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U.S. Equities Corp. v. Ceraldi

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 18, 2018

U.S. EQUITIES CORP.
v.
PEGGY CERALDI

          Argued October 23, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to collect a debt, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, where the defendant was defaulted for failure to plead; thereafter, the court, Swienton, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for judgment and rendered judgment thereon; subsequently, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for clarification and issued a certain order, and the defendant appealed to this court. Reversed; judgment directed.

          Joanne S. Faulkner, for the appellant (defendant).

          Linda Strumpf, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Sheldon and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          BEAR, J.

         The defendant, Peggy Ceraldi, appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting the postjudgment motion for clarification filed by the plaintiff, U.S. Equities Corp., regarding the postjudgment interest rate to be applied to the judgment rendered against the defendant in the underlying debt collection action.[1] The defendant claims that the court's clarification actually was an improper substantive modification of the judgment. We agree and, accordingly, reverse the judgment setting the rate of postjudgment interest.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the disposition of this appeal. The plaintiff was assigned all rights to the defendant's Chase Bank credit card account from Turtle Creek Assets, Ltd. On December 18, 2010, the plaintiff commenced this action, seeking monetary damages of $17, 886.99, prejudgment interest, attorney's fees of $2683.05, costs of the action, and ‘‘statutory postjudgment interest of 10 [percent] per annum.'' On May 31, 2011, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for judgment following the defendant's default for failure to plead. In its order granting the motion, the court awarded the plaintiff $30, 895 in monetary damages, $2683.05 in attorney's fees, $343.20 in costs, and postjudgment interest pursuant to General Statutes §§ 37-3a[2] and 52-356d (e).[3] The court, however, did not set forth in its order the rate of postjudgment interest.[4]

         On June 27, 2017, the defendant filed a motion for a protective order claiming that, after the defendant had paid the court-ordered weekly payments in an amount exceeding $10, 000, the plaintiff incorrectly notified her that she still owed more than $43, 000 on the judgment because of its unilateral application of a 10 percent annual postjudgment interest rate on the unpaid amount of the judgment. The defendant requested that the judgment be retroactively modified to the original amount claimed and that postjudgment interest be denied. On July 24, 2017, the court denied the defendant's motion for a protective order, stating that the proper motion for the relief requested by the defendant was a motion to open the judgment. On September 1, 2017, the defendant filed a motion to open the judgment, which the court denied on September 18, 2017.

         On October 6, 2017, the defendant appealed the court's judgment denying her motion for a protective order. See footnote 1 of this opinion. On March 4, 2018, during the pendency of that appeal, the plaintiff filed a motion for clarification with the trial court requesting that the court's May 31, 2011 judgment be clarified to reflect that the rate at which it had awarded postjudgment interest was 10 percent per year. On April 30, 2018, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for clarification, stating that when it had rendered judgment on May 31, 2011, it had done so in accordance with the plaintiff's request for relief set forth in its complaint and had intended that the interest rate be set at the maximum allowable rate of 10 percent per year. This appeal followed.

         The defendant's principal claim on appeal is that the court's order granting the motion for clarification and setting forth for the first time the rate at which it had intended postjudgment interest to be awarded, constituted an improper substantive modification of the judgment. The defendant argues that the court lacked authority to set a postjudgment interest rate approximately seven years after the judgment because the plaintiff did not seek to have the judgment opened to determine the rate of postjudgment interest within four months of the May 31, 2011 judgment. See General Statutes § 52-212a and Practice Book § 17-4.

         The plaintiff counters that, because postjudgment interest already had been awarded in the judgment, the court's order granting the motion for clarification was not a substantive modification of the judgment.[5] The plaintiff asserts that the court had authority to specify the postjudgment interest rate through a motion for clarification, which is not time barred.[6] We disagree.

         We first set forth the applicable standard of review. ‘‘Motions for interpretation or clarification, although not specifically described in the rules of practice, are commonly considered by trial courts and are procedurally proper. . . . A motion for clarification may be appropriate where there is an ambiguous term in a judgment . . . but, where the movant's request would cause a substantive modification of an existing judgment, a motion to open or set aside the judgment would normally be ...


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