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Lederle v. Spivey

Supreme Court of Connecticut

August 27, 2019

Catherine LEDERLE
v.
Stevan SPIVEY

         Argued January 24, 2019

         Appeal from the Superior Court, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk, Abery-Wetstone, J. DiPentima, C.J.

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          Tara C. Dugo, with whom, on the brief, was Norman A. Roberts II, Stamford, for the appellant (plaintiff).

         David V. DeRosa, Naugatuck, for the appellee (defendant).

         Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, McDonald, D’Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.

          OPINION

         KAHN, J.

         [332 Conn. 839] In this dissolution of marriage action, the plaintiff, Catherine Lederle, appeals, following our grant of certification,[1]

Page 485

from the judgment of the Appellate Court reversing the decision of the trial court, which had awarded appellate attorney’s fees to the plaintiff under the bad faith exception to the American rule.[2] The plaintiff contends that the Appellate Court did not accord the proper level of deference in determining that the trial court’s findings lacked sufficient specificity. The defendant, Stevan Spivey, responds that the Appellate Court properly applied the abuse of discretion standard and also correctly concluded that, in determining that the appellate claims lacked color, the trial court improperly assessed the conduct of the defendant’s attorney rather than that of the defendant. The defendant claims that the amount of the award was unreasonable and excessive because (1) the plaintiff’s success in the appeal for which fees were awarded was not due to the efforts of the plaintiff’s counsel, and (2) the defendant’s attorney charged him a significantly lower amount of fees for representing him in that appeal.[3] [332 Conn. 840] We reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court and conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in setting the amount of the fees.

         The Appellate Court opinions in the present case have set forth the following relevant facts and procedural history. "The parties were married in Darien on December 31, 1998. One child was born of the marriage in 2000. Thereafter, the marriage broke down irretrievably, and, in March, 2005, the plaintiff commenced an action seeking to dissolve the marriage. On May 2, 2007, the court, Abery-Wetstone, J ., rendered a judgment of dissolution [2007 decision]. As part of this decision, the court acknowledged the plaintiff’s claim that she needed to move to Virginia in order to remain competitive in her employment with Lexmark, and found that it was in the best interest of the child to relocate with her to Virginia. The defendant appealed from the judgment, arguing, inter alia, that the court improperly permitted the plaintiff to relocate with their minor child to Virginia. [The Appellate Court] affirmed the judgment of the court, and [the] Supreme Court denied certification to appeal. Lederle v. Spivey, 113 Conn.App. 177, 965 A.2d 621 [ (Lederle I ) ], cert. denied, 291 Conn. 916, 970 A.2d 728 (2009)." Lederle v. Spivey, 151 Conn.App. 813, 814-15, 96 A.3d 1259 (Lederle II ), cert. denied, 314 Conn. 932, 102 A.3d 84 (2014). The defendant subsequently learned that the plaintiff had not started her employment at Lexmark because she lost that position but had started a position at a different company in Virginia.

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          "The defendant subsequently filed an amended motion to open the judgment, in which he claimed that [332 Conn. 841] [t]he plaintiff, in her trial testimony committed fraud with respect to the issue of her Lexmark employment and specifically whether or not [her Lexmark employment position] was available in Virginia on the dates testified to.... According to the defendant, [t]he plaintiff had a continuing duty to disclose the status of her job situation with Lexmark after [the May 2, 2007] judgment [of the trial court], and before the Appellate Court issued a ... decision in [March] 2009.... The defendant further argued that the plaintiff’s failure to disclose the status of her job situation with Lexmark constituted fraud with respect to a material fact or facts which ...


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