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Berka v. City of Middletown

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 17, 2018

GEORGE BERKA
v.
CITY OF MIDDLETOWN

          Argued November 13, 2017

         Procedural History

         Appeal from a decision issued by the Department of Public Health, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Middlesex, where the court, Vitale, J., granted the defendant's motion to dismiss and rendered judgment dismissing the appeal, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          George Berka, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

          Brig Smith, for the appellee (defendant).

          Lavine, Sheldon and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         The principal issue in this appeal is whether the trial court properly dismissed the self-represented plaintiff's administrative appeal on the ground that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to the plaintiff's failure to name the state of Connecticut Department of Public Health (department) as a party in his administrative citation. On appeal, the self-represented plaintiff, George Berka, claims first that the department acted improperly by not informing him that it needed to be named as a party and, second, that the trial court's dismissal of his appeal deprived him of due process. We disagree with the trial court's conclusion that the plaintiff's failure to name the department deprived it of subject matter jurisdiction. We conclude, however, that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to the plaintiff's failure to serve his administrative appeal on the department. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.[1]

         The record reveals the following facts and procedural history that are relevant. This appeal stems from two municipal health orders-one dated October 30, 2014, and the other dated November 21, 2014-issued by the defendant, the city of Middletown, acting through its municipal department of public health, regarding violations of various statutes and city ordinances at the plaintiff's property. The plaintiff challenged the orders by filing an appeal with the department. See General Statutes § 19a-229. A consolidated administrative appeal hearing relating to both orders took place on February 20, 2015.

         The department issued a final memorandum of decision finding in favor of the defendant on January 26, 2016. See General Statutes §§ 4-179 and 4-180. The plaintiff subsequently appealed from that decision to the Superior Court. In his administrative citation, the plaintiff indicated that there was only one defendant and named the ‘‘city of Middletown'' as that defendant.[2]The state marshal's return of service indicated that, on February 4, 2016, he served only the ‘‘city of Middletown.''[3]

         On May 26, 2016, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's administrative appeal due, in part, to the plaintiff's failure to name the department as a party. The plaintiff filed his opposition on May 27, 2016, noting that ‘‘the department of public health shall be added as a party to this action, as requested.'' He then filed a motion to cite in the department as a party to his administrative appeal in the Superior Court on June 24, 2016, which the defendant opposed.

         In its July 15, 2016 memorandum of decision, the court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction solely due to the plaintiff's failure to name the department as a party and, therefore, granted the defendant's motion to dismiss. The court also noted that it was required to rule on the jurisdictional issue raised by the defendant's motion to dismiss before allowing the plaintiff to amend his complaint. The plaintiff now appeals. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         ‘‘In an appeal from the granting of a motion to dismiss on the ground of subject matter jurisdiction, this court's review is plenary. 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. . . . It is a familiar principle that a court which exercises a limited and statutory jurisdiction is without jurisdiction to act unless it does so under the precise circumstances and in the manner particularly prescribed by the enabling legislation.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Searles v. Dept. of Social Services, 96 Conn.App. 511, 513, 900 A.2d 598 (2006); see also Kindl v. Dept. of Social Services, 69 Conn.App. 563, 566, 795 A.2d 622 (2002) (plenary review applies to court's construction of statute). ‘‘[W]e are mindful of the well established notion that, in determining whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction, every presumption favoring jurisdiction should be indulged.'' (Footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Cuozzo v. Orange, 315 Conn. 606, 614, 109 A.3d 903 (2015).

         We also acknowledge that the plaintiff is a self-represented litigant. ‘‘[I]t is the established policy of the Connecticut courts to be solicitous of [self-represented] litigants and when it does not interfere with the rights of other parties to construe the rules of practice liberally in favor of the [self-represented] party . . . we are also aware that [a]lthough we allow [self-represented] litigants some latitude, the right of self-representation provides no attendant license not to comply with relevant rules ...


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