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Muckle v. Pressley

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 16, 2018


          Argued May 15, 2018

         Procedural History

         Actiontorecover damages for the diminished value of the plaintiff's motor vehicle caused by the defendants' alleged negligence, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Middlesex and tried to the court, Domnarski, J.; judgment in favor of the plaintiff, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Matthew Julian Forrest, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Roderick R. Williams, for the appellees (defendants).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Prescott and Eveleigh, Js.


          DIPENTIMA, C. J.

         The plaintiff, David Muckle, appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying his claim for prejudgment interest against the defendants, Ronald Pressley and the city of New Haven. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly concluded that General Statutes § 37-3b permits only postjudg-ment interest in negligence actions. We disagree with the plaintiff and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history, as set forth in the court's March 30, 2017 memorandum of decision, are relevant to our discussion. On July 20, 2014, the plaintiff's 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek vehicle was parked on a street in New Haven. Pressley, an employee of the city of New Haven, struck the plaintiff's vehicle while operating a motor vehicle in the course of his employment. The collision caused significant damage to the plaintiff's vehicle, which was repaired at a cost of $15, 096.60. ‘‘According to the experts who testified at trial, the [plaintiff's] vehicle had a value between $20, 037 and $23, 500 prior to the accident. The experts also testified that the value of the vehicle after repairs was between $14, 500 and $21, 150.''

         The plaintiff sought damages for the diminished value of his vehicle following the postcollision repair work. After considering the evidence from the parties' experts, the court credited the defendants' expert that the diminished value of the plaintiff's vehicle was $2350, which amounts to ‘‘a 10 percent reduction in the vehicle's valuation because of the accident.'' The court further found that the plaintiff had incurred damages for the repair of the vehicle and for a rental car for which he had not been reimbursed. The court awarded the plaintiff $1067.77 for these damages in addition to the $2350 for vehicle's diminished value, for a total of $3, 417.77.

         The court did not award the plaintiff damages ‘‘for the inconvenience of having to contend with submission of the claim to his insurance company, obtaining a rental car, and dealing with the auto body shop regarding the repair of his vehicle.''[1] The court also rejected the plaintiff's claim of interest from the date of the accident, July 20, 2014, stating: ‘‘The plaintiff's claims are grounded in the negligence of the defendants. In negligence actions, interest is allowed only after judgment. General Statutes § 37-3b.''

         On April 17, 2017, the plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of the denial of prejudgment interest. In his motion, the plaintiff alleged that he was entitled to $915.77 in prejudgment interest.[2] In their objection, the defendants argued, inter alia, that the cases relied on by the plaintiff, Hammarlund v. Troiano, 146 Conn. 470, 152 A.2d 314 (1959), Stults v. Palmer, 141 Conn. 709, 109 A.2d 592 (1954), and Littlejohn v. Elionsky, 130 Conn. 541, 36 A.2d 52 (1944), predated the 1981 enactment of, and 1997 amendment to § 37-3b. Accordingly, the defendants claimed that these cases did not constitute good law on the issue of prejudgment interest in negligence cases. The court granted the plaintiff's motion, but denied the relief requested. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the plaintiff claims that in diminished value cases, the court is required to include prejudgment interest in the damages award. He contends that General Statutes §§ 37-3a and 37-3b do not extinguish the common-law right to prejudgment interest in this type of civil action. The defendants counter that following the 1981 amendment to § 37-3a and the enactment of § 37-3b, only postjudgment interest is available in negligence cases. We agree that, under the present statutory framework, the court properly denied the plaintiff's request for prejudgment interest in the present case.

         We begin with our standard of review. ‘‘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. . . . The test to determine ambiguity is whether the statute, when read in context, is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation. . . . 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 . . . . In cases in which more than one [statutory provision] is involved, we presume that the legislature intended [those provisions] to be read together to create a harmonious body of law . . . and we construe the [provisions], if ...

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