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Gianetti v. Dunsby

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 26, 2018


          Submitted on briefs March 19, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for the defendants' alleged wrongful denial of certain tax relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield and tried to the court, Hon. Edward F. Stodolink, judge trial referee; judgment for the defendants, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Improper form of judgment; judgment directed.

          Charles D. Gianetti, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff) filed a brief.

          Peter V. Gelderman filed a brief for the appellees (defendants).

          Keller, Elgo and Bright, Js.


          ELGO, J.

         The self-represented plaintiff, Charles D. Gianetti, appeals from the judgment of the Superior Court rendered in favor of the defendants, Adam Dunsby, Robert Lesser, and Scott Centrella, in this action concerning the plaintiff's eligibility for tax relief under a municipal ordinance.[1] On appeal, the plaintiff raises a bevy of challenges to the factual findings and evidentiary determinations of the court. In response, the defendants contend, inter alia, that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the present action. We agree with the defendants and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the court and remand the case with direction to dismiss the plaintiff's action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         This appeal concerns the ‘‘2009 Tax Relief For The Elderly Ordinance'' (ordinance) enacted by the town of Easton, the stated purpose of which is to assist ‘‘elderly homeowners with a portion of the costs of property (real estate) taxation.'' The ordinance specifies various criteria for relief thereunder. The determination as to whether an applicant's ‘‘income qualifies for tax relief, '' as well as whether the ‘‘application is bona fide, '' is made by the Easton tax assessor (assessor) pursuant to §§ 14 and 15 of the ordinance. The ordinance also provides a mechanism by which an applicant who is denied relief may appeal the assessor's determination. Section 14 (g) states in relevant part that ‘‘[a]ny person refused relief for any reason may appeal to the Board of Selectmen whose decision shall be final.''

         On April 23, 2009, the plaintiff filed an application for tax relief pursuant to the ordinance. After receiving notice that his application had been denied, the plaintiff appealed to the Easton Board of Selectmen (board), on which the defendants served, in accordance with § 14 (g) of the ordinance. Following a hearing, the board sent a letter to the plaintiff, in which the board indicated that it was prepared to deny the plaintiff's appeal. That letter further advised the plaintiff that, if he had any additional information or documentation regarding his eligibility for tax relief under the ordinance, the board would reconsider its determination. When the plaintiff did not respond in any manner, the board sent him another letter informing him that his appeal was denied.

         By complaint dated August 31, 2011, the plaintiff commenced a mandamus action against the members of the board stemming from their denial of his appeal. Following a hearing, the court, Hon. Michael Hartmere, judge trial referee, rendered a judgment of dismissal in favor of the defendants, concluding that the plaintiff had ‘‘failed to establish the essential elements of [his] mandamus action.'' Gianetti v. Herrmann, Superior Court, judicial district of Fairfield, Docket No. CV-11-5029623-S (October 30, 2014). The plaintiff did not appeal from that judgment.

         The plaintiff commenced the present action against the defendants on June 22, 2015, approximately six years after the denial of his tax relief appeal by the board. The operative complaint, the plaintiff's August 3, 2015 amended complaint, contains one count titled ‘‘Wrongful Denial of Relief Pursuant to the Senior Tax Relief Program Ordinance.'' In that count, the plaintiff alleged that although he had applied for tax relief pursuant to the ordinance and satisfied the requirements thereof, the assessor ‘‘refused the tax relief.'' The plaintiff further alleged that the board, in denying his appeal, ‘‘erroneously and wrongfully denied the relief provided by the [ordinance], and the plaintiff has been harmed thereby.''[2]

         After filing their answer and special defenses, [3] the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the court ‘‘does not have subject matter jurisdiction in this matter because there is no statutory right or authorization to appeal the [board's] decision to the Superior Court.'' The court, Radcliffe, J., heard argument on the motion on August 22, 2016, and thereafter denied the motion to dismiss. The defendants filed a motion for reargument or reconsideration of that determination, which the court denied. In addition, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that ‘‘there are no genuine issues of material fact to be tried with respect to the [plaintiff's] complaint.'' In denying that motion, the court in its order clarified that ‘‘relief in this case is not sought nor can it be awarded based upon a claim of mandamus. The only issue here is the action of the [board] in denying the [plaintiff's request for] senior citizen tax relief for the year 2009.''

         A one day hearing on that issue was held before the court, Hon. Edward F. Stodolink, judge trial referee, on January 5, 2017. At that hearing, the plaintiff introduced certain documents into evidence, including copies of the ordinance, his April 23, 2009 application for tax relief, and his 2008 federal income tax return. The plaintiff also testified briefly at that hearing. During his testimony, a colloquy ensued as to the precise nature of the plaintiff's action. The court at that time observed that, ‘‘[a]s I understand it, we're testing the propriety of an administrative procedure of the town of Easton for the year 2009; correct?'' In response, the defendants' attorney stated: ‘‘Testing the propriety? I guess that's correct, Your Honor.'' The plaintiff then informed the court that his action pertained to ‘‘the erroneousness of'' the ...

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