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Shirley P. v. Norman P.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

August 7, 2018

SHIRLEY P.
v.
NORMAN P.[*]

          Argued January 16, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the trial court, Albis, J., denied the defendant's motions for a stay and to preclude certain evidence; thereafter, the case was tried to the court, Albis, J.; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief, from which the defendant appealed. Reversed in part; new trial.

          Frank W. Russo, with whom, on the brief, was Jon D. Berman, for the appellant (defendant).

          Adam J. Teller, with whom, on the brief, was Brandy N. Thomas, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Vertefeuille, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The plaintiff, Shirley P., brought the present action, seeking the dissolution of her marriage to the defendant, Norman P., after the defendant allegedly sexually assaulted her. While this dissolution action was pending, the defendant was convicted of several criminal offenses arising from the alleged assault. The defendant appealed from the judgment of conviction in that case to the Appellate Court. Thereafter, while the criminal appeal was pending, the dissolution trial commenced. At that trial, the court allowed the plaintiff to present evidence of the criminal conviction. More specifically, the court ruled that the defendant's conviction had pre-clusive effect in this dissolution action under the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Consequently, following the trial in the present case, the court concluded, solely on the basis of the evidence of the criminal conviction, that the defendant exclusively was responsible for the marital breakdown. Accordingly, the court entered a property division award that heavily favored the plaintiff. The defendant then filed the present appeal.[1]

         In this appeal, the defendant claims that, because the judgment of conviction was subject to a pending appeal at the time of the dissolution trial, that judgment was not final. The defendant contends that, therefore, the trial court improperly gave the criminal judgment collateral estoppel effect in the present dissolution action.

         Subsequently, the Appellate Court reversed the judgment of conviction in the criminal case. See State v. Norman P., 169 Conn.App. 616, 151 A.3d 877 (2016), aff'd, 329 Conn. 440, A.3d (2018). As a result, the parties were ordered to submit supplemental briefs on the effect, if any, of the reversal of the defendant's criminal conviction on the defendant's claim in the present appeal from the dissolution judgment. See footnote 3 of this opinion. Thus, given the reversal of the defendant's criminal conviction, which this court has recently upheld; see State v. Norman P., 329 Conn. 440, 465, A.3d (2018); the precise issue now before us is whether the property award, which was based on that conviction, must also be reversed. To answer that question, we are guided by the principles established in Butler v. Eaton, 141 U.S. 240, 242-44, 11 S.Ct. 985, 35 L.Ed. 713 (1891), which held that a second judgment based upon the preclusive effect of the first judgment should be reversed if the first judgment is reversed. Therefore, under the circumstances presented, we conclude that the reversal of the defendant's criminal conviction strips that judgment of any collateral estoppel effect that it may have had in this dissolution action. Because the fact of the criminal conviction was the sole basis for the property division award, we also conclude that the award must be reversed.

         The record reveals the following procedural history and facts that were either found by the trial court or are undisputed. On August 10, 2012, the defendant was arrested and charged with sexual assault of the plaintiff and other felony offenses in connection with an incident that took place at the parties' residence on August 2, 2012. On October 20, 2012, the plaintiff commenced the present action seeking dissolution of her marriage to the defendant. The plaintiff consented to the defendant's request to delay the divorce trial until the completion of his criminal trial.

         The defendant ultimately was convicted of several criminal charges and, on February 26, 2015, was sentenced to a lengthy term of incarceration. He filed an appeal from the judgment of conviction on May 14, 2015. See State v. Norman P., supra, 169 Conn.App. 616.

         On May 21, 2015, the day before the dissolution trial was scheduled to commence, the defendant filed three motions: a motion to stay the trial until the appeal from his criminal conviction was resolved; a motion to preclude the admission of evidence of his criminal conviction; and a motion for a pretrial hearing to present evidence concerning the unfairness of the criminal proceeding. In his motion for a pretrial hearing, the defendant contended that it would be unfair to give collateral estoppel effect to his criminal conviction in the dissolution action because the conviction was the result of ‘‘numerous erroneous trial court rulings.'' Attached to his motion for a pretrial hearing were copies of the appeal from his conviction as well as his motion for a new trial in the criminal proceeding. In those filings, the defendant set forth, at length, claims that the trial court in his criminal case had made numerous erroneous rulings that affected the validity of the verdict.

         On May 22, 2015, just before the trial began, the trial court conducted a hearing on the defendant's three motions. The court denied the defendant's motion for a stay on the ground that the dissolution action had been pending since November 6, 2012, and any further delay would prejudice the plaintiff. With respect to the motions to preclude evidence of the criminal conviction and for a pretrial hearing on the fairness of that conviction, the court concluded that, ‘‘[i]n any dissolution action, the [c]ourt is called upon to evaluate the situation as it exists at the time of trial. And there are ...


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