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Turner v. State

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 18, 2017

COREY TURNER
v.
STATE OF CONNECTICUT

          Argued December 12, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Mullarkey, J.

          Corey Turner, self-represented, the appellant (petitioner).

          Sarah Hanna, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Jo Anne Sulik, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Prescott and Mullins, Js.

          OPINION

          PRESCOTT, J.

         The petitioner, Corey Turner, appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying on statute of limitations grounds his petition for a new trial filed pursuant to General Statutes § 52-270.[1] The petitioner concedes that he filed his petition outside of the three year limitations period set forth in General Statutes § 52-582.[2] Instead, he claims that the trial court improperly failed to exercise its equitable power to toll the statute of limitations, thereby unfairly denying him access to a remedy. We conclude that the petitioner's failure to comply with § 52-582 deprived the court of jurisdiction to consider the petition. Because the court should have dismissed the untimely petition, rather than having denied it, we reverse the judgment of the trial court only as to the form of the judgment and remand with direction to dismiss the petition for new trial.

         The record reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history. In 1997, the petitioner was found guilty of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a and assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59, for which he received a total effective sentence of sixty years of incarceration. Turner v. Commissioner of Correction, 97 Conn.App. 15, 15, 902 A.2d 716 (2006). Our Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction on direct appeal.[3] State v. Turner, 252 Conn. 714, 751 A.2d 372 (2000). Thereafter, the petitioner filed a number of unsuccessful actions in state and federal court, including multiple petitions seeking a writ of habeas corpus, a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, and a motion to open and set aside the judgment of conviction. See Turner v. Dzurenda, 596 F.Supp.2d 525 (D. Conn. 2009), aff'd, 381 Fed.Appx. 41 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 562 U.S. 1032, 131 S.Ct. 574, 178 L.Ed.2d 419 (2010); Turner v. Commissioner of Correction, 163 Conn.App. 556, 134 A.3d 1253, cert. denied, 323 Conn. 909, 149 A.3d 980 (2016); State v. Turner, 139 Conn.App. 906, 55 A.3d 626 (2012), cert. denied, 308 Conn. 946, 67 A.3d 289 (2013); Turner v. State, 134 Conn.App. 906, 40 A.3d 345, cert. denied, 307 Conn. 904, 53 A.3d 219 (2012); Turner v. Commissioner of Correction, 118 Conn.App. 565, 984 A.2d 793 (2009), cert. denied, 296 Conn. 901, 991 A.2d 1104 (2010); Turner v. Commissioner of Correction, supra, 97 Conn.App. 15; Turner v. Commissioner of Correction, 86 Conn.App. 341, 861 A.2d 522 (2004), cert. denied, 272 Conn. 914, 866 A.2d 1286 (2005).

         On December 7, 2012, the self-represented petitioner filed the underlying petition for a new trial pursuant to § 52-270. On December 30, 2013, the petitioner amended his petition. The amended petition asserted that the state had engaged in ‘‘sham negotiations or a false promise of compromise'' that was ‘‘intended to induce the petitioner to surrender his right to a hearing on his motion to suppress the in and out of court identification of the petitioner as the perpetrator . . . .'' The petitioner also alleged that the state had solicited and offered ‘‘perjured, false or misleading testimony'' from its principal identification witness and that, but for those actions, he would have prevailed on his motion to suppress, and the results of his criminal trial would have been different, including a possible dismissal of all charges.

         The respondent, the State of Connecticut, answered the petition for new trial, asserting by special defense that the petitioner was not entitled to relief because the petition had been filed more than three years after judgment was rendered and, thus, was barred by § 52-582 (a), the applicable statute of limitations. In response, the petitioner asserted that although the governing statute of limitations admittedly had expired, the court was not bound to apply the statute of limitations, and could exercise its equitable powers to consider and ultimately grant his petition.

         The court held a hearing on the petition for new trial on January 8, 2014. At that time, the court, Mullarkey, J., indicated to the parties that it was concerned that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain an untimely petition. The respondent took the position that the petitioner's failure to file his petition within the applicable limitations period did not implicate the court's jurisdiction, but only provided the respondent with an affirmative defense, which it had pleaded. The court indicated that it would need to decide the jurisdictional issue first.[4]The court nevertheless proceeded to hear evidence on the merits of the petition.[5]

         The parties later submitted posttrial briefs. The petitioner's posttrial brief addressed the court's jurisdictional concern in a footnote, in which he again acknowledged that the governing statute of limitations set forth in § 52-582 (a) had expired prior to his filing the petition, but argued that the court nevertheless had jurisdiction to consider its merits. According to the petitioner, ‘‘[i]n an equitable proceeding, a court may provide a remedy even though the governing statute of limitations has expired, just as it has discretion to dismiss for laches an action initiated within the period of the statute .Dunham v. Dunham, 204 Conn. 303, 326-27, [528 A.2d 1123] (1987).'' In its posttrial brief, the respondent maintained its position that the petition was time barred, and argued that the petitioner had failed to establish that the limitations period should be tolled.[6]

         On August 14, 2014, the court rendered a judgment denying the petition for new trial on statute of limitations grounds. The court determined that, for purposes of § 52-582, ‘‘the rendition of the judgment'' had occurred on October 10, 1997, when the petitioner was sentenced in the underlying criminal matter. See Holli-day v. State, 111 Conn.App. 656, 663, 960 A.2d 1101 (2008), cert. denied, 291 Conn. 902, 967 A.2d 112 (2009). The court also found that the petitioner did not file his petition for new trial until August, 2012, nearly fifteen years after sentencing and, thus, well beyond the three year limitations period.

         Rather than disposing of the petition for new trial solely on the basis of the uncontested fact that the petitioner had not filed it within the three year statute of limitations, the trial court indicated as part of its rationale for denying the petition that the petitioner had failed to provide the court with any explanation that would have justified a late petition. The court stated that even if it had equitable authority to consider a late petition, it lacked any evidentiary basis to do so in this case. The court suggested that it was the petitioner's burden to show that some injustice had prevented the petitioner from filing the petition before the statute of limitations had run. The court concluded that, taking into account the nature of the petitioner's claim, it could find ‘‘nothing that would have prevented the petitioner from pursuing it within the limitation period.'' As previously noted, the court explicitly stated that the petitioner was ‘‘not alleging fraudulent concealment, or any other impropriety, that would have caused him any delay in raising the claim.'' The court denied the petition for new trial and, subsequently, granted the petitioner certification to file an appeal in accordance with General Statutes § 54-95 (a).[7] This appeal followed.

         The petitioner's sole claim on appeal is that the court abused its discretion in determining that his petition for new trial was barred by the relevant statute of limitations, arguing that, in the interest of justice, a trial court in equitable proceedings is not obligated to adhere to a statute of limitations. Inherent in the petitioner's claim is a presumption that the limitations period set forth in § 52-582 was not jurisdictional in nature and that the court had the authority to consider and apply principles of equitable tolling.[8] The respondent counters that the trial court lacked any discretion regarding whether to apply the statute of limitations and argues in the alternative that, even if it had such discretion, it properly declined to exercise it in this case. We agree with the respondent that the trial court lacked discretion to consider a petition that was filed outside the limitations period.

         Our Supreme Court has made clear that a court lacks the authority to apply the doctrine of equitable tolling or otherwise exercise discretionary authority to extend a limitations period if the applicable statute of limitations constitutes a limit on the court's subject matter jurisdiction. Williams v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 257 Conn. 258, 269, 777 A.2d 645 (2001). No appellate court explicitly has determined whether a failure to comply with the three year limitations period in § 52-582 may be excused or whether strict compliance with the limitations period is necessary to invoke the court's subject matter jurisdiction.[9]If the limitations period in § 52-582 was intended by the legislature as an outright limit on the court's jurisdiction to entertain a late petition for new trial, the petitioner's admission that he failed to comply with the statutory time requirement would be determinative of his appellate claim because, in such a situation, the trial court would have lacked any discretion to consider the merits of the petition. Because the respondent has advanced this argument on appeal, we must address it before we can turn to the petitioner's abuse of discretion claim. See Pine v. Dept. of Public Health, 100 Conn.App. 175, 180-81, 917 A.2d 590 (2007); see also State v. Delgado, 323 Conn. 801, 810, 151 A.3d 345 (2016) (questions of subject matter jurisdiction ‘‘may not be waived by any party, and also may be raised by a party, or by the court sua sponte, at any stage of the proceedings, including on appeal'' [internal quotation marks omitted]). For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the three year limitations period for filing a petition for new trial in a criminal matter implicates the court's subject matter jurisdiction, and, therefore, the court lacked any discretion to consider the untimely petition.

         Whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction to consider a late petition for new trial presents a question of law over which our review is plenary. Allen v.Commissioner of Revenue Services, 324 Conn. 292, 298, 152 A.3d 488 (2016). In Williams v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, supra, 257 Conn. 266, our Supreme Court sought to ‘‘clarify the analysis for deciding whether a time limit is subject matter jurisdictional.'' It explained that ‘‘[a] conclusion that a time limit is subject matter jurisdictional has very serious and final consequences. It means that, except in very rare circumstances . . . a subject matter jurisdictional defect may not be waived . . . may be raised at any time, even on appeal . . . and that subject matter jurisdiction, if lacking, may not be conferred by the parties, explicitly or implicitly. . . . Therefore, we have stated many times that there is a presumption in favor of subject matter jurisdiction, and we require a strong showing of legislative intent that such a time limit is jurisdictional.'' (Citations omitted.) Id. The court held that the proper analytical approach is to focus on ‘‘whether the legislature intended the time limitation to be ...


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