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Sovereign Bank v. Harrison

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 28, 2018

SOVEREIGN BANK
v.
ANGELA HARRISON

          Argued May 23, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to foreclose a mortgage on certain real property owned by the defendant, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk; thereafter, the plaintiff unilaterally withdrew the action; subsequently, the trial court, Mintz, J., granted the defendant's motion to restore the case to the docket, and the plaintiff appealed to this court. Reversed; judgment directed.

          Peter A. Ventre, with whom, on the brief, was Lindsey A. Goergen, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Alvord, Sheldon and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          BEAR, J.

         In this foreclosure action, the plaintiff, Sovereign Bank, [1] appeals from the order of the trial court granting the motion of the defendant, Angela Harrison, [2]to restore her third special defense to the docket following the plaintiff's voluntary withdrawal of its action.[3]The plaintiff's principal claim on appeal is that the trial court erred in interpreting the defendant's special defense as a counterclaim and, therefore, lacked the authority to restore it to the docket.[4] We agree and, accordingly, reverse the order of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff commenced the present action on September 9, 2010, seeking to foreclose a mortgage on certain real property in Norwalk that the defendant had executed in 2005 as security for a note in the principal amount of $200, 000. The plaintiff alleged in its complaint that it was the holder of the note and mortgage and that the defendant was in default under the note and mortgage for failing to make payment as agreed.

         On June 24, 2011, the defendant filed an answer and three special defenses. The defendant alleged in the first two special defenses that the plaintiff's predecessor in interest had (1) misrepresented the terms and conditions of the loan and (2) fraudulently entered false information on the defendant's loan application and sold the defendant a loan that she could not possibly afford. As to her third special defense-the only one at issue in the present appeal-the defendant alleged that ‘‘[t]he plaintiff did not properly account for payments made by the defendant.'' The plaintiff filed a reply denying the defendant's special defenses on December 2, 2014.

         On November 23, 2015-prior to the scheduled trial date-the plaintiff unilaterally withdrew its action pursuant to General Statutes§ 52-80, [5] and shortly thereafter the plaintiff commenced a foreclosure action against the same defendant in federal court.[6] As of the date of the withdrawal, the defendant had not effectively filed a counterclaim.[7] On November 30, 2015, the defendant filed a request for leave to amend her answer to assert a counterclaim, to which the plaintiff objected. At the conclusion of the December 22, 2015 oral argument on the objection, the court ruled from the bench that it did not have jurisdiction to consider the defendant's request because no counterclaim had been pending when the plaintiff withdrew its action. The court suggested, however, that it might have the ability to consider the request for leave to amend if the defendant first filed a motion to restore the case to the docket.

         Pursuant to the court's suggestion, on January 28, 2016, the defendant filed a motion and an accompanying memorandum of law to restore her special defenses and counterclaim to the docket or, alternatively, to restore the case to the docket (motion to restore).[8] In her memorandum of law, the defendant argued, inter alia, that her third special defense[9] was more properly construed as a counterclaim and that, as such, it survived the withdrawal of the plaintiff's action pursuant to Practice Book § 10-55.[10] After hearing oral argument on the motion on February 8, 2016, the court issued an oral decision granting the motion to restore.[11]

         As set forth in its ruling and subsequent articulation, [12]the court, relying on 225 Associates v. Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, 65 Conn.App. 112, 121, 782 A.2d 189 (2001), determined that, because the defendant's third special defense arose out of the same transaction as that underlying the plaintiff's action, it was more properly construed as a counterclaim. Consequently, the court concluded that the plaintiff's withdrawal of its action did not affect the pendency of such counterclaim and that the defendant thus had a right to have the counterclaim adjudicated. The court therefore held that it ‘‘had jurisdiction to restore the case to the docket, even though the plaintiff withdrew the case.'' Accordingly, the court ordered that ‘‘the case [be] restored to the docket for the sole purpose of the trial on the counterclaim.'' This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court acted in excess of its authority in restoring the defendant's third special defense to the docket. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that the defendant's special defense could not properly be construed as a counterclaim because it failed to allege any facts that would entitle the defendant to seek judicial relief through an independent cause of action against the plaintiff. The plaintiff further contends that, because the special defense did not constitute a counterclaim and thus did not survive the withdrawal of the plaintiff's action as provided in Practice Book § 10-55, the court had no ‘‘continuing subject matter jurisdiction over the matter'' after the plaintiff withdrew its action. Therefore, the plaintiff claims that the court ‘‘had no authority to restore [the] case for the purpose of a counterclaim when, in fact, no counterclaim existed'' prior to the withdrawal of the action.

         We first set forth our standard of review. ‘‘Any determination regarding the scope of a court's subject matter jurisdiction or its authority to act presents a question of law over which our review is plenary.'' Tarro v.Mastriani Realty, LLC, 142 Conn.App. 419, 431, 69 A.3d 956, cert. denied, 309 Conn. 912, 69 A.3d 308, 309 (2013). To the extent that the plaintiff's claim involves a question as to the proper interpretation of pleadings, our review likewise is plenary. See Chase Home Finance, LLC v.Scroggin, 178 Conn.App. 727, 743, 176 A.3d 1210 (2017) (‘‘Construction of pleadings is a question of law. Our review of a trial court's interpretation of the pleadings therefore is plenary.'' [Internal quotation marks omitted.]). ‘‘[W]here the legal conclusions of the court are challenged, we must determine whether they are legally and ...


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