Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Estela v. Bristol Hospital, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

January 9, 2018

JOSE ESTELA
v.
BRISTOL HOSPITAL, INC.

          Argued September 18, 2017

          Joseph B. Burns, with whom, on the brief, was Pamela A. LeBlanc, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Holly L. Cini, with whom were Sara R. Simeonidis and, on the brief, Jillian R. Orticelli, for the appellee (defendant).

          Lavine, Keller and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          HARPER, J.

         This appeal is the latest installment in a long and protracted litigation between the parties. The plaintiff, Jose Estela, a physician, appeals from the trial court's judgment that his case could not be maintained under the accidental failure of suit statute, General Statutes § 52-592 (a), [1] because his first action against the defendant, Bristol Hospital, Inc., was dismissed for ‘‘serious disciplinary reasons'' and not as a matter of form. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that (1) the defendant waived the right to challenge the applicability of § 52-592 (a); (2) the court incorporated a different and higher standard into its decision and thus deprived him of his rights under Ruddock v. Burrowes, 243 Conn. 569, 706 A.2d 967 (1998), by limiting the § 52-592 (a) hearing to the standard set forth in General Statutes § 52-212; (3) his alleged discovery noncompliance occurred in circumstances such as mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect; and (4) § 52-592 (a) applies to any judgment of nonsuit.[2] We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The relevant procedural history is as follows. Prior to commencing the present action, the plaintiff commenced his first action, Estela v. Bristol Hospital, Inc., Superior Court, judicial district of New Britain, Docket No. CV-11-6013260-S (Estela I), on November 3, 2011, alleging that the defendant improperly had restricted his hospital privileges and engaged in anticompetitive behavior by stealing his patients. The complaint set forth causes of action for tortious interference with business expectancies, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, tortious interference with contractual relations, and defamation. As the court in the present action, Young, J., noted, Estela I ‘‘was heavily litigated, with well over 100 filings before it was ultimately terminated by the court, Swienton, J., [on October 28, 2013] for the plaintiff's failure to comply with the court's deadlines [set forth in two court orders].''

         On November 1, 2013, the plaintiff filed a motion for reargument or reconsideration of the entry of nonsuit, which the court in Estela I denied on November 18, 2013. The plaintiff then filed a motion to open the nonsuit on November 27, 2013, which the court denied on December 16, 2013. On January 7, 2014, the plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration or reargument of the denial of the motion to open, which the court denied on January 21, 2014.

         On February 10, 2014, the plaintiff appealed from the judgment denying his motion for reconsideration of the denial of the motion to open. This court dismissed the appeal as moot because the plaintiff did not ‘‘challenge the court's finding that he failed to show that he was prevented from prosecuting his action because of mis- take, accident, or other reasonable cause''; Estela v. Bristol Hospital, Inc., 165 Conn.App. 100, 107, 138 A.3d 1042, cert. denied, 323 Conn. 904, 150 A.3d 681 (2016); which prevented this court from affording him practical relief, even if the plaintiff's claims were resolved in his favor. Id., 108.

         Prior to the resolution of the plaintiff's appeal from the judgment rendered in Estela I, on October 24, 2014, the plaintiff commenced the present action, which was essentially identical to Estela I, relying on § 52-592 (a), in avoidance of any claim that his causes of action would be time barred by the applicable statutes of limitations.[3] On December 16, 2014, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. In its memorandum of law in support of the motion for summary judgment, the defendant argued, in relevant part, that the applicable statutes of limitations barred the plaintiff's claims and assumed that the plaintiff was relying on the savings provisions of § 52-592 (a), though the defendant did not explicitly challenge the applicability of the statute.

         On February 26, 2015, prior to the plaintiff's filing an objection to the motion for summary judgment or action by the court, the defendant filed a motion for an order to bifurcate the trial, pursuant to General Statutes § 52-205[4] and Practice Book § 15-1, [5] to try the plaintiff's claim that his action was not time barred due to § 52-592 (a) separately from the merits of the underlying tort and breach of contract claims. On March 12, 2015, the plaintiff filed an objection to the defendant's motion for an order to bifurcate on the grounds that on multiple occasions the defendant had waived its right to challenge the applicability of § 52-592 (a) and was estopped from doing so by way of a motion to bifurcate. No immediate action was taken on the defendant's motion to bifurcate or the plaintiff's objection.

         On June 23, 2015, the court overruled the plaintiff's objection to the defendant's motion for an order to bifurcate and scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether § 52-592 (a) applies to the plaintiff's case. The evidentiary hearing took place on August 3, 2015. At the court's request, the parties filed posthearing briefs on August 10, 2015. On August 17, 2015, the court determined that, under the applicable analysis set forth in Ruddock v. Burrowes, supra, 243 Conn. 569, § 52-592 (a) did not apply to the plaintiff's case because ‘‘Estela I was not dismissed as a matter of form . . . .'' The court found that ‘‘[because Estela I] was terminated for serious disciplinary reasons and not because of mistake, inadvertence or excusable neglect . . . the viability of this action cannot be based upon . . . [§ 52-592 (a)].'' This appeal followed.[6] Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         We first address the plaintiff's claim that the defendant waived its right to challenge the applicability of § 52-592 (a) by failing to raise the statute of limitations as a special defense, in a motion to dismiss, or in its motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff further claims that a motion to bifurcate was the improper vehicle to challenge the applicability of § 52-592 (a). We disagree.

         Absent § 52-592 (a), the causes of action set forth in the plaintiff's complaint in the present case were time barred by the applicable statutes of limitations in General Statutes §§ 52-577[7] and 52-597, which the defendant asserted, contrary to the plaintiff's claim, in its December 16, 2014 memorandum of law in support of its motion for summary judgment.[8] ‘‘Section 52-592 (a) allows a plaintiff to commence a new action for the same cause, within one year, if the original action failed to be tried on its merits . . . for any matter of form . . . . Deemed a saving statute, § 52-592 enables plaintiffs to bring anew causes of action despite the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Vestuti v. Miller, 124 Conn.App. 138, 143, 3 A.3d 1046 (2010).

         ‘‘Pursuant to . . . § 52-205 and Practice Book § 15-1, the trial court may order that one or more issues that are joined be tried before the others. The interests served by bifurcated trials are convenience, negation of prejudice and judicial efficiency. . . . Bifurcation may be appropriate in cases in which litigation of one issue may obviate the need to litigate another issue. . . . The bifurcation of trial proceedings lies solely within the discretion of the trial court.'' (Footnotes omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Dumas v. Mena, 82 Conn.App. 61, 64, 842 A.2d 618 (2004). Because ‘‘[b]ifurcation of trial proceedings lies solely within the discretion of the trial court . . . appellate review is limited to a determination of whether that discretion has been abused.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) O'Shea v. Mignone, 50 Conn.App. 577, 582, 719 A.2d 1176, cert. denied, 247 Conn. 941, 723 A.2d 319 (1998). ‘‘In determining whether the trial court has abused its discretion, we must make every reasonable presumption in favor of the correctness of its action.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 583. ‘‘[T]he ultimate issue is whether the court could reasonably conclude as it did . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Saczynski v. Saczynski, 109 Conn.App. 426, 428, 951 A.2d 670 (2008).

         Our precedent demonstrates that the question of whether § 52-592 (a) applies may be addressed through a motion for an order to bifurcate. In Plante v. Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, 300 Conn. 33, 40-41, 12 A.3d 885 (2011), [9] the applicability of § 52-592 (a) initially was challenged in a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment, both of which were denied by the trial court. Thereafter, ‘‘[f]ollowing discovery and numerous revisions to the operative complaint, the trial court . . . granted the hospital defendants' motion pursuant to General Statutes § 52-206 and Practice Book § 15-1 to bifurcate the proceedings, and to try the claim that the action was saved by § 52-592 (a) separately from the malpractice claims.'' Id., 41. On appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the court's determination that § 52-592 (a) did not save the plaintiff's action. Id., 39.

         Similarly here, the defendant's first response to the plaintiff's complaint was to file a motion for summary judgment, in which it argued that the applicable statutes of limitations barred the plaintiff's claims.[10] The court never rendered a decision on the defendant's motion for summary judgment because the defendant filed a motion for an order to bifurcate the trial to determine whether § 52-592 (a) saved the plaintiff's case. The court determined that the question of whether § 52-592 (a) applied was a dispositive issue. Thus, in the present case, as in Plante, the court ultimately addressed the issue of the applicability of § 52-592 (a) through a motion to bifurcate.

         The plaintiff also argues that the court was wrong to ‘‘recast'' the defendant's motion for an order to bifurcate as a dispositive motion. We disagree.

         It was within the court's discretion to bifurcate the proceedings and address the issue of the applicability of § 52-592 (a) apart from the issues being tried on the merits in the interests of judicial efficiency. See Dumas v. Mena, supra, 82 Conn.App. 64; see also Reichhold Chemicals, Inc. v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co., 243 Conn. 401, 423-24, 703 A.2d 1132 (1997). In its memorandum of decision, the court noted that ‘‘[t]o allow this action to proceed through the same extensive litigation [as Estela I] only to have the court determine thereafter that it can not be saved by [§ 52-592 (a)] would be a waste of the time and resources of the parties and the court. . . . The issue before the court at this time is whether the action may be saved by [§ 52-592 (a)].'' Given that the plaintiff's claim would be time barred if § 52-592 (a) did not apply; see Vestuti v. Miller, supra, 124 Conn.App. 143 (‘‘§ 52-592 enables plaintiffs to bring anew causes of action despite the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations . . . [but] to fall within the purview of § 52-592 . . . the original lawsuit must have failed for one of the reasons enumerated in the statute'' [internal quotation marks omitted]); the court did not abuse its discretion in determining the applicability of § 52-592 (a) apart from the issues being tried on the merits.

         II

         We next address the plaintiff's claim that the court incorporated a different and higher standard into its decision than the standard set forth in Ruddock v. Bur- rowes, supra, 243 Conn. 569. Specifically, the plaintiff asserts that he was deprived of his rights under Ruddock because ‘‘[r]ather than employing the ‘mistake, inadvertence or excusable neglect' standard under § 52-592 (a) . . . and requiring a determination as to whether the nonsuited party engaged in ‘egregious conduct, ' the court limited the issue to one of ‘mistake, [accident] or reasonable cause' under a standard utilized under . . . § 52-212.'' We disagree.

         This court has opined that ‘‘§§ 52-592 and 52-212 have different purposes and, thus, employ different legal standards.'' Skinner v. Doelger, 99 Conn.App. 540, 559, 915 A.2d 314, cert. denied, 282 Conn. 902, 919 A.2d 1037 (2007). To open a nonsuit pursuant to § 52-212 (a), [11] a plaintiff must demonstrate that it was prevented from prosecuting its action by ‘‘mistake, accident or other reasonable cause . . . .'' General Statutes § 52-212 (a). In contrast, the ‘‘matter of form'' provision of § 52-592 (a), as set forth in Ruddock, requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that the prior suit failed ‘‘in circumstances such as mistake, inadvertence or excusable neglect.'' Ruddock v. Burrowes, supra, 243 Conn. 577. ‘‘[T]he question of whether the court properly applied § 52-592 presents an issue of law over which our review is plenary.'' Tellar v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., 114 Conn.App. 244, 249, 969 A.2d 210 (2009). ‘‘Under the plenary standard of review, we must decide whether the court's conclusions are legally and logically correct and supported by the facts in the record.'' Commissioner of Public Health v. Colandrea, 175 Conn.App. 254, 259-60, 167 A.3d 471, cert. denied, 327 Conn. 957, A.3d (2017).

         The plaintiff argues that the court improperly limited the August 3, 2015 evidentiary hearing on the applicability of § 52-592 to the ‘‘different and higher legal standard'' set forth in § 52-212. In response, the defendant asserts that the court employed the correct standard and that the plaintiff ‘‘improperly conflates [the court's] discussion of the nonsuit in Estela I . . . .'' (Citations omitted.) The defendant further argues that the court's memorandum of decision belies any argument that the court applied the wrong standard. We agree with the defendant.

         To the extent that the plaintiff's argument rests on the standard quoted by the court during the August 3, 2015 evidentiary hearing, we note that our review of the hearing transcript reveals that the plaintiff did not object to the court's recitation of the § 52-212 standard, but instead, the plaintiff actually agreed[12] with the court that it was reciting the correct standard.[13] Additionally, although the court quoted the standard for § 52-212 at the evidentiary hearing, we cannot conclude that it did so in error. As the defendant asserts, in determining whether § 52-592 (a) applied, it was necessary for the court in the present case to consider the court's reasons in Estela I for entering the nonsuit, including its analysis under § 52-212. During the August 3, 2015 evidentiary hearing, the court told counsel: ‘‘I need to know what the deficiencies were that form the basis of [the] ruling [by the court in Estela I] on the motion for nonsuit.'' As this court noted in Skinner v. Doelger, supra, 99 Conn.App. 540, ‘‘§§ 52-592 and 52-212 have different purposes and, thus, employ different legal standards. There is a difference, however, between relying on the legal conclusions reached in an action and applying the legal standard that was employed in that action. . . . Indeed, we wonder how a court could determine why an earlier lawsuit failed without relying on the factual findings and legal conclusions drawn in that other action.'' (Emphasis added.) Id., 559.

         More importantly, in its memorandum of decision, the court applied the correct standard under Ruddock, and not the standard under § 52-212-demonstrating that it rendered a decision applying the correct standard. See Disciplinary Counsel v. Parnoff, 158 Conn.App. 454, 467, 119 A.3d 621 (2015) (rejecting plaintiff's claim that court applied incorrect standard because, inter alia, ‘‘the language used by the court in its memorandum of decision indicates that the court was aware of and correctly applied the [proper] standard''), aff'd, 324 Conn. 505, 152 A.3d 1222 (2016).In its memorandum of decision, the court set forth its factual basis before concluding: ‘‘For the reasons articulated above . . . [Estela I] was terminated for serious disciplinary reasons and not because of mistake, inadvertence or excusable neglect. Therefore, the viability of this action cannot be based upon . . . § 52-592.'' (Emphasis added.) Accordingly, we reject the plaintiff's claim that the court in corporated a ‘‘different and higher'' standard than that under Ruddock in rendering its decision on the applicability of § 52-592 (a) to his case.[14]

         III

         We next address the plaintiff's claim that the court erred in finding that his alleged discovery noncompliance did not occur in circumstances such as mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect. The plaintiff argues that the court overlooked that disciplinary dismissals are not categorically excluded from the relief afforded by § 52-592 (a), and that the court did not consider his justifications for the alleged discovery noncompliance. The plaintiff ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.