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Stratek Plastics, Ltd. v. Ibar

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 20, 2018

STRATEK PLASTICS, LIMITED
v.
JEAN PIERRE IBAR

          Argued November 15, 2017

          Jeffrey Hellman, for the appellant (defendant).

          Thomas J. Rechen, with whom were Charles D. Ray, and, on the brief, James E. Regan, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Alvord, Keller and Beach, Js.

          OPINION

          ALVORD, J.

         In this action for the foreclosure of a judgment lien, the defendant, Jean Pierre Ibar, appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting the motion for attorney's fees filed by the plaintiff, Stratek Plastics, Ltd. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court erred in awarding attorney's fees because (1) there had been no hearing as to the form of the judgment or the limitation of time for redemption as required by General Statutes § 52-249 (a);[1] and (2) the plaintiff failed to present a statement of the fees requested and services rendered at the time of the trial. We disagree that the award of attorney's fees was improper. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following procedural history is relevant to the resolution of the issues on appeal. On April 9, 2014, the plaintiff filed this action seeking to foreclose a judgment lien in the amount of $139, 800.93 and costs of $444. The plaintiff filed an amended complaint dated May 28, 2014. The matter was scheduled for trial on February 23, 2016. Although the trial did not go forward on that date, counsel premarked certain exhibits and evidence was rescheduled to begin the following day, February 24, 2016. On the afternoon of February 24, counsel for both parties appeared before the court, Agati, J., and at that time the plaintiff's counsel informed the court that the parties had stipulations that they wanted to put on the record. Before turning to the stipulations, the plaintiff's counsel requested to have fourteen exhibits, which had been premarked the day before, moved into evidence as full exhibits.

         The plaintiff's counsel then informed the court of the stipulations reached by the parties. He first represented that the parties had stipulated to the debt in the amount of $171, 701.01, which accounted for interest as of that date and a credit to the defendant. He then stated that the parties stipulated that at the time of the deficiency judgment hearing, the interest would be updated to the relevant date at a rate of 10 percent. Third, the plaintiff's counsel noted the parties' stipulation that ‘‘the plaintiff . . . is entitled to reasonable attorney's fees in connection with this prosecution . . . in an amount to be determined at a hearing before this court if necessary, such hearing to take place sometime between today and the date of the deficiency hearing . . . .'' The parties also agreed that the plaintiff would be due an appraisal fee of $1000. Lastly, the plaintiff's counsel represented that the parties had stipulated that a judgment of strict foreclosure would enter in favor of the plaintiff, to become effective on February 29, 2016, with a law day of June 29, 2016. The court inquired as to whether the parties had anything further to add to the hearing, to which the defendant's counsel replied: ‘‘Yes, Your Honor . . . . That . . . accurately states our agreement. I want to just add two additional points maybe by way of clarification. Mr. Ibar is very interested in having a hearing, an opportunity for a hearing on the attorney's fees, so . . . we would at some point be requesting that before the deficiency date enters so there is definitely some interest in determining what is reasonable; so that issue is still in play, understanding the plaintiff is making a claim for attorney's fees and there's a statutory basis for that, but, nonetheless, we hope to challenge what is reasonable.'' The court inquired of the plaintiff's counsel: ‘‘I assume you're going to provide them with some amount of attorney's fees that you are going to be claiming?'' The plaintiff's counsel replied: ‘‘We will present the amount we are claiming. Counsel and I will make an effort to work that out by agreement, if we are unable to do so, we will contact the court.'' The court suggested that the attorney's fees calculation issue could be scheduled on a short calendar day, and the defendant's counsel responded, ‘‘[t]hat's fine, '' and also stated that the parties would stay in communication with the court if a hearing was needed.

         After addressing a few outstanding issues, the court noted that representatives of the plaintiff were present in the courtroom and inquired of the plaintiff's counsel whether the plaintiff had authorized him to enter into the agreement just placed on the record. The plaintiff's counsel responded that he did have authority, and the defendant's counsel represented that he had been in telephone and e-mail communication with the defendant, and that he also had authority to enter into the agreement. The court, noting that there had been an appraisal, then inquired whether the parties were stipulating to the fair market value of the property. The parties did not stipulate to the fair market value, the appraisal was entered into evidence, and the court then found the value of the property to be $515, 000. The court told the parties to ‘‘let me know in the meantime on the scheduling of the attorney's fee issues, '' and concluded the matter. The court rendered a judgment of strict foreclosure on February 29, 2016, and set the law day for June 29, 2016.

         On May 6, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to § 52-249. The plaintiff also filed an affidavit accompanied by copies of billing records, biographies of the attorneys who had worked on the matter, and a spreadsheet organizing the time entries from the billing records. The defendant, citing Smith v. Snyder, 267 Conn. 456, 839 A.2d 589 (2004), objected on the ground that the plaintiff's claim for attorney's fees was ‘‘barred by its failure to present evidence concerning those fees at trial.'' In the alternative, the defendant argued that the fees claimed were excessive. On July 8, 2016, the plaintiff filed a supplemental affidavit, seeking a total award of fees and costs in the amount of $279, 890.77.[2] On July 13, 2016, the defendant, citing Burns v. Adler, 158 Conn.App. 766, 807-808, 120 A.3d 555 (2015), rev'd in part, 325 Conn. 14, 155 A.3d 1223 (2017), filed a supplemental objection, arguing that the statutory requirements of § 52-249 had not been met because the court did not conduct a hearing as to the form of the judgment and the time for redemption. The plaintiff replied that a hearing had been held as to the form of the judgment and that the defendant had stipulated to the plaintiff's entitlement to attorney's fees, with only the reasonableness of the fees left to be decided.

         After a hearing on July 11 and 13, 2016, the court issued an order onAugust1, 2016, granting the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees. The court found that the plaintiff was entitled to reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to § 52-249. The court multiplied 125 hours by the blended rate of $411 per hour to arrive at a reasonable attorney's fees award of $51, 375. The court also awarded costs in the amount of $6799.77 for a total award of $58, 174.77. This appeal followed.[3]

         I

         On appeal, the defendant first claims that the court erred in awarding attorney's fees to the plaintiff pursuant to § 52-249 because the court had not conducted a hearing as to the form of judgment or the limitation of time for redemption as required by § 52-249. He argues that ‘‘[w]hile the statute is far from clear on this particular point, in light of the holding in Burns . . . the proper reading of the statute requires [the] defendant to contest the form of the judgment or the manner of foreclosure for [the] plaintiff to recover its attorney's fees.'' We conclude that the statutory hearing requirement was satisfied.

         We begin by setting forth our standard of review and relevant legal principles. ‘‘Connecticut adheres to the American rule regarding attorney's fees under which successful parties are not entitled to recover attorney's fees in the absence of statutory or contractual authority to the contrary. . . . Thus, a specific contractual term may provide for the recovery of attorney's fees and costs . . . or a statute may confer such rights.'' (Citation omitted; emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) Clem Martone Construction, LLC v.DePino, 145 Conn.App. 316, 326-27, 77 A.3d 760, cert. denied, 310 Conn. 947, 80 A.3d 906 (2013). Section 52-249 (a) provides, in relevant part, that β€˜β€˜[t]he plaintiff in any action of foreclosure of a mortgage or lien, upon obtaining judgment of foreclosure, when there has been a hearing as to the form of judgment or the limitation of time for redemption, shall be allowed the same costs, including a reasonable attorney's fee, as if there had been a hearing on an issue of fact. . . .'' β€˜β€˜The question of whether a particular statute . . . applies to ...


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