Conroy v. Idlibi, 343 Conn. 201 (2022) (motion to open for fraud based on adultery & Oneglia hearing)
Officially released May 4, 2022
In Short: Husband filed a motion to open the judgment of dissolution based on fraud, alleging that Wife had perjured herself regarding adultery and he had discovered and could present evidence to prove that she did so. The trial court denied his motion at a preliminary Oneglia hearing on the basis that a new trial was not likely to return a different result. The Appellate and Supreme Courts upheld the trial court’s decision.
Wife was eighteen years old and Husband a thirty-eight-year-old financially successful dentist when they entered into what was Husband’s third marriage. After ten years, one child, an affair by Wife and the draining of Wife’s education account to pay Husband’s debts, Wife filed a dissolution action in May 2015.
A trial was conducted in May 2016 and Judge Carbonneau issued a memorandum of decision dissolving the marriage. The trial court found that the marriage was a turbulent and dramatic one, with both parties lacking credibility in their sworn statements, and Wife engaging in an extramarital relationship, although there was no evidence that she had sexual relations with her paramour. In a prior unsuccessful appeal, Husband claimed that the trial court erred by finding neither party more at fault for the breakdown of the marriage and by favoring Wife in the financial awards.
In October of 2018, Husband filed a motion to open the judgment on the basis that Wife had committed a fraud by being untruthful about the nature of her extramarital relationship and allegations of physical abuse by Husband. Husband alleged that Wife acknowledged in a civil proceeding that she had disclosed to her counsel that she was having sexual relations with another man prior to denying such relations on her interrogatories during the dissolution. Husband alleged that text messages extracted by the police related to the criminal matter that had since been dismissed exposed a “graphic sexual relationship between [Wife] and another man spanning more than one year prior to [Wife’s] filing for divorce.” Husband sought an Oneglia hearing to permit further discovery.
The Oneglia hearing was held in December 2018 and Judge Connors denied the motion, stating on the record that the trial court had found neither party credible at time of trial and that the result of a new trial was unlikely to be different based on the memorandum of decision. Husband appealed.
The Appellate Court upheld Judge Connor’s decision based on the finding that the alleged fraud would be unlikely to have changed Judge Carbonneau’s decision. The judgment was affirmed. Husband petitioned for certification to the Supreme Court, which petition was granted.
The Supreme Court reviewed the issue of whether the trial court denied the motion to open the judgment under the abuse of discretion standard. It noted three limitations on the trial court’s ability to grant relief from a dissolution judgment secured by fraud: (1) no laches, (2) clear proof of fraud, and (3) reasonable probability (not “substantial likelihood” although the Supreme Court opined that this distinction made no different in this case) that the result of a new trial would be different.
The Supreme Court noted that Husband admitted in his initial appeal that Wife had candidly confessed to the trial court that her response to the interrogatory denying the existence of a sexual relationship had been a lie, thus, it is reasonable to infer that the lie did not impact the trial court’s judgment. The Supreme Court also noted that the trial court found Wife’s claim of domestic assault lacked credibility, thus, additional evidence about the alleged assault was unlikely to impact the result. The Supreme Court found no error in the Appellate Court’s conclusion that a new trial would not have a reasonable probability of a different result.
The Judgment of the Appellate Court (and trial court) was affirmed.