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Kaye v. Housman

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 18, 2018

RICHELLE KAYE
v.
DOUGLAS HOUSMAN

          Argued April 16, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover unpaid rent, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield, where the matter was transferred to the Housing Session at Bridgeport; thereafter, the defendant was defaulted for failure to plead; subsequently, the trial court, Rodriguez, J., denied the defendant's motion to strike the matter from the hearing in damages list; thereafter, the court, after a hearing in damages, rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          Sabato P. Fiano, with whom, on the brief, was Carolyn A. Trotta, for the appellant (defendant).

          Anthony Musto, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Lavine, Keller and Bishop, Js.

          OPINION

          LAVINE, J.

         In this housing court matter, the defendant, Douglas Housman, appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the plaintiff, Richelle Kaye, following a hearing in damages. On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court (1) improperly held a hearing in damages in view of his operative answer and four special defenses and (2) denied him the right to due process because the court did not adjudicate fully his timely filed answer and four special defenses.[1]We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following procedural history. In April, 2016, the plaintiff served the defendant with a four count complaint alleging breach of contract, anticipatory breach of contract, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment. The plaintiff alleged in part that she is the owner of property at 100 Stone Ridge Way in Fairfield and that she had leased the premises to the defendant pursuant to a written agreement from August 1, 2012 through July 31, 2016. She also alleged that the defendant was to pay her rent of $3400 per month, but he failed to pay rent for the months of August, 2015 through April, 2016. The plaintiff evicted the defendant from the premises. The plaintiff further alleged that she incurred expenses related to the eviction and will continue to incur expenses as a result of the defendant's default.

         The complaint was returnable to court on May 24, 2016. Counsel for the defendant filed an appearance on the return day. On June 24, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion for default for failure to plead. On July 5, 2016, the court, Bellis, J., transferred the case from the Fair-field civil docket to the Bridgeport housing docket. On July 22, 2015, the plaintiff filed a second motion for default for failure to plead claiming that more than thirty days had passed since the complaint was filed and the defendant had not filed a responsive pleading. On August 18, 2016, the defendant filed an answer, twelve special defenses and right of recoupment. On August 22, 2016, the plaintiff filed a request to revise asking the defendant to revise eight of his special defenses and right of recoupment. On September 22, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion for default claiming that thirty days had passed since she filed a request to revise and that the defendant had not responded.[2] On October 3, 2014, the court, Rodriguez, J., granted the motion for default for failure to plead. On October 25, 2016, the plaintiff filed a certificate of closed pleadings and claimed the matter for a hearing in damages.

         On November 17, 2016, the defendant filed a motion to set aside the default.[3] On that same day, the defendant also filed a request to amend his special defenses, and revised and amended special defenses and recoupment. On November 23, 2016, the plaintiff filed objections to the defendant's request to amend and his motion to open the default. She also filed a motion for a continuance to enable the court to rule on the defendant's pending motion to open the default. Judge Rodriguez granted the plaintiff's request for a continuance on November 28, 2016. On December 29, 2016, the court denied the defendant's motion to open the default and sustained the plaintiff's objection.

         On January 4, 2017, the plaintiff filed a motion for continuance because her counsel was unavailable until February 10, 2017. The court granted the motion for continuance. On January 31, 2017, the defendant filed a motion to strike the matter from the hearing in damages list. In the motion to strike, the defendant represented that he had filed an answer, twelve special defenses, and right of recoupment on August 18, 2016, and that the plaintiff had filed requests to revise eight of his special defenses and right of recoupment. The defendant specifically pointed out that the plaintiff had not filed a request to revise the answer or his first, second, tenth or twelfth special defenses. He argued that the default affected only the eight special defenses and right of recoupment which he did not revise. In support of his motion to strike, the defendant cited Connecticut Light & Power Co. v. St. John, 80 Conn.App. 767, 837 A.2d 841 (2004), noting that the entry of a default was improper with respect to the complaint because ‘‘[t]he court had no authority to default the defendants for failure to plead on a complaint that they had properly answered.'' (Emphasis added.) Id., 775.

         The plaintiff filed an objection to the motion to strike on February 2, 2017, and attempted to distinguish Connecticut Light & Power Co. procedurally because the request to revise in that case was directed to a counterclaim, not special defenses, which are part of an answer. The plaintiff, however, stated that if the court agreed with the defendant's argument pursuant to Connecticut Light & Power Co., it should nonetheless find the defendant in default on those portions of his answer that he did not revise.

         The parties appeared in court on February 15, 2017. The court heard argument on the defendant's motion to strike the case from the hearing in damages list. The court denied the motion to strike, held a hearing in damages, and rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $43, 696.30.

         The defendant appealed and filed a motion for articulation. See Practice Book § 66-5. The defendant asked the court to articulate the reason it denied his motion to strike the case from the hearing in damages list. The trial court denied the motion for articulation, and the defendant filed a motion for review in this court. See Practice Book § 66-7. This court granted the motion for review, but denied the relief requested.

         On appeal, the defendant claims that the court improperly denied his motion to strike the case from the hearing in damages list because he timely filed an answer and his first, second, tenth, and twelfth special defenses.[4] The defendant claims that the court, by denying his motion to strike, deprived him of the opportunity to contest liability that timely was put in issue by virtue of his answer and special defenses. The defendant also argues that Practice ...


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