Catalina v. Nicolelli

Decision Date12 July 2005
Docket NumberNo. 24946.,24946.
Citation876 A.2d 588,90 Conn.App. 219
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesJames CATALINA v. James NICOLELLI.

Alphonse J. Balzano, Jr., filed a brief for the appellant (plaintiff).

LAVERY, C.J., and SCHALLER and HENNESSY, Js.

LAVERY, C.J.

The plaintiff, James Catalina, appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in his favor as against the defendant, James Nicolelli, challenging the denial of the plaintiff's motion to set aside the judgment. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly denied his motion because the court failed to render judgment in his favor on all counts of his complaint following an entry of default against the defendant and allowed the defendant inappropriately to dispute the allegations in the complaint at the hearing in damages. We agree and reverse the judgment of the trial court in part.

The plaintiff initiated this action for damages against the defendant for negligent assault, reckless and wanton misconduct and intentional assault. The plaintiff alleged that on November 19, 1999, he was stabbed by the defendant. On March 14, 2002, the plaintiff filed a motion for the entry of a default against the defendant for failure to plead, which was granted. A hearing in damages was held and, on May 17, 2002, the court rendered judgment and an award in favor of the plaintiff only on the negligent assault claim. The plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the judgment, which initially was denied, but the order denying the motion subsequently was vacated. The court held a hearing, and then again denied the motion. This appeal followed.

"[T]he proper appellate standard of review when considering the action of a trial court granting or denying a motion to set aside a verdict ... [is] the abuse of discretion standard.... In determining whether there has been an abuse of discretion, every reasonable presumption should be given in favor of the correctness of the court's ruling.... Reversal is required only where an abuse of discretion is manifest or where injustice appears to have been done.... We do not ... determine whether a conclusion different from the one reached could have been reached." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Maag v. Homechek Real Estate Services, Inc., 82 Conn.App. 201, 211-12, 843 A.2d 619, cert. denied, 269 Conn. 908, 852 A.2d 737 (2004).

In this case, default was entered against the defendant for his failure to plead. "A default admits the material facts that constitute a cause of action ... and entry of default, when appropriately made, conclusively determines the liability of a defendant .... If the allegations of the plaintiff's complaint are sufficient on their face to make out a valid claim for the relief requested, the plaintiff, on the entry of a default against the defendant, need not offer evidence to support those allegations.... Therefore, the only issue before the court following a default is the determination of damages.... A plaintiff ordinarily is entitled to at least nominal damages following an entry of default against a defendant in a legal action....

"In an action at law, the rule is that the entry of a default operates as a confession by the defaulted defendant of the truth of the material facts alleged in the complaint which are essential to entitle the plaintiff to some of the relief prayed. It is not the equivalent of an admission of all of the facts pleaded. The limit of its effect is to preclude the defaulted defendant from making any further defense and to permit the entry of a judgment against him on the theory that he has admitted such of the facts alleged in the complaint as are essential to such a judgment. It does not follow that the plaintiff is entitled to a judgment for the full amount of the relief claimed. The plaintiff must still prove how much of the judgment prayed for in the complaint he is entitled to receive." (Citations omitted; emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Mountview Plaza Associates, Inc. v. World Wide Pet Supply, Inc., 76 Conn. App. 627, 629-30, 820 A.2d 1105 (2003).

At the hearing in damages in this case, the court allowed the defendant to introduce evidence contradicting the allegations in the complaint. That was permitted even though prior to the hearing, the defendant neither provided written notice of his intent to contradict the allegations in the complaint; Practice Book § 17-34; nor filed a motion to open the default. Practice Book § 17-43. After hearing evidence, the court found that "[t]he defendant denied the stabbing while the plaintiff's testimony was startling in that he apparently didn't realize he had been stabbed at first. Absent testimony as to how this occurred, or even what the weapon was, the court concludes that the defendant committed a negligent assault on the plaintiff and is liable on the first count for his damages."

General Statutes § 52-221(a) provides in relevant part: "In any hearing in damages upon default ... the defendant shall not be permitted to offer evidence to contradict any allegations in the plaintiff's complaint, except such as relate to the amount of damage, unless he has given notice to the plaintiff of his intention to contradict such allegations and of the subject matter which he intends to contradict, nor shall the defendant be permitted to deny the right of the plaintiff to maintain the action, nor shall he be permitted to prove any matter of defense, unless he has given written notice to the plaintiff of his intention to deny such right or to prove such matter of defense."

Additionally, Practice Book § 17-34(a) provides that "[i]n any hearing in damages upon default, the defendant shall not be permitted to offer evidence to contradict any allegations in the plaintiff's complaint, except such as relate to the amount of damages, unless notice has been given to the plaintiff of the intention to contradict such allegations and of the subject matter which the defendant intends to contradict . . . ." "Under these circumstances, the underlying purpose of a hearing in damages is to assist the trial court in determining the amount of damages to be awarded.... [A]t the very least, [the plaintiff] is entitled to nominal damages.... Further, [a] default in an action for legal and equitable relief admits the material facts constituting a cause of action." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Baldwin v. Harmony Builders, Inc., 31 Conn.App. 242, 244-45, 624 A.2d 393 (1993).

After the court found in favor of the plaintiff only on the negligent assault count, the plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the judgment, claiming that judgment should have been rendered in his favor on all counts. The motion was denied. In its memorandum of decision, the court stated that "[t]he plaintiff seeks to set aside [the judgment], claiming that he is entitled to judgment on all three counts since the defendant had been defaulted. The court asked for some law to support this proposition, but none has been...

To continue reading

Request your trial
18 cases
  • Lawton v. Weiner
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • 4 d2 Outubro d2 2005
    ...which the defendants here failed to do. See General Statutes § 52-221(a); Practice Book §§ 17-34, 17-35; Catalina v. Nicolelli, 90 Conn.App. 219, 222-24, 876 A.2d 588 (2005). The defendants' claims either challenge the allegations of the complaint or otherwise attack liability and, accordin......
  • In re Swirsky
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Connecticut
    • 8 d5 Dezembro d5 2006
    ...J.). ASTI may have been entitled to a technical judgment on each count of the State Court Complaint, see Catalina v. Nicolelli, 90 Conn.App. 219, 876 A.2d 588 (2005), but that does not make each count of the State Court, Complaint necessary to the Judgment for issue preclusion purposes. Cf.......
  • Gaynor v. Homes
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • 8 d2 Abril d2 2014
    ...prayed for in the complaint he is entitled to receive.” (Emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Catalina v. Nicolelli, 90 Conn.App. 219, 221, 876 A.2d 588 (2005). “[T]he trial court has broad discretion in determining damages.... The determination of damages involves a question ......
  • Bruno v. Whipple
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • 4 d2 Dezembro d2 2018
    ...the trial court in determining the amount of damages to be awarded." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Catalina v. Nicolelli , 90 Conn. App. 219, 222–23, 876 A.2d 588 (2005). When the liability of a defendant has been established, "the plaintiff's burden at a hearing in damages is limited......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT