The Supreme Court rendered many decisions on the often bloodless topic of civil procedure. Some have much bearing on the rights of associations in pending cases and several expand the often criticized final judgment rule.
In Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Connecticut v. Gauss, 302 Conn. 386 (2011), the Supreme Court addressed the attempt of a third party to intervene. In Gauss, a voluntary religious association comprised of several hundred individuals established by the elected officers and vestry of the plaintiff church sought to intervene in an action by the church and other members. The defendant and others sought to disassociate itself with the Diocese and affiliate itself with a religious organization outside the Diocese. The Diocese brought action against the defendants seeking a declaration that real and personal property of the defendant church be held in trust for the Diocese and an order enjoining the defendants from continuing to use the property. The trial court denied the motion to intervene and request for an evidentiary hearing on the basis that the issues raised by the association had been raised in the pleadings. Moreover, the association, who claimed title to the property, was going to intervene not to bring a claim against the defendants, but to bring a claim against the plaintiffs.
There are four requirements, all of which must be met in order to intervene. The Supreme Court in Gauss looked to the fourth: adequacy of representation. The Supreme Court held that there was a presumption that the defendants adequately represented the interests of the association, and that the association failed to meet its burden of overcoming that presumption by establishing adversity of interest, collusion or nonfeasance on the part of the defendants. The court also held that no evidentiary hearing was necessary because all of the information needed for evaluating the motion was in the pleadings and motion to intervene.
In Connecticut Podiatric Medical Assoc v. Health Net of Connecticut, 302 Conn. 464 (2011), the Supreme Court reversed the trial courts decision that podiatrists lacked standing to pursue a claim for damages against the defendant insurer. The podiatrists and a pediatric medical association brought suit against the insurer defendant claiming inadequate reimbursement rates and discrimination. The Supreme Court held that the podiatrists had standing because they had the contracts with the defendant insurer, and that no other party other than the podiatrist could enforce the contractual rights, was more directly injured or in a better position to remedy the alleged harm.
Juror misconduct was the issue before the Supreme Court in Sawicki v. New Britain General Hospital, 302 Conn. 514 (2011). The underlying case was a medical malpractice case claiming the defendant medical group failed to diagnose and treat properly the plaintiff’s breast cancer. There was a defense verdict. Before the verdict was returned and the deliberation, the jurors had discussed the merits of the case and the credibility of the witness. The trial court denied a motion to set aside the verdict on the basis of juror misconduct on the basis that the misconduct was not prejudicial because the jurors, during the misconduct hearing, had said they had not come to a final decision before deliberations following the courts previous instructions not to do so. The Appellate Court reversed, and the Supreme Court upheld that reversal, on the basis that the testimony of the jurors that they followed the court’s instructions not to reach a final decision until deliberations could not outweigh the overwhelming evidence of repeated, egregious misconduct of the jurors.
The effects of discovery misconduct and whether a new trial will be ordered was the subject of Duart v. Dept. of Corrections, 303 Conn. 479 (2012). Duart dealt with an employment discrimination case in which there was a defendant’s verdict. The plaintiff moved for a new trial on the basis that defendant engaged in discovery misconduct. The Appellate Court affirmed, based on the standard set forth in the Varley case.
The Supreme Court reframed the Varley standard so that the movant has to show the probability, rather substantial likelihood, that the result of the trial would be different. The court defined a “reasonable probability” as a probability sufficient to undermine the confidence in the outcome of the trial. Under the new standard, there was sufficient evidence that it was probable that the result of the trial would have been different.
The next set of cases concern jurisdictional issues and make inroads to the much critized final judgment rule. In New London County Mutual Ins. v. Nantes, 303 Conn. 737 (2012), the plaintiff town sought a temporary injunction against land owners for refusing to permit an inspection of their property for certain alleged zoning violations. The trial court granted the temporary injunction, and the property owner appealed by way of a writ of error, claiming the town needed to obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before doing the inspection.
On appeal the court in Nantes confronted the issue of whether an order on a temporary injunction was an immediately appealable final judgment. Ordinarily, such orders are not appealable and regarded as interlocutory. But the order in this case was effectively a permanent injunction. It was a final determination that the Town could search the property over the property owners objection. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that such an order was an appealable final judgment.
In another expansion of the final judgment rule, the Supreme Court in Woodbury Knoll, LLC v. Shipman & Goodwin, LLP, 305 Conn. 750 (2012), determined that a discovery order for an attorney to disclose allegedly privileged communications was a final judgment under Curcio precedent, and due to public policy considerations of avoiding putting attorneys in a difficult position of having to otherwise face an order of contempt. The court in Woodbury Knoll also gave direction that the proper vehicle for raising such a claim is a writ of error.
In Khan v. Hillyer, 306 Conn. 205 (2012), the Supreme Court held that an order of contempt was a final judgment that could be appealed under Curcio. The contempt order in Hillyer was against a mother of a child who refused to allow visitation pursuant to a visitation order that the father be allowed to visit the child. The court reasoned that the contempt order that was accompanied by an order to pay for the visitation program so substantially resolved the rights and duties of the parties that further proceedings relating to the judgment of contempt could not affect them.
On the ripeness front, in Keller v. Beckenstein, 305 Conn. 523 (2012) the Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court’s decision upholding the trial court determination that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear an unripe claim against an estate. In Keller, the plaintiffs sought to bring a vexatious litigation claim against an estate that was unripe because the underlying case was on appeal. The Supreme Court held that there was subject matter jurisdiction because the legislature, through Conn. Gen. Stat. 45a-363, confers subject matter jurisdiction on the Superior Court to hear unripe claims despite the judicially created doctrine of unripeness. •