Connor v. Statewide Grievance Committee

Decision Date04 June 2002
Docket Number(SC 16703)
Citation260 Conn. 435,797 A.2d 1081
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Borden, Katz, Palmer, Vertefeuille and Zarella, Js. Haldan E. Connor, Jr., pro se, the appellant (plaintiff).

Cathy A. Dowd, assistant bar counsel, for the appellee (defendant).



The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether the trial court properly dismissed the appeal by the plaintiff, Haldan E. Connor, Jr., from the adverse decision of the defendant, the statewide grievance committee, based upon the court's determination that the plaintiff's failure to serve the complaint on the defendant in accordance with General Statutes § 52-50 (a)2 rendered service defective under Practice Book § 2-38(a)3 and, therefore, deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction. We conclude that service by mail of the plaintiff's appeal was proper under § 2-38 (a) and that, accordingly, the trial court improperly dismissed the plaintiff's appeal.

The record discloses the following undisputed facts. On October 21, 2000, a reviewing committee of the defendant issued a reprimand against the plaintiff based upon its determination that he had violated rules 1.15, 1.8 and 1.9 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The plaintiff thereafter filed a request for review with the defendant, which upheld the reprimand by a decision dated December 22, 2000. On January 19, 2001, the plaintiff appealed from that decision to the Superior Court and a copy of the appeal was sent to the defendant by certified mail, return receipt requested. The defendant received a copy of the appeal and, on February 13, 2001, it filed an answer.

Thereafter, the trial court, sua sponte, ordered the parties to appear on March 19, 2001, to address whether the plaintiff's service of the appeal was jurisdictionally defective. In a memorandum of decision issued May 10, 2001, the trial court noted that Practice Book § 2-38 (a) requires that an appeal from an adverse decision by the defendant must be served "in the same manner as in civil actions." The trial court determined that General Statutes § 52-50 (a) sets forth the appropriate standard for service in civil actions, which requires that service be "directed to a state marshal, a constable or other proper officer . . . ." Because the plaintiff had failed to serve the complaint in accordance with § 52-50 (a), the trial court determined that it was deprived of jurisdiction. Accordingly, the trial court dismissed the plaintiff's appeal.

On May 29, 2001, the plaintiff filed the present appeal from the judgment of dismissal to the Appellate Court, and we transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 65-1 and General Statutes § 51-199 (c). The plaintiff claims on appeal that the trial court improperly determined that the requirement under Practice Book § 2-38 (a), that a copy of an appeal "shall be served on the statewide bar counsel as agent for the statewide grievance committee in the same manner as in civil actions," mandates compliance with General Statutes § 52-50. (Emphasis added.) The plaintiff contends that § 52-50 is inapplicable because it addresses service of process. Instead, he directs our attention to Practice Book § 10-12, which he claims informs what constitutes service "in the same manner as in civil actions," the requirements of which the plaintiff claims he satisfied by mailing the appeal to the defendant. Moreover, the plaintiff claims that satisfaction of service of mesne process under § 52-50 is unnecessary to establish the trial court's jurisdiction when, as in the present case, it has inherent supervisory authority over attorney conduct. We conclude that the plaintiff's mailing of the appeal was proper. We further conclude that, even if service of process in accordance with § 52-50 had been required under Practice Book § 2-38 (a), any failure to comply with those procedures would have deprived the court of personal, and not subject matter, jurisdiction, which was waived by the failure of the defendant to challenge timely the court's jurisdiction over its person.


Our resolution of this case is guided by our well established statutory construction jurisprudence. See Thalheim v. Greenwich, 256 Conn. 628, 639, 775 A.2d 947 (2001) (rules of statutory construction apply with equal force to rules of practice). "The process of statutory interpretation involves a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature. . . . In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of this case . . . . In seeking to determine that meaning, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter. . . . Luce v. United Technologies Corp., 247 Conn. 126, 133, 717 A.2d 747 (1998). In construing a statute, common sense must be used and courts must assume that a reasonable and rational result was intended. Kron v. Thelen, 178 Conn. 189, 192, 423 A.2d 857 (1979); accord Willow Springs Condominium Assn., Inc. v. Seventh BRT Development Corp., 245 Conn. 1, 26, 717 A.2d 77 (1998). Finally, because the question presented [in] this appeal involves an issue of statutory construction, our review is plenary. E.g., Coley v. Camden Associates, Inc., 243 Conn. 311, 318, 702 A.2d 1180 (1997). . . . Schreck v. Stamford, 250 Conn. 592, 596-97, 737 A.2d 916 (1999)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Modern Cigarette, Inc. v. Orange, 256 Conn. 105, 120-21, 774 A.2d 969 (2001).

Prior to 1998, the rules of practice provided that a copy of an appeal from an adverse decision by the defendant "shall be served in accordance with Sec. 120." Practice Book, 1997, § 27N (a)4 (now § 2-38 [a]). Section 120 contained no text but was merely the title section for a series of rules dealing with service of pleadings. See Practice Book, 1997, §§ 121 through 126. Included in the series was Practice Book, 1997, § 122 (now § 10-13), which directed that service of pleadings, other than those asserting new or additional claims for relief against parties who have not appeared, be made by delivering or mailing a copy to the attorney or pro se party. Pleadings asserting such new or additional claims for relief were to be served in the same manner that an original writ or complaint is served. In 1998, § 27N was replaced with § 2-38, at which time the language "served . . . in the same manner as in civil actions" was substituted for "served in accordance with Sec. 120." Focusing on this change in language, the trial court in the present case concluded that, because § 120 had allowed service to be by certified mail, the elimination of that reference in § 2-38 (a) necessarily demanded that service be in accordance with General Statutes § 52-50, which prescribes the manner of civil process. The trial court therefore concluded that the plaintiff was required to direct service to a "proper officer" as required under § 52-50. We reject this reasoning.

First, we note that the plain language of Practice Book § 2-38 (a) does not provide that service shall be made in the same manner as "process" in civil actions. In light of the fact that that term has been included in several other rules of practice related to service; see Practice Book §§ 8-1 (a)5 and 72-3(b);6 we find its absence from § 2-38 (a) significant. Second, although the reference to § 120 was eliminated from § 2-38 (a), the procedural requirements of § 2-38 (a) are more consistent with those set forth in Practice Book § 10-12, (formerly § 121) (appeal filed with court before service of copy to counsel) than with the requirements of mesne process.7 See footnotes 4 and 5 of this opinion. Third, there is no indication that the drafters of the rules intended any significant change in service by the 1998 amendment to the rules of practice. Rather, the elimination of the reference to § 120 in § 2-38 (a) correlated to the elimination of all title sections from the Practice Book. In fact, the commentary to the proposed change indicates that it was intended to give the defendant a better opportunity to review alleged deficiencies in a reprimand prior to appellate review by the courts. See Practice Book Rules Being Considered by the Rules Committee of the Superior Court, 58 Conn. L.J., No. 46, p. 38PB, commentary to Practice Book, 1997, § 27N (May 13, 1997) (stating purpose was to "allow a respondent to appeal a decision by a reviewing committee reprimanding the respondent in the same manner as an appeal of a decision of the Statewide Grievance Committee, except that the respondent must file a timely request with the Statewide Grievance Committee to review the reviewing committee's decision pursuant to Sec. 27J [g]"). Accordingly, there is nothing, expressed or implied, to suggest a shift in service to a sheriff when appealing a decision by the defendant.

Therefore, we conclude that § 2-38 (a) merely required the plaintiff to serve the defendant by mail. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court must be reversed. We take this opportunity, however, to clarify any confusion on the issue of jurisdiction should questions regarding defects in service in connection with grievance proceedings arise in the future.


It is true that when a particular method of serving process is set forth by statute, that method must be followed. Hyde v. Richard, 145 Conn. 24, 25, 138 A.2d 527 (1958); FitzSimmons v. International Assn. of Machinists, 125 Conn. 490, 493, 7 A.2d 448 (1939). Unless service of process is made as the statute prescribes, the court to which it is returnable does not acquire jurisdiction. Hyde v. Richard, supra, 25; FitzSimmons v. International Assn. of Machinists, supra, 493. The...

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