M.B. v. S.A., 194 Conn. App. 727 (2019) (contempt while underlying order is on appeal; sanctions for contempt where the underlying order has been vacated)
Officially released December 10, 2019.
In Short: a finding of contempt, even if the order underpinning it is vacated on appeal, is not itself vacated and may still result in sanctions; an order that is not stayed on appeal may result in contempt during the appeal process; the trial court has discretion in managing its docket.
Background Facts: The parties were never married and had one child born in 2014. Sole legal and primary physical custody was awarded to Defendant after a trial. Plaintiff filed an appeal of the Judgment.
While Plaintiff’s appeal was pending, Defendant filed post-judgment motions for contempt for failure to pay arrearages and child support and submitted an affidavit regarding counsel fees incurred in pursuing post-judgment motions for contempt. Plaintiff was found in contempt during the pendency of the appeal. The decision on that appeal was released, resulting in vacating of the orders with respect to the arrearages underlying the post-judgment finding of contempt. The trial court nevertheless ordered Plaintiff to pay $9,825 in fees for litigating those motions for contempt. Plaintiff then appealed that order.
Plaintiff claimed the trial court abused its discretion by holding him in contempt while the order for which he was held in contempt was pending. The Appellate Court held that, as there was no stay in place, it was not abuse of discretion to find contempt for failure to abide by those orders.
Plaintiff claimed the trial court abused its discretion by adjudicating contempt motions prior to a motion regarding visitation that was filed earlier. The Appellate Court held that claim to be baseless. The trial court controls its own docket and broad discretion in so doing.
Plaintiff claimed the trial court erred in failing to consider his financial affidavits in ruling on the contempt motions, arguing that, had it done so, it could not have found his non-payment to be willful. The Appellate Court found no error, as the trial court found the financial affidavits not to be credible, and therefore clearly considered them. There was nothing to support a claim of abuse of discretion.
Plaintiff claimed that the trial court erred in awarding counsel fees with regard to the contempt motions based on the arrearages that were vacated after the contempt finding. The Appellate Court held that the vacating of the arrearages does not trigger a retroactive vacating of the underlying contempt finding or the sanctions that may result. The trial court did not abuse its discretion.
Plaintiff claimed that the court erred in accepting an affidavit of fees with an incorrect docket number. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-123 provides “No writ, pleading, judgment or any kind of proceeding in court or course of justice shall be abated, suspended, set aside or reversed for any kind of circumstantial errors, mistakes or defects, if the person and the cause may be rightly understood and intended by the court.” The Appellate Court held that use of an incorrect docket number is a circumstantial defect. A scrivener’s error does not deprive the court of jurisdiction and there was no abuse of discretion.