Officially released September 10, 2019.
In Short: the trial court abused its discretion for dismissing Husband’s motions pursuant to § 14-3 in apparent retaliation for Husband’s refusal to waive retroactivity where the delay was not unreasonable in light of Husband’s counsel’s serious illness, there was no notice that non-suit would be considered, and both parties were ready to proceed.
The Facts: The parties were divorced in 1984 via separation agreement, which provided, inter alia, that Husband pay alimony to Wife until her remarriage or death. In December 2012 Husband filed a motion for modification of alimony and a motion for contempt, arguing a substantial change in the parties’ earnings and alleging Wife refused to provide a W-2 as required by the Judgment.
In November 2014, Husband filed a motion in limine regarding certain evidence and served requests for admissions. In February 2015, Husband’s counsel was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The parties entered into a June 2015 stipulation regarding the motion in limine. In December 2016 the court scheduled a status conference for January 2017. At the status conference the court scheduled the matter for a full hearing in April 2017.
At the hearing in April 2017, Wife argued both motions should be dismissed pursuant to Practice Book §§ 25-34(f) and 14-3 for failure to prosecute with reasonable diligence. In the alternative, Wife argued that Husband must waive his request for retroactivity as to the alimony modification. The trial court asked Husband if he would waive retroactivity, which Husband refused. The court then summarily dismissed both of Husband’s motion pursuant to Practice Book § 25-34(f). Wife’s counsel asked the court to delay the dismissal for a recess to discuss waiving retroactivity so the motions could go forward. Despite Husband’s counsel asserting that he did not need to discuss any waiver with his client, the court recessed stating that if retroactivity were not waived the motions would be dismissed. Husband objected that dismissal was improper because no such motion had been filed and there had been no opportunity to prepare a response. The court then vacated the dismissal and provided the parties the opportunity to brief the issues and request oral argument.
Wife thereafter filed a motion to dismiss and memorandum of law and Husband filed an objection. After argument on the motion to dismiss the court issued a memorandum of decision dismissing the motions pursuant to Practice Book § 14-3. Husband appealed.
Review of dismissal under § 14-3 is conducted for abuse of discretion. The Appellate Court held that the purpose of § 14-3 is to ensure proper movement of cases through the docket and avoid lengthy periods of inactivity and it must be implemented to advance justice. The trial court abused its discretion given the not-unreasonable year-and-a-half delay in light of diagnosis of serious illness by Husband’s counsel, the lack of notice that noncompliance would result in nonsuit, and dismissal at a hearing at which both parties were prepared to move forward. Further, the trial court’s apparent retaliation for refusal to waive retroactivity provided the appearance that dismissal was punitive in nature.
The judgment was reversed.