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Heinonen v. Gupton

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 9, 2017


          Argued January 13, 2017

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Danbury, Truglia, J.

          Mark Heinonen, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

          Leslie A. Link, for the appellees (defendants).

          Sheldon, Keller and Prescott, Js.


          PER CURIAM.

         The self-represented plaintiff, Mark Heinonen, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dismissing this action alleging fraud on the part of the defendants, Wallace I. Gupton and Roberta S. Douglas, in connection with their purchase of property located in the town of Sherman. The dispositive claim in this appeal is whether the court improperly dismissed this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction due to his lack of standing.[1] We affirm the judgment of the court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On February 6, 2015, the plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that in January, 2012, the defendants illegally purchased property located at 138 Rt. 37 South in Sherman (premises) ‘‘without the owners' knowledge and for a fraction of its real value.'' In paragraph three of his complaint, he alleged that in October, 2007, he transferred his interest in the prem-isestohis three childrenby means of a trust instrument.[2]In his prayer for relief, the plaintiff requested the sum of $3, 000, 000 to compensate him for the ‘‘agony he has suffered as a result of the defendants' fraud-cruel and illegal dealings.''

         On March 13, 2015, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss this action and an accompanying memorandum of law on the ground that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Specifically, the defendants argued that the plaintiff, as a prior owner of the premises, lacked standing to prosecute a claim that he was defrauded as the rightful owner of the property. On April 9, 2015, the plaintiff, by means of a single filing, objected to the motion to dismiss and moved for summary judgment in his favor.[3] The court heard argument on the defendants' motion to dismiss on April 27, 2015.

         In its decision granting the motion to dismiss, the court found in relevant part: ‘‘In this action, the plaintiff . . . claims compensatory damages for fraudulent actions allegedly committed by the defendants when they purchased [the premises].[4] The plaintiff claims that in January of 2012, the defendants illegally purchased the premises ‘without the owner's knowledge and for a fraction of its real value.' The defendants argue in support of their motion that it is undisputed (and admitted in the plaintiff's complaint) that he no longer owns any interestin the premises and, therefore, has nostand-ing to bring the present suit. In response to the defendants' motion to dismiss, the plaintiff has filed a combined objection to the motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment[5] . . . essentially asserting that the manner in which the defendants came into ownership of the premises was tainted by illegality. . . .

         ‘‘After reviewing the allegations of the plaintiff's complaint and the briefs of the parties, the court is satisfied and agrees with the defendants that the plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to invoke the court's jurisdiction. The record indicates that the plaintiff is not the current owner of the premises which are the subject of this action, had no interest in the premises at the time of conveyance to the defendants, or any time thereafter, and has not owned any interest in the premises since October of 2007.'' (Footnotes added.)

         The court rendered a judgment of dismissal on May 12, 2016, after concluding that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring this action because he was not the owner of the premises and, therefore, was not an aggrieved party with respect to the subject matter of his complaint. On May 27, 2015, the plaintiff filed a motion for clarification, articulation, and reargument, which the court denied on June 1, 2015. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         Before we address the merits of the plaintiff's claim, we first set forth the standard of review. ‘‘The proper procedural vehicle for disputing a party's standing is a motion to dismiss.'' D'Eramo v. Smith, 273 Conn. 610, 615 n.6, 872 A.2d 408 (2005). ‘‘A motion to dismiss . . . properly attacks the jurisdiction of the court, essentially asserting that the plaintiff cannot as a matter of law and fact state a cause of action that should be heard by the court.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Caruso v. Bridgeport, 285 Conn. 618, 627, 941 A.2d 266 (2008). ‘‘[O]ur review of the trial court's ultimate legal conclusion and resulting [granting] of the motion to dismiss will be de novo. . . . When a . . . court decides a jurisdictional question raised by a pretrial motion to dismiss, it must consider the allegations of the complaint in their most favorable light . . . . In this regard, a court must take the facts to be those alleged in the complaint, including those facts necessarily implied from the allegations, construing them in a manner most favorable to the pleader. . . . The motion to dismiss . . . admits all facts which are well pleaded, invokes the existing record and must be decided upon that alone.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Keller v. Beckenstein, 122 Conn.App. 438, 442-43, 998 A.2d 838 (2010), rev'd on other grounds, 305 Conn. 523, 46 A.3d 102 (2012). ‘‘Any claim of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter cannot be waived; and whenever it is found after suggestion of the parties or otherwise that the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, the judicial authority shall dismiss the action.'' Practice Book § 10-33. ‘‘Whenever the absence of jurisdiction is brought to the notice of the court or tribunal, cognizance of it must be taken and the matter passed upon before it can move one further step in the cause; as any movement is necessarily the exercise of jurisdiction.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Peabody, N.E., Inc., 239 Conn. 93, 99, 680 A.2d 1321 (1996).

         In the present case, the defendants' motion to dismiss was premised on the plaintiff's lack of standing. ‘‘If a party is found to lack standing, the court is without subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case. Because standing implicates the court's subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing standing. A trial court's determination of whether a plaintiff lacks standing is a conclusion of law that is subject to plenary review on appeal. We conduct that plenary review, however, in light of the trial court's findings of fact, which we will not overturn unless they are clearly erroneous. . . . In undertaking this review, we are mindful of the well established notion that, in determining whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction, every presumption favoring jurisdiction should be indulged. . . . This involves a two part function: where the legal conclusions of the court are challenged, we must determine whether they are legally and logically correct and whether they find support in the facts set out in the memorandum of decision; where the factual basis of the court's decision is challenged we must determine whether the facts set outinthe memorandum of ...

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