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Tirado v. City of Torrington

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

January 9, 2018

BRENDA I. TIRADO
v.
CITY OF TORRINGTON

          Argued October 24, 2017

          Brenda I. Tirado, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

          Jaime M. LaMere, corporation counsel, for the appellee (defendant).

          Keller, Elgo and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          BEAR, J.

         The plaintiff, Brenda I. Tirado, appeals from the judgment of dismissal rendered by the trial court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether the court improperly dismissed the plaintiff's action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction due to her failure to (1) file her complaint within one year of the tax assessment pursuant to General Statutes § 12-119, and (2) exhaust available administrative remedies prior to filing an action pursuant to General Statutes § 12-117a.[1] We agree that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing suit pursuant to § 12-117a, and, accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On March 22, 2010, the city of Water-bury issued a certificate of change for the 2004 grand list, removing the plaintiff's motor vehicle therefrom, after receiving information from the plaintiff that she resided in Torrington on October 1, 2004.[2] The city of Waterbury forwarded its certificate of change to the defendant, the city of Torrington. On March 24, 2010, after receiving the Waterbury certificate of change, the defendant's tax assessor issued a certificate of change and added the plaintiff's motor vehicle to its 2004 grand list.[3]

         On February 10, 2014, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the judicial district of Waterbury, claiming that the defendant issued a certificate of change after the three year statutory limit set forth in General Statutes § 12-57.[4] On March 3, 2014, the defendant filed an answer, denying that the expiration of any limitations period required the defendant's tax assessor's office to remove the plaintiff's name from the list of individuals owing taxes to the defendant. On October 20, 2015, the plaintiff filed a certificate of closed pleadings and a claim for trial.

         On February 8, 2016, the court, Shapiro, J., granted the defendant's motion to transfer the matter to the judicial district of Litchfield because an aggrieved taxpayer must bring an application for relief in the judicial district where the town or city is located. See General Statutes §§ 12-117a and 12-119.

         On April 26, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment and a memorandum in support thereof, claiming that the defendant acted without authority when it added the plaintiff's motor vehicle to its 2004 grand list on March 24, 2010, pursuant to General Statutes § 12-60. On April 27, 2016, the defendant objected to the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, arguing that the certificate of change was issued pursuant to § 12-57 (b), not § 12-60. On April 28, 2016, the plaintiff filed a reply brief in further support of her motion for summary judgment, but she withdrew her summary judgment motion on May 4, 2016. Thereafter, on May 12, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion to strike the defendant's answer, which the court, Shah, J., denied on May 17, 2016, on the grounds that the motion was untimely filed more than two years after the filing of the defendant's answer and did not contain an accompanying memorandum that was required pursuant to Practice Book § 10-39.

         A one day bench trial took place on May 17, 2016. Following trial, the court rendered a judgment of dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because ‘‘[t]he plaintiff failed to exhaust available administrative remedies before she filed the present action pursuant to . . . § 12-117a. . . . She also failed to file her complaint within one year of the assessment if she had proceeded under . . . § 12-119.''[5] (Citations omitted.) This appeal followed.

         We begin by setting forth our standard of review. ‘‘A determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law. When . . . the trial court draws conclusions of law, our review is plenary and we must decide whether its conclusions are legally and logically correct and find support in the facts that appear in the record.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Stones Trail, LLC v. Weston, 174 Conn.App. 715, 735, 166 A.3d 832, cert. dismissed, 327 Conn. 926, 171 A.3d 59 (2017).

         In the present case, the issue of subject matter jurisdiction was raised by the court sua sponte, as it was entitled to do.[6] ‘‘[I]t is a fundamental rule that a court may raise and review the issue of subject matter jurisdiction at any time. . . . Subject matter jurisdiction involves the authority of the court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented by the action before it. . . . [A] court lacks discretion to consider the merits of a case over which it is without jurisdiction . . . . The subject matter jurisdiction requirement 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.) Id., 736. ‘‘[W]henever it is found . . . that the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, the judicial authority shall dismiss the action.'' Practice Book § 10-33.

         Because our determination of whether the court erred in dismissing the plaintiff's case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction depends, in part, on whether § 12-119 or § 12-117a applies to the plaintiff's claim, we first address the plaintiff's argument on appeal that §§ 12-119 and 12-117a do not apply to an appeal of a tax assessment under §§ 12-57 and 12-60.[7] We agree with the plaintiff that the court erred in ruling that ยง 12-119 was applicable to her ...


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