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Mendillo v. Tinley, Renehan & Dost, LLP

Supreme Court of Connecticut

July 24, 2018

GEORGE E. MENDILLO
v.
TINLEY, RENEHAN & DOST, LLP, ET AL.

          Argued May 3 2018

         Procedural History

         Action for a judgment declaring, inter alia, that the plaintiff had been deprived of certain constitutional rights, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Litchfield, where the court, Schuman, J., granted the defendants' motion to dismiss and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed. Affirmed.

          George E. Mendillo, self-represented, with whom was John G. Manning, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Jeffrey J. Tinley, for the appellee (named defendant).

          Jane R. Rosenberg, solicitor general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, attorney general, for the appellees (defendant Connecticut Appellate Court et al.).

          Palmer, McDonald, Robinson, Mullins and Kahn, J [*]

          OPINION

          ROBINSON, JUDGE

         In this appeal, we consider whether the Superior Court has subject matter jurisdiction over a declaratory judgment action brought as a collateral attack on a judgment of the Appellate Court concerning the plaintiff, George E. Mendillo. The plaintiff appeals[1]from the judgment of the trial court dismissing his declaratory judgment action against the defendants, the law firm of Tinley, Renehan & Dost, LLP (law firm), and the Connecticut Appellate Court.[2] On appeal, the plaintiff, who is an attorney, claims that the trial court improperly concluded that his challenge to the Appellate Court's interpretation of rule 4.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct[3] in Sowell v. DiCara, 161 Conn.App. 102, 127 A.3d 356, cert. denied, 320 Conn. 909, 128 A.3d 953 (2015), was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. We, however, do not reach the sovereign immunity issues raised by the plaintiff because we agree with the defendants' alternative jurisdictional argument, and conclude that the plaintiff's collateral attack on Sowell in this declaratory judgment action is nonjusticiable under Valvo v. Freedom of Information Commission, 294 Conn. 534, 985 A.2d 1052 (2010). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following undisputed relevant facts and procedural history. The plaintiff represents Julie M. Sowell, the plaintiff in a wrongful discharge action pending in the Superior Court against her former employer, Southbury-Middlebury Youth and Family Services, Inc. (Youth Services), a Connecticut nonstock, nonprofit corporation that had been dissolved, Deirdre H. DiCara, its executive director, and Mary Jane McClay, the chairperson of its board of directors. See Sowell v. DiCara, Superior Court, judicial district of Waterbury, Docket No. CV-12-6016087-S (Sowell action). On September 6, 2012, the law firm filed an appearance in the Sowell action on behalf of Youth Services, McClay, and DiCara. At a hearing held on December 12, 2013, the trial court, Hon. Barbara J. Sheedy, judge trial referee, granted Youth Services' motion for an emergency protective order (protective order) on the basis of the court's finding that the plaintiff had violated rule 4.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct by communicating directly with certain ‘‘putative'' members of Youth Services' board of directors regarding the merits of a counterclaim that counsel for Youth Services had filed against Sowell at McClay's direction.[4] Although Judge Sheedy did not order any sanctions against the plaintiff, the protective order enjoined him from further contact of any kind with members of Youth Services' board of directors without prior permission from the law firm. See Sowell v. DiCara, supra, 161 Conn.App. 107, 118.

         The plaintiff filed a writ of error in this court challenging the basis for the protective order (first writ), which was subsequently transferred to the Appellate Court pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199 (c) and Practice Book § 65-1. Id., 119. In the first writ, the plaintiff claimed that Judge Sheedy had (1) improperly found clear and convincing evidence that he had violated rule 4.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and (2) violated his state and federal constitutional rights to due process and abused its discretion by refusing to permit him to present evidence at the hearing on the motion for a protective order. Id. The Appellate Court issued a comprehensive opinion rejecting the plaintiff's challenges to the basis for the protective order, namely, the finding that he had violated rule 4.2, and rendered judgment dismissing the first writ.[5] Id., 133. This court subsequently denied the plaintiff's petition for certification to appeal in an order dated December 16, 2015; see Sowell v. DiCara, 320 Conn. 909, 128 A.3d 953 (2015); and later denied the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of that denial.

         Subsequently, on February 4, 2016, the plaintiff filed a writ of error in this court challenging the Appellate Court's actions (second writ). This court dismissed the second writ on May 25, 2016, and denied the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration en banc of that dismissal on June 27, 2016.

         On October 3, 2016, the plaintiff filed the present action in the Superior Court seeking a declaratory judgment pursuant to General Statutes § 52-29 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012). In the first count of the declaratory judgment complaint, the plaintiff claimed that there is substantial uncertainty with respect to the scope, meaning, and applicability of rule 4.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct affecting his legal rights and relations with other parties. In the second count, the plaintiff claimed that the Appellate Court exceeded its constitutional authority and violated his constitutional rights by finding facts from evidence beyond the trial court record, namely, the existence of an attorney-client relationship between the law firm and Youth Services, which he was not given the opportunity to rebut or explain. In the third count, the plaintiff sought a declaration pursuant to 42U.S.C. § 1983 that rule 4.2 is unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses as applied to the facts of this case. In the fourth count, the plaintiff claimed that the Appellate Court had violated his free speech rights under the state and federal constitutions because his speech was a reasonable remedial measure under rule 3.3 (b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct to address fraud and a matter of public importance. In the fifth count, the plaintiff claimed that the Appellate Court's construction of rule 4.2 was a due process violation because it amounted to an ex post facto law. In the sixth count, the plaintiff claimed a violation of his right to equal protection of the laws.

         The defendants moved to dismiss the declaratory judgment complaint, claiming that the plaintiff's claims are nonjusticiable and barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The trial court, Schuman, J., [6] granted the motion to dismiss, concluding that General Statutes § 51-197f [7] precluded further review of the Appellate Court's decision in Sowell v.DiCara, supra, 161 Conn.App. 102, except by this court following a petition for certification. The trial court further concluded that the claims against the Appellate Court were barred by sovereign immunity. Concluding that it ...


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