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Kelsey v. Commissioner of Correction

Supreme Court of Connecticut

August 14, 2018

ERIC THOMAS KELSEY
v.
COMMISSIONEROF CORRECTION

          Argued February 20, 2018

         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., declined to act on the respondent's request for an order to show cause why the petition should be permitted to proceed; thereafter, the court granted the respondent's motion for reconsideration but denied the relief requested, and the respondent, upon certification by the Chief Justice pursuant to General Statutes § 52-265a that a matter of substantial public interest was involved, appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          Jo Anne Sulik, supervisory assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Brian Preleski, state's attorney, for the appellant (respondent).

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

          Palmer, Robinson, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Vertefeuille, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          KAHN, J.

         The sole question presented in this certified public interest appeal is whether General Statutes § 52-470 divests the habeas court of discretion to determine when it should act on a motion by the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, for an order to show cause why an untimely petition should be permitted to proceed. In the present case, the habeas court took no action on the motion of the respondent requesting the court, pursuant to § 52-470 (d) and (e), to order the petitioner, Eric Thomas Kelsey, to show cause why his petition should be permitted to proceed despite his delay in filing it. The court interpreted § 52-470 to deprive it of discretion to act on the respondent's motion prior to the close of all pleadings. Upon concluding both that this matter involved issues of substantial public interest and that further delay may work a substantial injustice, the Chief Justice granted the respondent's request to file an interlocutory appeal pursuant to General Statutes § 52-265a.[1]

         In this appeal, we are presented with three proposed interpretations of § 52-470 regarding the degree to which, if at all, that statute constrains the discretion of the habeas court as to when it may act on the respondent's motion for an order to show good cause why a petition should be permitted to proceed when a petitioner has delayed in filing the habeas petition. The habeas court believed that § 52-470 (b) (1) required the court to wait until the close of all pleadings to act on the respondent's motion. The respondent contends that the court mistakenly relied on § 52-470 (b) (1) in declining to act on his motion. The respondent argues that § 52-470 (e) controls and requires that, once the court is presented with a timeliness challenge to the petition, the court must resolve that question before the action is allowed to proceed further. The petitioner agrees with the respondent that § 52-470 (e), rather than § 52-470 (b), applies, but argues that, under that subsection, the habeas court retains discretion to decide when to issue the order. We conclude that § 52-470 (e) applies and does not limit the discretion of the habeas court as to when it may act on a motion for an order to show cause why an untimely petition should be permitted to proceed. Accordingly, we conclude that the habeas court improperly determined that it lacked discretion to act on the respondent's motion for an order to show cause because the pleadings in the case were not yet closed. We therefore reverse the determination of the habeas court that it could not act on the respondent's motion for an order to show cause why the petition should be permitted to proceed.

         The following procedural background is relevant to our resolution of this appeal. The petitioner, following a jury trial, was convicted of felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 (a) and 53a-134 (a) (3). After the petitioner exhausted his direct appeals, he filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in August, 2007. Following a trial on the merits, the habeas court denied his petition in 2010. The Appellate Court dismissed his appeal from the judgment of the habeas court; Kelsey v. Commissioner of Correction, 136 Conn.App. 904, 44 A.3d 224 (2012); and this court denied certification to appeal from the Appellate Court's judgment. Kelsey v. Commissioner of Correction, 305 Conn. 923, 47 A.3d 883 (2012).

         The petitioner filed his second habeas petition in March, 2017, more than two years after the judgment was final on his prior petition. The respondent moved for an order directing the petitioner to show cause why his petition should be permitted to proceed when he filed his subsequent petition outside the two year limit set forth in § 52-470 (d) (1). In a brief order issued one week after the respondent filed the motion, the habeas court ruled that, pursuant to § 52-470 (b) (1), it would take no action on the motion until after the pleadings had closed. Shortly thereafter, the respondent moved for reconsideration, which the habeas court granted. In its memorandum of decision, issued seven days after the respondent filed the motion for reconsideration, the court denied the requested relief, explaining that the court interpreted § 52-470 to deprive it of discretion to act on the respondent's motion prior to the close of the pleadings. Relying on § 52-470 (b) (1), the court stated that ‘‘the language of . . . § 52-470 is clear and unambiguous as to the requirement that the pleadings be closed before a request for an order to ‘show cause' may be entertained.'' Accordingly, the court upheld its earlier decision to take no action on the respondent's motion. This public interest appeal followed.

         The issue before the court is whether § 52-470 divests the habeas court of discretion to determine when it should act on a respondent's motion for an order to show cause why an untimely petition should be permitted to proceed. That issue presents a question of statutory interpretation over which we exercise plenary review, guided by well established principles regarding legislative intent. See, e.g., Kasica v. Columbia, 309 Conn. 85, 93, 70 A.3d 1 (2013) (explaining plain meaning rule under General Statutes § 1-2z and setting forth process for ascertaining legislative intent).

         We recently recognized that the 2012 amendments to § 52-470 were the result of ‘‘comprehensive habeas reform, '' and that the new provisions of § 52-470 ‘‘are intended to supplement that statute's efficacy in averting frivolous habeas petitions and appeals. See Public Acts 2012, No. 12-115, § 1 [P.A. 12-115].'' Kaddah v. Commissioner of Correction, 324 Conn. 548, 566-67, 153 A.3d 1233 (2017). Mindful of that legislative purpose, we begin our analysis with the language of § 52-470, which is comprised of seven subsections, five of which-§ 52-470 (a) through (e)-are relevant to our analysis.

         We first review subsection (a), which existed in substantially identical form prior to the 2012 amendments to § 52-470; see General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 52-470 (a); and pertains to the proceedings during a trial on the merits. That subsection provides: ‘‘The court or judge hearing any habeas corpus shall proceed in a summary way to determine the facts and issues of the case, by hearing the testimony and arguments in the case, and shall inquire fully into the cause of imprisonment and thereupon dispose of the case as law and justice require.'' General Statutes § 52-470 (a). Subsection (a) makes clear that the primary goal of § 52-470 is to ensure that habeas actions ‘‘proceed in a summary way . . . .'' This court previously has construed the phrase ‘‘in a summary way'' to mean that habeas ...


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