November 26, 2018
error from the order of the Superior Court in the judicial
district of New London, Vacchelli, J.,
granting the defendant's motion for sanctions, brought to
the Supreme Court, which transferred the matter to this
court. Writ of error dismissed.
Michael P. Carey, with whom, on the brief, was Daniel L.
King, for the plaintiff in error (Douglas Williams).
E. Reardon, for the defendant in error (De Ann Maurice).
DiPentima, C. J., and Lavine and Moll, Js.
plaintiff in error, Douglas Williams, brings this writ of
error after the trial court sanctioned him for bad faith
litigation misconduct and determined that, following further
proceedings, attorney's fees shall be awarded to the
defendant in error, De Ann Maurice. In his writ, he claims
that (1) the trial court acted outside of the scope of its
authority and (2) even if the court had such authority, it
abused its discretion by determining that an award of
attorney's fees was an appropriate sanction against him
for out-of-court conduct when he was not a party to the
underlying matter. We dismiss the writ of error.
following facts and procedural history are relevant to
Williams' claims. The underlying action was a premises
liability case brought in January, 2015, by the defendant in
error against the defendants, Chester Housing Associates
Limited Partnership (partnership), MJKH Property Services,
LLC, and Something Natural, LLC, which resulted in a verdict
for the defendants. Williams is a general partner and the
managing partner in the partnership but was not a defendant
in the underlying matter. On January 15, 2016, at 11:02 p.m.,
Williams sent an inappropriate e-mail to the defendant in
error's counsel, Kelly E. Reardon. After receiving
the e-mail, Reardon reported it to the police, who warned
Williams not to contact Reardon again. For the next year, the
litigation proceeded toward trial.
April 27, 2017, while Reardon and others were standing in a
hallway outside the courtroom immediately before opening
statements were to begin, Williams stated to an unidentified
individual, loud enough to be heard by those present, that he
wanted Reardon to ‘‘sit on his fucking
head.'' Shortly thereafter, Reardon reported to the
court what had transpired and made an oral motion for
sanctions. The court immediately held a hearing on the motion
for sanctions,  which continued on May 3, 2017,
delaying the start of trial. On May 3, 2017, after the
hearing, the court granted the motion and awarded the
defendant in error attorney's fees in an undetermined
amount, to be decided after a motion for attorney's fees
was filed and a hearing held.
oral decision, the trial court found that the purpose of
Williams' e-mail ‘‘was obviously to threaten
[Reardon], harass her, intimidate her, which the court
believes was done for the purposes of getting some advantage
in the case, to rattle her so that she'd do a poor job in
representing her client, to scare her to get her to drop the
case.'' As to the statement made in the hallway, the
court found that ‘‘considering the context and
the purpose, which was essentially a sexual harassment of
[Reardon] to try to scare her and rattle her, and obviously
had that exact effect because during the April 27 hearing
when the motion was made, . . . Rear- don was obviously very
upset, almost in tears, and so he accomplished his purpose to
try to knock her off her ability to proceed in the case, and
to cause her distress for a litigation advantage.''
The court concluded that ‘‘these tactics were
without any color of propriety and they were taken in bad
faith . . . .'' These factual findings are not
January 31, 2018, Williams filed a writ of error with our
Supreme Court, which transferred it to this court on June 5,
asserting that his conduct did not occur in the courtroom
itself or in the court's presence, first claims that the
trial court exceeded the scope of its authority by awarding
attorney's fees for out-of-court conduct by a nonparty.
Specifically, he argues that the inherent power of the
judiciary does not allow for the sanctioning of nonparties
for out-of-court conduct. We disagree.
threshold matter, we address the standard of review. In the
present case, the issue before us is whether the trial court
properly determined that it had the inherent authority to
impose sanctions for bad faith litigation misconduct against
Williams. ‘‘Because this presents a question of
law, our review is plenary.'' Burton v.
Mottolese, 267 Conn. 1, 25, 835 A.2d 998 (2003),
cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1073, 124 S.Ct. 2422, 158 L.Ed.2d 983
has long been understood that [c]ertain implied powers must
necessarily result to our Courts of justice from the nature
of their institution, powers which cannot be dispensed with
in a Court, because they are necessary to the exercise of all
others. . . . For this reason, Courts of justice are
universally acknowledged to be vested, by their very
creation, with power to impose silence, respect, and decorum,
in their presence, and submission to their lawful mandates.
. . . These powers are governed not by rule or
statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to
manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and
expeditious disposition of cases. . . .
is firmly established that [t]he power to punish for
contempts is inherent in all courts. . . . This power reaches
both conduct before the court and that beyond the court's
confines, for [t]he underlying concern that gave rise to the
contempt power was not . . . merely the disruption of court
proceedings. Rather, it was disobedience to the orders of the
Judiciary, regardless of whether such disobedience interfered
with the conduct of trial. . . .
of their very potency, inherent powers must be exercised with
restraint and discretion. . . . A primary aspect of that
discretion is the ability to fashion an appropriate sanction
for conduct which abuses the judicial process. . . .
[O]utright dismissal of a lawsuit . . . is a particularly
severe sanction, yet is within the court's discretion. .
. . Consequently, the less severe sanction of an assessment
of attorney's fees is undoubtedly within a court's
inherent power as well.'' (Citations omitted;
internal quotation marks omitted.) Chambers v.
NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43-45, 111 S.Ct. 2123, 115
L.Ed.2d 27 (1991).
a substantive matter, [t]his state follows the general rule
that, except as provided by statute or in certain defined
exceptional circumstances, the prevailing litigant is
ordinarily not entitled to collect a reasonable
[attorney's] fee from the loser. . . . That rule
does not apply, however, where the opposing party has acted
in bad faith.'' (Citations omitted; internal
quotation marks omitted.) Maris v. McGrath,
269 Conn. 834, 844, 850 A.2d 133 (2004).
well settled that this bad faith exception applies both to
counsel and parties. Id., 845. Williams argues that
this exception, however, does not extend to non-parties under
any circumstance. We are unpersuaded. Such a bright line
approach that focuses only on the distinction between party
and nonparty fails to take into account factual circumstances
and situations in which a nonparty who has a close
relationship with the litigation could, in bad faith, abuse
the judicial process to the same degree and effect as a party
and interfere with the orderly functioning of the court.
Notably, the United States Supreme Court could have made such
a bright line rule between parties and nonparties when it
upheld sanctions against a person for his fraudulent and bad
faith conduct before and after he became a party, but it
chose not to do so. See Chambers v.NASCO,
Inc., supra, 501 U.S. 36-37, 50-51 (order
requiring sole shareholder of company operating television
station to pay attorney's fees and expenses totaling
almost $1 million upheld as inherent power of court). Yet,
the inherent power of the judiciary is ...