), was no longer a party to this action, and (3) abused its discretion in finding that the defendants failed to prove that they had an equitable interest in the subject property. The plaintiff claims that the defendants' appeal is moot and must be dismissed because they voluntarily vacated the premises after the appeal was filed. We conclude that the appeal is not moot, and we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The court, as fact finder, reasonably could have found the following facts. The plaintiff[2] owned and managed commercial and residential real estate properties in Westport and Norwalk. Sanchez Sr. was employed by the plaintiff and was well liked by him. Gomez and Sanchez Sr. were married, and they lived with their two children, Sanchez Jr. and Eric Sanchez, in an apartment in Norwalk. Sanchez Sr. and Gomez wanted to purchase a home, and they began to save money for that purpose. The plaintiff, desirous of keeping Sanchez Sr. as an employee and having available financial resources, offered to assist by purchasing a two-family dwelling located on Godfrey Street in Norwalk. The purchase price was $250, 000, and was paid in cash. The plaintiff took title to the property in his name by warranty deed recorded in the Norwalk land records on March 13, 2002.

         Sanchez Sr. contributed $7700 toward the $25, 000 down payment and an additional $4009.55 in closing costs. The plaintiff's total contribution to the purchase of the two-family dwelling totaled $243, 785.60. Sanchez Sr. and the plaintiff had an understanding that $240, 000 of the amount paid constituted a loan from the plaintiff to Sanchez Sr., which was to be repaid in 180 payments at 7.5 percent interest. The first payment of principal and interest was due May 1, 2002, and the final payment was due April 1, 2017. The plaintiff provided Sanchez Sr. with an amortization schedule with respect to the loan payments. Sanchez Sr. and the plaintiff further agreed that if Sanchez Sr. made all of the required payments, the plaintiff would convey title to the subject property to him upon receipt of the final payment.

         Sanchez Sr. and the defendants occupied the second floor of the two-family dwelling beginning in March or April of 2002. Sanchez Sr., acting as the plaintiff's agent, rented the first floor to various tenants, collected the rent, and maintained the property. He kept the rent and paid the bills related to the subject property, including the real estate taxes. Sanchez Sr. began to make the required payments to the plaintiff, as set forth in the amortization schedule, but subsequently fell behind and eventually ceased making any payments. At the time of trial, the plaintiff's records indicated that the amount due from Sanchez Sr. was $165, 077.67 in principal and $44, 512.24 in interest. Sanchez Sr. vacated the property in 2010, but the defendants continued to reside on the second floor. The defendants made no payments pursuant to the amortization schedule, nor did they pay the plaintiff for use and occupancy of the property.

         The plaintiff served the defendants with a notice to quit on June 6, 2014. The stated reason for the eviction was as follows: ‘‘No right or privilege of possession by one who formerly had such a right.'' The defendants continued to reside at the subject property, and the plaintiff commenced this summary process action on August 22, 2014. A trial was held in the Housing Session at Norwalk on April 28, 2015. At that time, the plaintiff, Gomez and Sanchez Jr. testified, and the plaintiff submitted five exhibits. Although the court ruled at the beginning of the trial that Sanchez Sr. was no longer a party to the action, the transcript of the trial reflects that he was in the courtroom. Further, the plaintiff's counsel stated that Sanchez Sr. was available to testify if the defendants chose to call him to the witness stand. Sanchez Sr. was not called to testify as a witness by either the plaintiff or the defendants.

         The court issued its notice of judgment on April 30, 2015. The decision provides as follows: ‘‘Judgment for Plaintiff for Immediate Possession-After Trial. The plaintiff has proven all of the allegations in [his] complaint dated October 8, 2014. The defendants have failed to prove [their] counterclaims of constructive trust in [the] first count, resulting trust in the second count, promissory estoppel in the third count, equitable estoppel in the fourth count and unjust enrichment in the fifth count. Also there is insufficient evidence to support the special defenses of estoppel, unclean hands, and ownership by Maria Gomez, as defined in [General Statutes §] 47a-1 (e).'' On May 26, 2015, the court issued the following addendum to its judgment: ‘‘The basis for the court finding after trial, the defendant failed to prove [the] counterclaims and special defenses, is the testimony of Maria Gomez is discredited with regard to her claims.'' This appeal followed.[3]


         Before reaching the merits of the defendants' claims on appeal, we first must address the plaintiff's claim that the entire appeal is moot because the defendants voluntarily vacated the subject premises on May 8, 2015. ‘‘Mootness is a question of justiciability that must be determined as a threshold matter because it implicates [a] court's subject matter jurisdiction . . . . Because courts are established to resolve actual controversies, before a claimed controversy is entitled to a resolution on the merits it must be justiciable. Justiciability requires (1) that there be an actual controversy between or among the parties to the dispute . . . (2) that the interests of the parties be adverse . . . (3) that the matter in controversy be capable of being adjudicated by judicial power . . . and (4) that the ...

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