McGovern v. McGovern., 217 Conn. App. 636 (2023) (denial of motion for continuance and summarily denied motion to open Judgment)
Officially released February 14, 2023.
In Short: Don’t expect the Appellate Court to rescue you if you do not comply with standing orders and don’t appear for trial. If a trial court fails to issue a written or oral decision when one is required, you must file notice with the Appellate Court per P.B. § 64-1(b) to preserve your claim (although if that had been done here it almost certainly would not have changed the outcome).
The parties had one child, born in February 2005, and married in October of 2005. A previous divorce action had been filed in 2018, granted in 2019, opened in 2019 at Husband’s behest and then withdrawn by Wife.
This dissolution action was commenced by Husband in May 2020. Wife filed an answer and cross complaint. Remote trial was scheduled or August 2021 at 2:00 p.m., and then rescheduled to 3:00 p.m. to accommodate the court’s schedule. The trial commenced at 3:05 p.m., with neither Husband nor his attorney present. Wife requested that Husband’s complaint be dismissed and that the court proceed on the cross-complaint.
Prior to the start of trial, Wife had filed a motion for sanctions for Husband’s failure to comply with standing orders, but the court did not rule on this motion. Husband’s counsel filed amended proposed orders and a motion captioned “motion for order to reassign trial date to status conference” indicating that the case was not scheduled to start until 3:00 p.m. and would take two to four days to try and stating that Husband’s status at a rehabilitation center inhibited preparations. The trial court did not rule on this motion for order.
After the trial commenced, Husband’s counsel filed a motion for continuance representing that she had “become suddenly ill (dehydrated to a severe extent) and [could not] proceed today.” The trial court denied this motion stating that it waited a reasonable amount of time after the scheduled start and was informed of the motion well into the proceedings.
The trial court examined the parties’ financial affidavits, the child support guideline worksheet filed by Wife’s counsel, and considered Wife’s testimony. The trial court dismissed Husband’s complaint with prejudice and adopted most of Wife’s proposed orders into the Judgment.
Husband appealed the decision dissolving his marriage and the denial of his motion to open the judgment of dissolution. Husband claimed that the trial court erred by (1) denying his motion for continuance, and (2) denying his motion to open the Judgment.
The Appellate Court reviewed the claim of denial of continuance request for abuse of discretion and found no abuse. Trial had been scheduled six months prior, the continuance request was not filed until after the trial began, and the case was more than one year old. More damagingly, the Appellate Court noted that the record revealed a pattern of Husband’s violation of deadlines set by the court throughout the proceedings, including twice failing to file a financial affidavit when ordered to do so and failing to comply with trial management orders. No reason was offered for the failure of Husband to appear despite his counsel’s illness.
The Appellate Court reviewed the issue of denial of the motion to open for abuse of discretion. The Appellate Court noted that the trial court summarily denied the motion to open, despite such motion requiring an oral or written decision per P.B. § 64-1(a)(6). However, Husband did not file notice per that provision with the appellate clerk’s office per P.B. § 64-1(b) nor did he request articulation. On that basis the Appellate Court concluded that the trial court acted reasonably and did not abuse its discretion.
The Judgment was affirmed.