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In re Probate Appeal of Knott

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 14, 2019

IN RE PROBATE APPEAL OF ANDREW S. KNOTT, ADMINISTRATOR (ESTATE OF LUCILLE KIRSCH)

          Argued January 28, 2019

         Procedural History

         Appeal from the orders of the Probate Court for the district of Hamden-Bethany denying the application to terminate the conservatorship and request for a waiver of fees filed by the plaintiff William P. Meyerjack as conservator of the estate of the decedent, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven, where the court, Markle, J., granted the motion filed by Andrew S. Knott, administrator of the estate of the decedent, to be substituted as the plaintiff; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court; judgment dismissing the appeal, from which the substitute plaintiff appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          Andrew S. Knott, self-represented, with whom, on the brief, was Robert J. Santoro, for the appellant (substitute plaintiff).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Elgo and Bright, Js.

          OPINION

          DIPENTIMA, C. J.

         The narrow question presented in this appeal asks us to determine whether the Superior Court improperly dismissed the probate appeal of the substitute plaintiff, Andrew S. Knott, administrator of the estate of Lucille S. Kirsch, as untimely. Specifically, the substitute plaintiff argues that his appeal was not untimely because an application for a waiver of fees (fee waiver) had been filed pursuant to General Statutes § 45a-186c, [1] which tolled the time limit set forth in General Statutes § 45a-186 (a).[2] We agree with the substitute plaintiff and, therefore, reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On June 30, 2010, William P. Meyerjack was appointed conservator of the estate of Lucille S. Kirsch. On October 14, 2016, pursuant to General Statutes § 45a-660 (a) (2)[3] and § 33.17 of the Probate Court Rules, [4] William P. Meyerjack, conservator of the estate of Lucille S. Kirsch (Meyerjack), [5]filed an application to terminate the conservatorship of the estate of Lucille S. Kirsch and waive the requirement of a final financial account (application to terminate the conservatorship) with the Probate Court. On the same date, Meyerjack filed a request for a waiver of fees. Meyerjack's application to terminate the conservatorship and request for a waiver of fees were denied by the Probate Court, and notice of those decisions was mailed on October 20, 2016.

         On December 1, 2016, prior to filing his appeal with the Superior Court pursuant to § 45a-186 (a), Meyerjack filed a fee waiver. The fee waiver was granted by the Superior Court on December 5, 2016, and the complaint[6]was filed on December 9, 2016. Shortly thereafter, while his appeal was pending in the Superior Court, Meyer-jack filed a motion to cite in Lucille S. Kirsch, the conservatee, as a new party to the appeal. Although the Superior Court appears not to have acted on Meyer-jack's motion, Kirsch filed an appearance on December 13, 2016, and, on December 21, 2016, filed an amended complaint[7] and amended writ of summons. At some point, following these multiple filings, Kirsch was added to the case caption as the designated plaintiff. On September 30, 2017, Kirsch died, and she was replaced with the substitute plaintiff on February 27, 2018.

         Following oral argument on April 3, 2018, the Superior Court sua sponte dismissed the substitute plaintiff's appeal as untimely. In its order, dated July 25, 2018, the court found that the appeal was filed on December 9, 2016, which was more than forty-five days after the Probate Court mailed notice of its denials of Meyer-jack's application to terminate the conservatorship and request for a waiver of fees. Accordingly, because the appeal was not filed within the deadline set forth in § 45a-186 (a), the court concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the substitute plaintiff's appeal. The substitute plaintiff now appeals that decision to this court.

         On appeal, the substitute plaintiff claims that the Superior Court improperly dismissed his appeal as untimely because the filing of the fee waiver tolled the time limit set forth in § 45a-186 (a).[8] We agree with the substitute plaintiff and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court dismissing his appeal as untimely.

         We begin our analysis of the substitute plaintiff's claim by setting forth our relevant standard of review. ‘‘Our Supreme Court has long held that because [a] determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, our review is plenary. . . . Moreover, [i]t is a fundamental rule that a court may raise and review the issue of subject matter jurisdiction at any time. . . . Subject matter jurisdiction involves the authority of the court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented by the action before it. . . . [A] court lacks discretion to consider the merits of a case over which it is without jurisdiction . . . . The subject matter jurisdiction requirement may not be waived by any party, and also may be raised by a party, or by the court sua sponte, at any stage of the proceedings, including on appeal.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Arriaga v. Commissioner of Correction, 120 Conn.App. 258, 261-62, 990 A.2d 910 (2010), appeal dismissed, 303 Conn. 698, 36 A.3d 224 (2012).

         ‘‘[W]e are . . . mindful of the familiar principle that a court [that] exercises a limited and statutory jurisdiction is without jurisdiction to act unless it does so under the precise circumstances and in the manner particularly prescribed by the enabling legislation. . . . Our courts of probate have a limited jurisdiction and can exercise only such powers as are conferred on them by statute. . . . They have jurisdiction only when the facts exist on which the legislature has conditioned the exercise of their power. . . . The Superior Court, in turn, in passing on an appeal, acts as a court of probate with the same powers and subject to the same limitations. . . . It is also well established that [t]he right to appeal from a decree of the Probate Court is purely statutory and the rights fixed by statute for taking and prosecuting the appeal must be met. . . . Thus, only [w]hen the right to appeal . . . exists and the right has been duly exercised in the manner prescribed by law [does] the Superior Court [have] full jurisdiction over [it]. . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Burnell v. Chorches, 173 Conn.App. 788, 793, 164 A.3d 806 (2017). Failure to comply with the relevant time limit set forth in § 45a-186 (a) ‘‘deprives the Superior Court of subject matter jurisdiction and renders such an untimely appeal subject to dismissal.'' Corneroli v. D'Amico, 116 Conn.App. 59, 67, 975 A.2d 107, cert. denied, 293 Conn. 928, 980 A.2d 909 (2009).

         Applying the foregoing principles to the present appeal, we conclude that the court improperly dismissed the substitute plaintiff's appeal as untimely. The time limit to appeal from a probate court's denial of an application to terminate a conservatorship brought pursuant to § 45a-660 is forty-five days from the date that notice of the denial is mailed. See General Statutes § 45a-186 (a). When an appellant files a fee waiver pursuant to § 45a-186c, the time limit set forth in § 45a-186 (a) is tolled until a judgment on the fee waiver is rendered. See General Statutes § 45a-186c (b). In the present matter, the trial court found that the notice was mailed by the Probate Court on October 20, 2016, and determined that the deadline to appeal expired on December 4, 2016. The court apparently did not consider the fact that prior to filing this appeal, Meyerjack filed a fee waiver on December 1, 2016, which was not granted until December 5, 2016. Pursuant to § 45a-186c, the time limit set forth in § 45a-186 (a) was tolled during this five day interim, and, Meyerjack had until ...


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