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Gilchrist v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 6, 2018


          Argued November 28, 2017

         Procedural History

         Petition for a writ of habeas corpus, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Tolland, where the court, Oliver, J., dismissed the petition and rendered judgment thereon, from which the petitioner, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Adele V. Patterson, senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (petitioner).

          James A. Killen, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was John C. Smriga, state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          Prescott, Elgo and Harper, Js.


          HARPER, J.

         The petitioner, Anthony Gilchrist, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court dismissing his petition for a writ of habeas corpus for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because, at the time he filed the petition, he was not in custody as a result of the conviction that he challenges. On appeal, the petitioner asserts that he was denied his rights to due process, assigned counsel, and notice and a hearing, when the court, sua sponte, dismissed his petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, contends that the court was not required to hold a hearing because the petitioner was not in custody at the time he filed the petition. We agree with the respondent and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the habeas court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On June 24, 2016, the petitioner, representing himself, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In his petition, under the ‘‘details of conviction and sentence now being served'' section, he listed the location of the court as ‘‘Bridgeport low court.'' The petitioner further stated that he pleaded guilty on ‘‘9/ 2013'' in ‘‘CR-12-267383, robbery in the third degree, '' and listed the total effective sentence as ‘‘unconditional discharge.'' In a handwritten attachment to his petition, he stated, ‘‘[m]y plea bargain was not followed because my lawyer stated [specifically] that the robbery third charge would not make me 85 [percent] due to the unconditional discharge and it being on a completely separate [docket].'' He also attached a letter that he received from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which stated in relevant part: ‘‘[Y]ou are ineligible for parole until you have served not less than 85 [percent] of your definite sentence imposed by the court.'' As relief, the petitioner requested that the court allow him to withdraw his guilty plea and ‘‘vacate and/or dismiss [the] charge.''

         On July 28, 2016, the court, sua sponte and without holding a hearing, dismissed the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Practice Book § 23-29 (1), [1] explaining that ‘‘the petitioner was no longer in custody for the conviction being challenged at the time the petition was filed.'' The petitioner filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied on August 18, 2016. The court subsequently granted the petition for certification to appeal.

         On appeal, the petitioner claims that he improperly was denied his constitutional and statutory rights to due process, to notice of a hearing, to assigned counsel, and to be heard on his petition, in violation of General Statutes § 52-470 (a) and Practice Book § 23-24.[2] Additionally, the petitioner claims that his pleadings could be construed to state a cognizable claim for relief, i.e., the court could infer, on the basis of the information in his petition, that he was incarcerated on a separate conviction for which his parole eligibility was affected by his plea of guilty to robbery in the third degree. The petitioner argues that once the ‘‘habeas case [was] docketed, '' the court is required to provide him with assigned counsel and the opportunity to attend any dispositive hearing. Moreover, the petitioner argues that because he filed his petition without the assistance of counsel, the court should have inferred that it had subject matter jurisdiction on the basis of a broad and liberal interpretation of the pleadings. In response, the respondent contends that the court's sua sponte dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction was proper and that the court appropriately construed the petition as challenging an expired conviction.

         We first set forth our well established standard of review and relevant legal principles. ‘‘Subject matter jurisdiction for adjudicating habeas petitions is conferred on the Superior Court by General Statutes § 52-466, which gives it the authority to hear those petitions that allege illegal confinement or deprivation of liberty. . . . We have long held that because [a] determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, our review is plenary. . . . Moreover, [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.) Anthony A. v. Commissioner of Correction, 159 Conn.App. 226, 234-35, 122 A.3d 730 (2015), aff'd, 326 Conn. 668, 166 A.3d 614 (2017). ‘‘Once the question of lack of jurisdiction of a court is raised, [it] must be disposed of no matter in what form it is presented. . . . The court must fully resolve it before proceeding further with the case. . . . Whenever a court finds that it has no jurisdiction, it must dismiss the case, without regard to previous rulings.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Johnson v. Commissioner of Correction, 258 Conn. 804, 813, 786 A.2d 1091 (2002).

         ‘‘A habeas court has subject matter jurisdiction to hear a petition for habeas corpus when the petitioner is in custody at the time that the habeas petition is filed. . . . It is well settled that [t]he petition for a writ of habeas corpus is essentially a pleading and, as such, it should conform generally to a complaint in a civil action. . . . The principle that a plaintiff may rely only upon what he has alleged is basic. . . . It is fundamental in our law that the right of a plaintiff to recover is limited to the allegations of his complaint.'' (Citation omitted; emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Arriaga v. Commissioner of Correction, 120 Conn.App. 258, 262, 990 A.2d 910 (2010), appeal dismissed, 303 Conn. 698, 36 A.3d 224 (2012).

         A habeas court lacks subject matter jurisdiction when the petitioner is not in custody on the conviction under attack at the time the petition was filed. Lebron v. Commissioner of Correction, 274 Conn. 507, 532, 876 A.2d 1178 (2005), overruled in part on other grounds by State v. Elson, 311 Conn. 726, 747, 754, 91 A.3d 862 (2014). The custody requirement ‘‘has never been extended to the situation where a habeas petitioner suffers no present restraint from a conviction.'' (Emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 531. Furthermore, ‘‘the collateral consequences of the petitioner's expired convictions, although severe, are insufficient to render the ...

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