Connecticut Light and Power Co. v. Costle

Decision Date01 January 1980
Citation426 A.2d 1324,179 Conn. 415
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesCONNECTICUT LIGHT AND POWER COMPANY v. Douglas COSTLE, Acting Commissioner of Environmental Protection of the State of Connecticut et al.

Anthony M. Fitzgerald, Waterbury, for appellant (plaintiff).

Richard F. Webb, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom, on brief, was Carl R. Ajello, Atty. Gen., for appellee (named defendant).

Julian D. Rosenberg, East Haddam, for appellees (defendant Connecticut Valley Action Committee, Inc., et al.).

Peter B. Cooper, New Haven, for appellees (defendant Connecticut Forest and Park Ass'n, Inc., et al.).

David M. Cusick, Winsted, for appellee (defendant Cynthia B. Carlson).


COTTER, Chief Justice.

The principal issue before us on this appeal is whether General Statutes § 51-29 (now § 51-183b) is applicable to an appeal from an administrative proceeding. 1 The relevant procedural history underlying this appeal is undisputed: Pursuant to General Statutes § 4-183, a provision of the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act; General Statutes c. 54; the plaintiff, Connecticut Light and Power Company, sought review in the Court of Common Pleas within and for the county of Hartford of a decision and order of the commissioner of environmental protection. The arguments before the Court of Common Pleas began on April 2, 1974, consumed six separate but not successive days, and were concluded on June 14, 1974. The trial judge who had heard the case filed a memorandum of decision with the Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford-New Britain at Hartford on June 30, 1978 sustaining the appeal in part. That judgment, June 30, 1978, was rendered more than four years after the close of the session at which the case was tried. The defendant, acting commissioner Douglas Costle, moved in the Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford-New Britain at Hartford to set aside the judgment on the ground that it was rendered beyond the time limits provided in General Statutes § 51-29 which read: "Any judge of the superior court, or the court of common pleas, who has commenced the trial of any civil cause, shall have power to continue such trial and render judgment after the expiration of the term or session of the court at which such trial was commenced; but such trial shall be ended and judgment rendered therein before the close of the next term or session." 2 This court granted the plaintiff certification for appeal from the decision of the court below (Kelly, J. ) which granted the motion, set aside the judgment, and ordered a new trial.

The initial question before this court is whether certification for appeal was properly granted. The plaintiff contends that an appeal would lie from the granting of a motion to set aside a judgment in order to determine whether the trial court had acted beyond its jurisdiction in granting the motion. The plaintiff's claim is that if § 51-29 does not apply to this case, the court below acted beyond its power in setting aside the judgment, and its action therefore would be appealable. In these circumstances, we agree that in order to determine whether this court has jurisdiction over the present appeal, we must determine whether the trial court had jurisdiction to grant the motion to set aside the judgment.

Although the granting of a motion to set aside a judgment and for a new trial is not ordinarily a "final judgment" within the purview of either General Statutes § 52-263 or Practice Book, 1978, § 3000; see State v. Phillips, 166 Conn. 642, 646, 353 A.2d 706; Hoberman v. Lake of Isles, Inc., 138 Conn. 573, 574-75, 87 A.2d 137; an appeal which challenges the power of the court to act to set aside the judgment may be reviewed. Phillips v. Negley, 117 U.S. 665, 6 S.Ct. 901, 29 L.Ed. 1013; Stradley v. Cortez, 518 F.2d 488 (3d Cir.); Rinieri v. News Syndicate Co., 385 F.2d 818 (2d Cir.); Landscape Development Co., Inc. v. Kansas City Power & Light Co., 197 Kan. 126, 415 P.2d 398. It is "generally recognized that any rule of nonappealability or nonreviewability of a decision of a court setting aside its former decision does not apply and that an appeal lies where the court, in setting aside its former decision, acted beyond its jurisdiction." 4 Am.Jur.2d, Appeal and Error, § 126.

Hence, the plaintiff's claim concerning Judge Kelly's lack of jurisdiction puts us in the anomalous position of having to decide the plaintiff's principal claim on this appeal, i. e., that § 51-29 does not apply to administrative appeals, in order to decide whether we have jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. In light, however, of our conclusion that the court below did not err in determining that § 51-29 applies to administrative appeals, we need not reach the plaintiff's jurisdictional claim that if the court below did err in deciding the applicability of § 51-29, its ruling on the defendant's motion to set aside the judgment and for a new trial would be beyond its jurisdiction.

We have consistently held that General Statutes § 51-29 requires a judge to decide a case before the close of the session of the court next succeeding the session at which it is commenced and that a judgment, rendered after the time specified, is erroneous absent waiver or consent by the parties. Bogaert v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 162 Conn. 532, 536, 294 A.2d 573; Hurlbutt v. Hatheway, 139 Conn. 258, 263, 93 A.2d 161; Spelke v. Shaw, 117 Conn. 639, 644, 169 A. 787; Cheshire Brass Co. v. Wilson, 86 Conn. 551, 560, 86 A. 26; Lawrence v. Cannavan, 76 Conn. 303, 307, 56 A. 556. It is conceded that the judgment was not rendered within the time prescribed by § 51-29 nor has the plaintiff made any claim of waiver or consent.

Nor, under the facts of this case, would any claim of waiver or consent be tenable. Referring to Spelke, supra, 117 Conn. 646, 169 A. 787, this court, in Bogaert, supra, 162 Conn. 538, 294 A.2d at 577, observed "that in order to imply consent there must be found to exist some obligation on the part of the plaintiffs or their counsel to (1) either seasonably admonish the trial judge that the statute must be complied with or (2) after the second session but before judgment, interpose objection to its entry thereafter. We concluded that no justification existed for so far extending the duty of counsel. We observed the impracticality if not the impropriety of the first course. As to the second course, we concluded that the most that can reasonably be required is objection seasonably made after the filing of the decision." In the present case there was a seasonable objection. The record reveals that the defendant filed its motion to set aside the judgment ten days after the date of the trial court's judgment.

These observations concerning waiver and consent in our prior decisions are in accord with the clear intent of § 51-29 to place the onus on judges to decide cases in a timely fashion. Section 51-29 is not directed at litigants, their attorneys, or the subject matter of the cases. 3

The plaintiff contends that the words "trial of any civil cause" in § 51-29 do not apply to an appeal from an order and decision of an administrative tribunal and thus the trial court which passed upon the lateness of the judgment was without statutory authority to set aside that judgment. The plaintiff's primary claim is that the words "civil cause" have often been used by the legislature and in the Practice Book synonymously with the words "civil action"; e. g., General Statutes §§ 52-30 (now § 51-347a), 52-31 (now § 51-347b) and 52-32 (now repealed) and §§ 163, 164, and 165 of the 1963 Practice Book; and that a number of this court's decisions have construed "civil action" to be inapplicable to administrative appeals; e. g., Waterbury v. Waterbury Police Union, 176 Conn. 401, 407-408, 407 A.2d 1013; Chieppo v. Robert E. McMichael, Inc., 169 Conn. 646, 653, 363 A.2d 1085; Bank Building & Equipment Corporation v. Architectural Examining Board, 153 Conn. 121, 124, 214 A.2d 377.

This argument overlooks, however, two well-established rules of statutory construction. First, § 51-29 employs the phrase "civil cause" and not "civil action." There is a presumption of purpose behind every sentence, clause or phrase in a legislative enactment so that in construing it no part is to be treated as insignificant and unnecessary. Doe v. Institute of Living, Inc., 175 Conn. 49, 58, 392 A.2d 491; State ex rel. Kennedy v. Frauwirth, 167 Conn. 165, 168, 355 A.2d 39; Charlton Press, Inc. v. Sullivan, 153 Conn. 103, 109, 214 A.2d 354. Second, to determine the reach of the term "civil cause" in § 51-29, that provision should not be interpreted in light of §§ 52-30, 52-31, and 52-32 since not only did the latter provisions occur in another title but they also involved a distinctly different subject matter, the transfer of causes. 4 Only statutory provisions relating to the same subject matter may be looked to for guidance. Doe v. Institute of Living, Inc., supra, 175 Conn. 58, 392 A.2d 491; New Haven v. United Illuminating Co., 168 Conn. 478, 485, 362 A.2d 785; Bania v. New Hartford, 138 Conn. 172, 176-77, 83 A.2d 165; 2A Sutherland, Statutory Construction (4th Ed.) §§ 51.01, 51.02. The provisions relied on by the plaintiff can scarcely be said to be in pari materia with § 51-29. See Levin-Townsend Computer Corporation v. Hartford, 166 Conn. 405, 411, 349 A.2d 853. Similarly, the cases on which the plaintiff relies to show that administrative proceedings should not be considered civil actions involve interpretations of provisions in title 52 of the General Statutes ("Civil Actions") and the issues raised in those cases are far removed from the concerns of § 51-29. See, e. g., Waterbury v. Waterbury Police Union, supra, and Bank Building & Equipment Corporation v. Architectural Examining Board, supra.

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