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Questell v. Farogh

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 1, 2017

JENNIFER QUESTELL
v.
SHEEBA FAROGH

          Argued June 1, 2017

          Joseph A. O'Brien, for the appellant (defendant).

          Isaias T. Diaz, with whom were Alexa L. Parr and Sarah Mather, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Alvord, Prescott and Kahn, Js.

         Syllabus

         The defendant appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court, which denied her motion to open and set aside that judgment after she was defaulted for her failure to appear at a scheduled trial management conference. The plaintiff had sought to recover damages for negligence in connection with injuries she suffered when she fell on the defendant's real property. At a conference that both parties attended, the trial court issued a scheduling order that set a date and time for the trial management conference. The court thereafter issued notices that reminded the parties of the trial management conference. After the defendant, who was self-represented, failed to appear for the trial management conference, the court rendered judgment of default against her and, after a hearing, awarded the plaintiff damages. The court subsequently denied the defendant's motion to open and set aside the judgment. On appeal, the defendant claimed that, although she had attended the conference in which the court scheduled the trial management conference and had received notice reminding her of the date and time of the trial management conference, she was prevented by mistake from appearing at that conference because, as a non attorney, she was unfamiliar with the court system, and because several motions and notices that had been filed and issued, respectively, in the month before that conference led her to believe that it was no longer scheduled. Held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant's motion to open and set aside the default judgment; the defendant having admitted that she was present when the trial management conference was scheduled and that she thereafter had been issued notice that confirmed the date and time of the conference, and there having been no evidence to suggest that she received notice from the court canceling the conference, or that she attempted to contact the court to verify whether the conference was canceled, the court reasonably could have found that she was not prevented from attending the trial management conference as a result of mistake, accident or other reasonable cause, but that her failure to attend the conference was due to her negligence.

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for the defendant's alleged negligence, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, where the defendant was defaulted for failure to appear; thereafter, the court, Young, J., rendered judgment for the plaintiff; subsequently, the court, Swienton, J., denied the defendant's motion to open the judgment, and the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          KAHN, J.

         The defendant, Sheeba Farogh, appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying her motion to open the default judgment, which was rendered after she failed to appear at a scheduled trial management conference. On appeal, the defendant claims that she was prevented from appearing at the conference by mistake and that a valid defense existed at the time the judgment was rendered. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts are relevant to this appeal. On August 11, 2014, the plaintiff, Jennifer Questell, initiated an action against the defendant, her landlord. The plaintiff alleged that on December 18, 2013, as a result of the defendant's negligence, she sustained injuries falling down the exterior stairs of her apartment. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that her injuries resulted from the defendant's failure to remove ice and snow from the apartment's exterior stairs. The defendant filed an answer and special defenses in response to the plaintiff's complaint on October 15, 2014. On November 24, 2014, the plaintiff filed a motion for an extension of time to respond to the defendant's answer and special defenses, which the court granted on December 8, 2014.

         On December 17, 2014, the parties attended a scheduling conference before the court, Young, J. A scheduling order was issued in open court on that day. The order read in relevant part: ‘‘Pretrial conference is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. on [August 13, 2015]. Trial management conference is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. on [September 9, 2015]. A joint report is required. Jury selection is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on [September 15, 2015]. Evidence will commence at 10 a.m. on [September 22, 2015].'' On December 19, 2014, the court issued notices reminding the parties of each of these scheduled events. The notice that set forth the date and time for the September 9, 2015 trial management conference noted that both parties ‘‘MUST attend'' and that ‘‘[f]ailure to comply with these requirements will result in the possible imposition of sanctions, including the entry of orders of default and/or nonsuit.''

         On August 6, 2015, one week before the parties' scheduled pretrial conference, the defendant's husband contacted the plaintiff's attorney and asked if the conference could be rescheduled. The plaintiff agreed and filed a motion for a continuance requesting that the conference be continued to August 17, 2015. The court granted the motion, noting that a new date was ‘‘to be assigned by the case flow coordinator.'' The record does not reflect that a new date was ever assigned. On August 7, 2015, the plaintiff served the defendant with several requests for admission via certified mail. The defendant signed the certification card, indicating that she had received the requests for admission, but did not respond. On August 20, 2015, the plaintiff responded to the defendant's special defenses, stating that ‘‘the plaintiff denies each and every allegation as set forth in the defendant's special defenses.'' The plaintiff also filed a certificate of closed pleadings on that day.

         On August 20, 2015, the court sent notices to both parties informing them that ‘‘the following changes have been made to the schedule for the above-referenced case: jury selection scheduled for [September 15, 2015] is marked off, as the certificate of closed pleadings (#108) claimed the case to the court trial list; evidence scheduled for [September 22, 2015] is changed to reflect a court trial commencing on [September 22, 2015] at 9:30 a.m.'' That same day, the court sent a second notice to the parties informing them that the matter was scheduled for a court trial on September 22, 2015, at 9:30 a.m., and that ‘‘attorneys and self-represented litigants must comply with the statewide civil court trial management order, which may be obtained via the Internet under the standing orders at www.jud.ct.gov or at the civil case flow office. Failure to comply as ordered may result in sanctions.'' Neither of these notices mentioned the previously scheduled September 9, 2015 trial ...


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