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Megos v. Ranta

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 6, 2018


          Argued December 5, 2017

          Hugh D. Hughes, with whom, on the brief, were Brian Flood and Alexander Bates, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          J. Kevin Golger, with whom was Todd Lampert, for the appellee (defendant).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Bright and Eveleigh, Js.


          BRIGHT, J.

         In this appeal, we are called upon to answer one very important question, namely, whether an action brought pursuant to General Statutes § 52-62[1] is ‘‘commenced'' upon service of process on the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles (commissioner). We answer that question in the affirmative. The plaintiff in the present case, Richard Megos, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dismissing his complaint, brought pursuant to the accidental failure of suit statute, General Statutes § 52-592, on the ground that the original § 52-62 action had not been ‘‘commenced'' because the defendant, Karin Ranta, did not have actual notice of the suit before the running of the applicable statute of limitations. On appeal, the plaintiff claims this was error. We agree and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history, as either found by the court or revealed by the record, provide the background necessary for our review. On February 20, 2013, the plaintiff filed an application for prejudgment remedy against the defendant. The plaintiff alleged that, on October 13, 2012, the defendant, who resided in New York, operated her motor vehicle in a careless and negligent manner when she struck the motorcycle that the plaintiff was driving. The court granted an attachment in the amount of $2 million. The plaintiff, however, thereafter failed to serve the writ, summons, and complaint, and return the same to the Superior Court within thirty days in accordance with General Statutes § 52-278j (a).[2] The court, therefore, dismissed the matter on June 10, 2014.

         On October 12, 2014, one day prior to the running of the statute of limitations; see General Statutes § 52-584; the plaintiff attempted to serve a complaint alleging negligent operation of a motor vehicle against the defendant. The marshal's return, dated October 21, 2014, provided that service had been effectuated on October 12, 2014, by leaving a true and attested copy of the writ, summons, and complaint at the office of the commissioner, and by mailing a copy, certified return receipt, to the defendant at 120 Central Park South, Apt. 4C, New York, New York. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that service had not been effectuated on her at her ‘‘last known address'' as required under § 52-62, because it had been more than one year since she had lived on Central Park South and she did not receive a copy of the action. On June 23, 2015, the court granted the motion to dismiss holding that service was not in compliance with the statute and that, therefore, the court had no personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

         On June 30, 2015, the plaintiff filed the present action under the accidental failure of suit statute, § 52-592. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the June 30, 2015 complaint on the ground that ‘‘she was not properly served pursuant to . . . § 52-62, and since she never received notice of the suit, the action cannot be saved pursuant to . . . § 52-592, and therefore, this court lacks personal jurisdiction over her.''[3] In short, the defendant contended in her memorandum in support of her motion to dismiss that the previous action had not been ‘‘commenced within the time limited by law'' because the writ, summons, and complaint were mailed to her previous address and she did not receive notice of the action prior to the running of the statute of limitations for negligence actions. (Internal quotation marks omitted.)

         In a November 25, 2015 memorandum of decision, the court granted the motion to dismiss, holding that ‘‘in order for the action to have ‘commenced, ' as required by § 52-592, the defendant must receive effective notice of the suit through the attempted service of the writ, summons and complaint by the marshal within the time limit prescribed by law. An action has not been commenced against a defendant where the defendant had not received or seen a copy of the complaint. . . . In this case, there is no evidence that the defendant was ever served or ever saw a copy of the complaint before the statute of limitations expired.'' This appeal followed.

         The plaintiff claims that the court erred in dismissing his complaint. He argues that the previous action was ‘‘commenced'' when the marshal served the commissioner and that such service was effectuated before the running of the statute of limitations. He further contends that the requirement in § 52-62 (c), that the writ, summons, and complaint be mailed to the defendant, does not affect the commencement of the action. We agree with the plaintiff.

         We set forth the standard of review applicable to this appeal. ‘‘A motion to dismiss admits all facts well pleaded and invokes any record that accompanies the motion, including supporting affidavits that contain undisputed facts.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Henriquez v. Allegre, 68 Conn.App. 238, 242, 789 A.2d 1142 (2002). ‘‘Where the trial court is presented with undisputed facts . . . our review of its conclusions is plenary, as we must determine whether the court's conclusions are legally and logically correct . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Metcalfe v. Sandford, 81 Conn.App. 96, 98-99, 837 A.2d 894, aff'd, 271 Conn. 531, 858 A.2d 757 (2004).

         Our resolution of this appeal requires us to construe the language of § 52-62 in the context of an action brought pursuant to § 52-592. ‘‘When construing a statute, [o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature. . . . In seeking to determine that meaning, General Statutes § 1-2z directs us first to consider the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered. . . . The test to determine ambiguity is whether the statute, when read in context, is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Agron, 323 Conn. 629, 633-34, 148 A.3d 1052 (2016). ‘‘[W]ith all issues of statutory interpretation, we look first to the language of the statute[s]. . . . In construing a statute, common sense must be used and courts must assume that a reasonable and rational result was intended. . . . Furthermore, [i]t is a basic tenet of statutory construction that the legislature [does] not intend to enact meaningless provisions. . . . [I]n construing statutes, we presume that there is a purpose behind every sentence, clause, or phrase used in an act and that no part of a statute is superfluous.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Rocco v. Garrison, 268 Conn. 541, 550, 848 A.2d 352 (2004).

         Section 52-592 (a) provides in relevant part: ‘‘If any action, commenced within the time limited by law, has failed one or more times to be tried on its merits because of insufficient service or return of the writ due to unavoidable accident or the default or neglect of the officer to whom it was committed . . . the plaintiff . . . may commence a new action . . . for the same cause at any time within one year after the determination of the original action or after the reversal of the judgment.'' (Emphasis added.) As our Supreme Court has explained, ‘‘[this] provision is remedial in its character. It was passed to avoid hardships arising from an unbending enforcement of limitation statutes. . . . As we have also stated, however, the extension of time [in § 52-592 is] in terms made applicable to all cases where a suit seasonably begun [has] failed for the causes stated. . . . Therefore, § 52-592 applies only when there has been an original action that had been commenced in a timely fashion.'' (Citations omitted; ...

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