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Inc. v. Grenier

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 27, 2018

CLIFF'S AUTO BODY, INC.
v.
CARL M. GRENIER

          Argued October 24, 2017

          James J. Schultz, for the appellant (defendant).

          Kerin M. Woods, with whom, on the brief, was Rachael M. Gaudio, for the appellee (substitute plaintiff).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Lavine and Sheldon, Js.

          OPINION

          LAVINE, J.

         The defendant, Carl M. Grenier, appeals from the judgment of foreclosure by sale rendered by the trial court in favor of the plaintiff Basley Holdings, Inc.[1] The defendant's principal claim on appeal is that it was improper for the court, Hon. Robert C. Leuba, judge trial referee, to deny his motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[2] We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following historical facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the defendant's appeal. The debt at issue arose out of a motor vehicle accident involving the defendant's deceased mother, Frances Grenier (decedent), many years ago. The plaintiff undertook to repair the decedent's vehicle, but for reasons not relevant to the present matter, the decedent refused to pay the plaintiff for its efforts. The plaintiff, therefore, brought a debt collection action against the decedent and secured a judgment in its favor in the amount of $9887.22 on December 30, 2008. The court, Riley, J., also awarded the plaintiff interest pursuant to General Statutes § 37-3a[3] but did not set the rate at which the interest would accrue.[4] On January 2, 2009, the plaintiff placed a judgment lien in the amount of $9887.22 on the decedent's real property at 82 Pendleton Hill Road in Voluntown (property). The decedent appealed from the judgment against her, but, on April 15, 2010, this court sua sponte ordered the appeal dismissed for want of an appealable final judgment.[5] The judgment was not a final judgment for purposes of appeal because there was an unresolved claim for discretionary prejudgment interest. See Balf Co. v. Spera Construction Co., 222 Conn. 211, 214, 608 A.2d 682 (1992) (prejudgment interest part of compensation due).

         On April 13, 2010, more than fifteen months after Judge Riley rendered judgment in the debt collection action, the plaintiff filed a motion for clarification asking the court to set the amount of prejudgment interest. On April 26, 2010, Judge Riley ordered prejudgment and postjudgment interest at the rate of 10 percent per year.

         In May, 2014, the defendant became the owner of the property by devise due to his mother's death. The plaintiff commenced the present action against the defendant in early 2015 to foreclose the judgment lien it had placed on the property in January, 2009. The defendant, who was then self-represented, responded by filing several special defenses grounded in our probate statutes and thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment on those grounds. The motion for summary judgment was denied by the court, Cosgrove, J. The self-represented defendant subsequently filed an amended answer and special defenses and an amended motion for summary judgment on the ground that the judgment lien was flawed because General Statutes § 52-328 (b) requires a judgment creditor to file a judgment lien within four months of the final judgment.[6] Judge Cosgrove sustained the plaintiff's objection to the amended motion for summary judgment on August 25, 2015, stating that the plaintiff obtained a valid judgment against the decedent and when the judgment was not paid, the plaintiff placed a lien on the property.

         The defendant obtained counsel, who filed numerous motions to dismiss the action on the ground, among others, that the judgment lien was flawed and unenforceable because it was predicated on a judgment that was not final. On October 28, 2015, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. On April 21, 2016, the court, Devine, J., denied the defendant's motion to dismiss after finding that the plaintiff had filed the lien within four months of when the judgment was rendered against the decedent. The court, relying on Mac's Car City, Inc. v. DiLoreto, 238 Conn. 172, 183, 679 A.2d 340 (1996), concluded that the judgment lien was valid even though the decedent had taken an appeal.[7] Subsequently, the defendant filed numerous motions to dismiss, for reargument, and for clarification, all of which were denied. On November 25, 2016, when the foreclosure matter was scheduled to begin trial, the defendant filed another motion to dismiss and, on November 29, 2016, a motion for a continuance. The court, Nazzaro, J., denied the motion for a continuance.[8]

         The matter was tried before Judge Leuba. Following the presentation of evidence, Judge Leuba learned that Judge Nazzaro had not ruled on the defendant's motion to dismiss and, therefore, heard the arguments of counsel.[9] The court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss predicated on the grounds that there was no valid judgment lien, that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and that the lien placed in evidence did not specify the rate of interest. In denying the motion to dismiss, Judge Leuba cited Judge Devine's memorandum of decision denying one of the defendant's prior motions to dismiss. Judge Leuba thereafter rendered a judgment of foreclosure by sale in favor of the plaintiff on November 30, 2016.[10]

         The defendant appealed. He claims, among other things, that the court improperly rendered a judgment of foreclosure by sale on the basis of an invalid judgment lien in the debt collection action. We agree that the judgment lien submitted at the foreclosure hearing was invalid and, therefore, conclude that the court erred in rendering the judgment of foreclosure by sale.

         The determinative question before us is whether the court properly rendered a judgment of foreclosure by sale. An appellate court ordinarily reviews ‘‘a trial court's decision to grant foreclosure for an abuse of discretion. . . . When, however, the claims on appeal are not targeted at the trial court's exercise of discretion, but at a subsidiary legal conclusion, our review is plenary.'' (Citation omitted.) ARS Investors II 2012-1 HVB, LLC v. Crystal, LLC, 324 Conn. 680, 685, 154 A.3d 518 (2017). The legal issue before us is whether the court properly concluded that the judgment lien on the property was valid.

         The following facts are relevant to our decision. Two days before the decedent's appeal was dismissed for lack of a final judgment, the plaintiff requested that Judge Riley enter an order setting the rate of prejudgment interest in the debt collection action. Judge Riley granted the plaintiff's request in April, 2010, more than fifteen months ...


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