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Chase Home Finance, LLC v. Scroggin

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 17, 2019

CHASE HOME FINANCE, LLC
v.
DANIEL J. SCROGGIN

          Argued September 24, 2019

         Procedural History

         Action to foreclose a mortgage on certain real property owned by the defendant, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Middlesex, where the defendant was defaulted for failure to plead; thereafter, Bank of America, N.A., was cited in as a defendant and the plaintiff filed an amended complaint; subsequently, AJX Mortgage Trust I was substituted as the party plaintiff; thereafter, the court, Aurigemma, J., granted the substitute plaintiff's motion for judgment as to counts two through six of the amended complaint; subsequently, the court granted the substitute plaintiff's motion for a judgment of strict foreclosure and rendered judgment thereon, from which the named defendant appealed to this court, which reversed in part the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings; thereafter, the substitute plaintiff withdrew counts five and six of the amended complaint; subsequently, the court, Aurigemma, J., denied the named defendant's motion for an extension of time to file an opposition to the substitute plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to liability only on count one of the amended complaint; thereafter, the court, Aurigemma, J., granted the substitute plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, denied the named defendant's motion to reargue and for reconsideration, and granted the substitute plaintiff's motion for a judgment of strict foreclosure and rendered judgment thereon, from which the named defendant appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          Thomas P. Willcutts, with whom, on the brief, was Michael J. Habib, for the appellant (named defendant).

          Benjamin T. Staskiewicz, for the appellee (substitute plaintiff).

          Keller, Moll and Bishop, Js.

          OPINION

          MOLL, J.

         The defendant, Daniel J. Scroggin also known as Daniel F. Scroggin also known as Daniel Scroggin, appeals from the judgment of strict foreclosure rendered by the trial court, for the second time, in favor of the substitute plaintiff, AJX Mortgage Trust I, a Delaware Trust, Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB, Trustee.[1] The defendant makes the following claims on appeal: (1) the trial court improperly failed to recuse itself pursuant to General Statutes § 51-183c following our remand in Chase Home Finance, LLC v. Scroggin, 178 Conn.App. 727, 176 A.3d 1210 (2017) (Chase I); (2) the trial court erred by granting the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to liability only without hearing oral argument on that motion; and (3) the trial court erred in denying on timeliness grounds the defendant's motion for an extension of time, filed pursuant to Practice Book § 17-47, to respond to the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. We agree with the defendant's second claim and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court.[2]

         We begin with an abbreviated recitation of the factual and procedural background of this dispute, as set forth by this court in Chase I. ‘‘In December, 2009, Chase commenced the present foreclosure action against the defendant. In its original one count complaint, Chase alleged, in relevant part, that on July 20, 2007, the defendant executed a promissory note in the amount of $217, 500 in favor of Chase Bank USA, N.A., and that the loan was secured by a mortgage of the premises located at 25 Church Street in Portland, which was owned by and in the possession of the defendant. Chase alleged that the mortgage was recorded on the Portland land records, that the mortgage was assigned to it, and that it was the holder of the note and mortgage. Chase alleged that beginning on July 1, 2009, the defendant failed to make installment payments of principal and interest required by the note and that it had exercised its option to declare the entire unpaid balance of the note (in the amount of $214, 939.97) due and payable to it. . . . By way of relief, Chase sought, among other things, a foreclosure of the mortgage and the immediate possession of the subject premises.

         ‘‘On June 7, 2010, Chase filed a motion for default for failure to plead. On that same day, Chase filed a motion for judgment of strict foreclosure and a finding that it was entitled to possession of the subject premises. On June 16, 2010, the clerk of the court granted the motion for default but, at that time, the court did not rule on the motion seeking a judgment of strict foreclosure.

         ‘‘On September 8, 2010, Chase filed a request for leave to amend its complaint and attached a proposed amended complaint. The defendant did not object. The amended complaint consisted of six counts. The first count brought against the defendant sought a foreclosure and generally was consistent with the allegations brought against the defendant in the original one count complaint . . . . The second, third, and fourth counts of the amended complaint were brought against Bank of America. . . . Counts five and six of the amended complaint, both of which were directed at the defendant, [were] related to Chase's allegations with respect to Bank of America's mortgage interest in the subject property. . . .

         ‘‘At no time did the defendant move to set aside the default for failure to plead entered on June 16, 2010. On November2, 2015, however, the defendant disclosed a defense, stating that he ‘intend[ed] to challenge the plaintiff's alleged right and standing to foreclose upon the subject mortgage.' On the same day, the defendant filed an answer to Chase's original complaint.

         ‘‘The plaintiff did not file a motion for default for failure to plead against the defendant with respect to the amended complaint. On November 24, 2015, however, the plaintiff filed a motion for judgment against the defendant with respect to counts two, three, four, five, and six of the amended complaint. On the same day, the plaintiff moved that the court enter a judgment of strict foreclosure . . . .

         ‘‘On April 4, 2016, the defendant filed an answer to the plaintiff's amended complaint. In his answer to the amended complaint, the defendant, among other things, admitted portions of the allegations made in the first count and, with respect to other portions of the first count, left the plaintiff to its proof. Also, on April 4, 2016, the defendant filed an objection to the plaintiff's motion for judgment as to count six of the amended complaint and an objection to the plaintiff's motion for judgment of strict foreclosure. On that date, the court [Aurigemma, J.] held a hearing on the plaintiff's motion for judgment. By order dated April 4, 2016, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for judgment with respect to counts two, three, four, and five of the amended complaint, but did not rule with respect to counts one or six of the amended complaint.

         ‘‘Following the hearing, the plaintiff replied to the defendant's objection to its motion for judgment of strict foreclosure, and the defendant filed a memorandum of law in which he further articulated the reasons underlying his objection to the motion for judgment of strict foreclosure. At a hearing on April 18, 2016, the parties appeared and presented additional arguments [before Judge Aurigemma]. . . .

         ‘‘The court granted the plaintiff's motion for judgment of strict foreclosure . . . and rendered judgment on count six of the plaintiff's amended complaint in the plaintiff's favor.'' (Footnotes omitted.) Id., 730-37.

         Thereafter, the defendant appealed from the judgment of strict foreclosure rendered on count one of the amended complaint. Id., 737 n.9. On appeal, this court concluded that ‘‘[i]n light of the changes to the plaintiff's case that were reflected in the amended complaint, it was inequitable for the court not to have considered the default entered in 2010 to have been extinguished. Thus, the court should have considered the defendant's answer to the amended complaint as well as his disclosed defense. Although it was appropriate for the court to have considered the lengthy period of time that followed the entry of the default, it nonetheless abused its discretion by failing to consider the effect of the amended complaint upon that default.'' (Footnote omitted.) Id., 745. Accordingly, this court reversed the judgment of strict foreclosure and remanded the case for additional proceedings. Id., 746.

         On March 26, 2018, following our remand, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment as to liability only on count one of its amended complaint. The forty-five day period set forth in Practice Book § 17-45 (b) for the filing of a response to the motion for summary judgment expired on May 10, 2018. On May 24, 2018, the defendant filed a document captioned ‘‘Practice Book § 17-47 Motion for Extension of Time to Respond to the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, or Alternatively, Objection to Summary Judgment.'' The trial court denied that motion as untimely. At no time did the defendant file a substantive response to the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. See Practice Book § 17-45 (b).

         On May 29, 2018, the parties appeared before Judge Aurigemma at short calendar on the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, which had been marked ‘‘ready.'' Counsel for the defendant acknowledged that he had not filed a response to the motion. Thereupon, the court ruled: ‘‘Well, there's no opposition, so the motion's granted, absent opposition.'' The defendant's counsel then stated that, pursuant to § 51-183c, the trial court was required to recuse itself. The court responded by asking whether the defendant's counsel had filed a motion to recuse, to which he indicated that he had not, and the proceedings concluded. A subsequent motion to reargue filed by the defendant was denied.

         On June 21, 2018, the plaintiff filed a motion for a judgment of strict foreclosure, and on July 9, 2018, the court granted the motion. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural background will be provided as necessary.

         I

         The defendant first claims that, pursuant to § 51-183c, Judge Aurigemma should have recused herself from ruling on ‘‘material issues'' following this court's reversal of the judgment of strict foreclosure in Chase I. The plaintiff counters that (1) recusal was unwarranted in the absence of a written motion to disqualify filed pursuant to Practice Book §§ 1-22 (a)[3] and 1-23, [4] and (2) § 51-183c did not apply because there was no ‘‘trial'' within the meaning of the statute. We agree with the plaintiff's second argument.[5]

         We set forth the applicable standard of review. The defendant's claim that § 51-183c required recusal under the circumstances of this case presents a question of statutory interpretation, thereby invoking our plenary review. See State v. Riley, 190 Conn.App. 1, 8, 209 A.3d 646, cert. denied, 333 Conn. 923, A.3d (2019). ‘‘The principles that govern statutory construction are well established. When construing a statute, [o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature. . . . In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of [the] case, including the question of whether the language actually does apply. . . . In seeking to determine that meaning, General Statutes § 1-2z directs us first to consider the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered. . . . When a statute is not plain and unambiguous, we also look for interpretive guidance to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and [common-law] principles governing the same general subject matter . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Mickey v. Mickey, 292 Conn. 597, 613-14, 974 A.2d 641 (2009).

         Section 51-183c provides: ‘‘No judge of any court who tried a case without a jury in which a new trial is granted, or in which the judgment is reversed by the Supreme Court, may again try the case. No judge of any court who presided over any jury trial, either in a civil or criminal case, in which a new trial is granted, may again preside at the trial of the case.''

         Our Supreme Court, as well as this court, have previously held that § 51-183c applies exclusively to ‘‘trials'' and not to other types of adversarial proceedings. See, e.g., State v. Miranda, 260 Conn. 93, 131, 794 A.2d 506 (‘‘[§] 51-183c applies exclusively to ‘trials' ''), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 902, 123 S.Ct. 224, 154 L.Ed.2d 175 (2002); Lafayette Bank & Trust Co. v. Szentkuti, 27 Conn.App. 15, 19-21, 603 A.2d 1215 (‘‘Section 51-183c unambiguously applies exclusively to ‘trials,' as distinguished from pretrial or short calendar matters. . . . The term ‘trial' was not intended to include either pre-trial or short calendar proceedings.'' [Citations omitted.]), cert. denied, 222 Conn. 901, 606 A.2d 1327 (1992). On the basis of the foregoing interpretation, our appellate courts have repeatedly concluded that where the adversarial proceeding at issue did not constitute a ‘‘trial, '' § 51-183c does not require recusal. See, e.g., State v. Miranda, supra, 131-32 (sentencing hearing); Board of Education v. East Haven Education Assn., 66 Conn.App. 202, 215-16, 784 A.2d 958 (2001) (arbitration proceedings); Lafayette Bank & Trust Co. v. Szentkuti, supra, 16-17, 20-21 (property valuation hearing in foreclosure action).

         Given the well settled interpretation of § 51-183c, we conclude that § 51-183c did not apply in the present case so as to require Judge Aurigemma's recusal following the reversal of the judgment of strict foreclosure in Chase I because she had not presided over any ‘‘trial.'' Instead, the judgment of strict foreclosure underlying Chase I was rendered in the context of a short calendar proceeding, to which § 51-183c does not apply.

         In support of his claim that § 51-183c required Judge Aurigemma's recusal following our remand in Chase I, the defendant relies on Higgins v. Karp, 243 Conn. 495, 706 A.2d 1 (1998) (Higgins II), and Gagne v. Vaccaro, 133 Conn.App. 431, 35 A.3d 380 (2012), rev'd on other grounds, 311 Conn. 649, 90 A.3d 196 (2014). Neither of these authorities supports the defendant's position. We address them in turn.

         First, Higgins II was the product of extensive litigation, culminating in two appeals to our Supreme Court, arising out of a fatal airplane crash. Higgins II, supra, 243 Conn. 498-99. Initially, in a consolidated case, the trial court denied the defendant's motions to set aside defaults entered against him for failure to plead, and the case proceeded to a trial on damages, wherein the jury awarded significant damages, with judgments rendered accordingly. Higgins v. Karp, 239 Conn. 802, 806-807, 687 A.2d 539 (1997) (Higgins I). In Higgins I, our Supreme Court reversed the judgments, concluding that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the defendant's motions to set aside the defaults. Id., 811. On remand, the trial court again denied the defendant's motions to set aside the defaults. Higgins II, supra, 500-502. In Higgins II, the defendant appealed from, and our Supreme Court reversed, the judgment of the trial court because, this time, the trial court failed to consider additional relevant evidence. Id., 509-10. In footnote 7 in Higgins II, our ...


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