Comm'n On Human Rights v. Forvil

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation25 A.3d 632,302 Conn. 263
Decision Date30 August 2011
Docket NumberNo. 18500.,18500.

302 Conn. 263
25 A.3d 632

Jean M. FORVIL et al.

No. 18500.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued May 16, 2011.Decided Aug. 30, 2011.

[25 A.3d 636]

Edward F. Kunin, for the appellants (defendants).Robin S. Kinstler Fox, human rights attorney III, for the appellee (plaintiff).Alan Rosner, for the appellees (relators).ROGERS, C.J., and NORCOTT, PALMER, ZARELLA, McLACHLAN, EVELEIGH and HARPER, Js.HARPER, J.

[302 Conn. 265] The defendants, Jean M. Forvil and Victoire Forvil, appeal from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a trial to the court, in favor of the plaintiff, the commission on human rights and opportunities (commission), assessing a fine to be paid to the commission[302 Conn. 266] and awarding damages to Fanetta Arnold and her two minor children (relators) 1 for the defendants' refusal to rent housing to the relators on the basis of a “lawful source of income” in violation of General Statutes § 46a–64c (a).2 The defendants raise numerous claims, challenging, inter alia, the trial court's jurisdiction on the basis of the timeliness of its rendition of the judgment and the propriety of its conclusion that a security deposit guarantee (guarantee) is a lawful source of income within the meaning of the housing discrimination statutes. See General Statutes § 46a–63 (3). We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The trial court found the following facts, which are not challenged on appeal. In early 2006, Arnold met with the defendants to view an apartment for rent in a building owned by them. The defendants informed Arnold that she would need to provide a security deposit, which equaled twice the monthly rent of $800. Arnold replied that she would provide a guarantee 3 in lieu of cash to satisfy the security deposit, to which [302 Conn. 267] Jean Forvil agreed. Thereafter, Arnold provided the defendants with a copy of the guarantee, and a move in date was established. When the relators attempted to take possession of the apartment on that date, the defendants prevented them from entering the apartment because the security deposit had not been paid in cash.

The relators then filed a complaint with the commission. The commission in turn brought this action against the defendants

[25 A.3d 637]

on the relators' behalf, alleging a violation of § 46a–64c (a)(1), which prohibits discrimination against prospective tenants based on, inter alia, a “lawful source of income....” In their answer, the defendants raised constitutional and statutory special defenses to the action.

The case was tried to the court beginning on December 17, 2008, and finishing on January 13, 2009. On May 21, 2009, after both parties had filed briefs regarding damages, the trial court scheduled a hearing on damages for June 4, 2009. Prior to that hearing on damages, the court issued a memorandum of decision, dated June 4, 2009, rejecting the defendants' special defenses and concluding “that the [commission has] proven by a fair preponderance of all the evidence in this case that the defendants violated § 46a–64c when, on May 1, 2006, they rejected to rent the subject premises to Arnold.” Following the hearing on damages, the trial court rendered judgment in the amount of $57,688 against the defendants, comprised of: $30,000 in compensatory damages to Arnold, $7500 in compensatory damages to each of her children, $5000 in punitive damages,4 a $1000 [302 Conn. 268] civil penalty to the commission, and $6688 in attorney's fees to the relators' attorney. This appeal followed. 5

On appeal, the defendants contend that: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to render the judgment because it was untimely rendered; (2) the trial court improperly considered a guarantee to be a lawful source of income within the meaning of the housing discrimination statutes; (3) the trial court improperly concluded that a guarantee's validity is irrelevant to a claim of discrimination under § 46a–64c; (4) the compensatory damages to the relators were excessive; (5) the trial court improperly denied the defendants' motion to compel the commission to produce certain documents; (6) § 46a–64c is unconstitutionally vague; and (7) requiring landlords to accept a guarantee in lieu of a cash security deposit denies equal protection of the law to some landlords.6 We are not persuaded by the first four claims, and we decline to address the latter three, as the defendants have inadequately briefed them.


Before discussing the merits of the underlying judgment, we must first consider

[25 A.3d 638]

the defendants' claim that [302 Conn. 269] the trial court lacked jurisdiction to render that judgment against them. See Valley Cable Vision, Inc. v. Public Utilities Commission, 175 Conn. 30, 32, 392 A.2d 485 (1978) ( “Whenever a lack of jurisdiction appears on the record, the court must consider the question.... The court must address itself to that issue and fully resolve it before proceeding further with the case.” [Citation omitted.] ). The defendants claim that General Statutes § 51–183b 7 deprives a trial court of jurisdiction to render judgment in a civil case once 120 days have passed from the completion of the trial in the case and that, in the present case, the trial court's June 4, 2009 judgment was rendered after the passage of that period of time. Specifically, the defendants point to the January 29, 2009 filing of their posttrial brief on damages as the act completing the trial that commenced the 120 day period. In response, the commission claims that, because the trial court ordered additional proceedings within 120 days after the submission of posttrial briefs, the trial effectively was extended until the completion of those proceedings. We agree with the commission, and, accordingly, conclude that § 51–183b did not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction to render judgment in this case.

We begin with the applicable standard of review. The jurisdictional question concerns a claim of “failure to comply with the rule requiring a court to render a decision within 120 days as set forth in ... § 51–183b, which has long been held to implicate personal, rather than subject matter jurisdiction.” Remax Right Choice v. Aryeh, 100 Conn.App. 373, 378, 918 A.2d 976 (2007); see also [302 Conn. 270] Frank v. Streeter, 192 Conn. 601, 603, 472 A.2d 1281 (1984) (“[a] delay in decision beyond that authorized by the statute makes the decision voidable and, absent waiver, requires a new trial”). A challenge to the court's personal jurisdiction that presents a question of law applied to undisputed facts is an issue over which our review is plenary. See Maltas v. Maltas, 298 Conn. 354, 360, 2 A.3d 902 (2010); Ryan v. Cerullo, 282 Conn. 109, 118, 918 A.2d 867 (2007).

Our consideration of this question is guided by Statewide Grievance Committee v. Ankerman, 74 Conn.App. 464, 470, 812 A.2d 169, cert. denied, 263 Conn. 911, 821 A.2d 767 (2003). The facts of Ankerman are, for the purpose of this question, nearly identical to those of the present case. In Ankerman, following a trial and the submission of posttrial briefs, the parties attended a hearing on February 5, 2001. Id., at 467, 812 A.2d 169. On June 5, 2001, less than 120 days after that February 5 hearing, the court issued a memorandum of decision finding that the defendant had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, but ordered the parties to appear at a hearing to address the appropriate disposition on July 24, 2001, more than 120 days after the February 5 hearing. Id. On August 22, 2001, within 120 days of the July 24 hearing, the court rendered its judgment. Id., at 468, 812 A.2d 169. The defendant appealed, claiming that the trial court had rendered judgment outside the period prescribed by § 51–183b because it was rendered more than 120 days after the February 5 hearing. Id., at 465, 812 A.2d 169. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment, reasoning that, “when the court ordered the parties to appear at a subsequent

[25 A.3d 639]

hearing ... it opened the case.” Id., at 470, 812 A.2d 169. The Appellate Court went on to conclude that “the court opened the case ... within 120 days from the ... completion date of the trial. After the court conducted the additional hearing ... the new completion date of the trial was [the date of that hearing].” Id., at 473, 812 A.2d 169.

[302 Conn. 271] Although Ankerman is nearly identical to the present appeal in all ways relevant to this question, “we are not bound by a decision of the Appellate Court.” State v. Samuels, 273 Conn. 541, 553 n. 8, 871 A.2d 1005 (2005). Nevertheless, we are persuaded by the Appellate Court's position in Ankerman that, when a trial court properly reopens a case during the pendency of the 120 day statutory time period, the completion of proceedings scheduled on the date the proceedings were reopened constitutes the relevant completion date for purposes of commencing the 120 day limitation period for rendering judgment.8

In the present case, following the trial, the parties filed briefs regarding damages. The defendants filed their brief on January 29, 2009. Accordingly, January 29, 2009, was, undisputedly, the earliest date that could conceivably be designated as the trial's “completion date.” Frank v. Streeter, supra, 192 Conn. at 604, 472 A.2d 1281 (“ ‘the completion date’ includes the filing of briefs [because] the briefing of legal issues [is] a component of the judicial gathering of the materials necessary to a well-reasoned decision”). Following the filing of the defendants' brief on damages, the next activity in this case reflected by the record was the trial court's May 21, 2009 order scheduling a hearing for June 4, to address the subject of attorney's fees. The 120 day statutory period, counted from January 29, would not have expired prior to the May 21 order, but would have [302 Conn. 272] expired prior to the June 4 hearing. By properly 9 ordering an...

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