Hinde v. Specialized Educ. of Conn., Inc.

Decision Date28 January 2014
Docket NumberNo. 35265.,35265.
Citation147 Conn.App. 730,84 A.3d 895
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesKim HINDE v. SPECIALIZED EDUCATION OF CONNECTICUT, INC.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Katrena Engstrom, with whom, on the brief, was John R. Williams, New Haven, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Sandra Rachel Stanfield, for the appellee (defendant).

LAVINE, ROBINSON and ALVORD, Js.*

ROBINSON, J.

The plaintiff, Kim Hinde, appeals from the trial court's judgment dismissing her action for failure to exhaust her administrative remedies against the defendant, Specialized Education of Connecticut, Inc., before filing her employment discrimination action directly with the Superior Court. The plaintiff claims that the court erred by (1) misinterpreting a prior order dismissing her original complaint, (2) failing to make findings as to her arguments of estoppel and alter ego, and (3) concluding that she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with respect to both her cause of action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Title VII), and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, General Statutes § 46a–51 et seq. (CFEPA). We affirm the trial court's judgment of dismissal.

The record reveals the following facts and procedural history necessary to our resolution of the plaintiff's appeal. The plaintiff, a teaching assistant at High Road School in Wallingford, filed a complaint and charge of discrimination with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (commission) against Specialized Education Services, Inc. (SESI), in March, 2011, alleging that, because of her gender, she had been sexually harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment. After a mandatory mediation conference between the plaintiff and SESI, the plaintiff received a release of jurisdiction in December, 2011, to file an action against SESI in the Superior Court.

On February 24, 2012, the plaintiff filed her original complaint (February, 2012 complaint) in the New Haven Superior Court. When filing that complaint, the plaintiff listed “Specialized Student Education Services, Inc.,” as the defendant on the summons and caption of the complaint, but named “Specialized Education of Connecticut (‘SESI’) as the defendant in the body of the complaint.1 The plaintiff referred to the defendant as SESI throughout the entire complaint and served SESI with the complaint and summons. 2

On April 12, 2012, the plaintiff filed a motion to correct the caption, requesting that the caption list “Specialized Education of Connecticut, Inc.,” as the defendant. The defendant filed an objection to the motion to correct the caption, stating that it was not proper to substitute an entity that had not been served properly. The court, Silbert, J., denied the plaintiff's motion.

SESI then filed a motion to dismiss, claiming lack of personal jurisdiction. It argued that there was no personal jurisdiction for the court to hear the case because the plaintiff was not an employee of SESI, but rather an employee of the defendant, which was a distinct and separate entity, and was not named as a defendant in the February, 2012 complaint. SESI supported its motion with an affidavit from Nancy Kelly, Director of Human Resources for SESI, who averred that the defendant and SESI were separate, independent entities, and that, at all times pertinent to the complaint, the plaintiff was not an employee of SESI.

The plaintiff filed an objection to the motion to dismiss, arguing that SESI was the parent corporation of the defendant, and that SESI had represented itself to the plaintiff as her employer. Accordingly, the plaintiff argued that SESI had waived the issue of personal jurisdiction, or, alternatively, that SESI should be estopped from claiming that it was not the plaintiff's employer.3 The plaintiff supported her objection with administrative paperwork she had in her possession bearing SESI's logo. 4

After a hearing held on May 21, 2012, the court, Frechette, J., rejected SESI's claim of lack of personal jurisdiction, reasoning that SESI should have brought its motion to dismiss under a claim of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court ordered supplemental briefing on this issue. The court also ordered supplemental briefing on how the plaintiff's arguments of waiver and estoppel would apply to a motion to dismiss grounded in lack of subject matter jurisdiction.SESI filed a supplemental brief and affidavit in support of its motion to dismiss addressing those issues. An affidavit from Brooke Violante, the defendant's Chief School Director, was attached thereto, attesting that the defendant and SESI were separate entities, and that the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant for all times relevant to the plaintiff's complaint. The plaintiff did not file a supplemental brief, and neither party requested an evidentiary hearing. 5 The court granted the motion to dismiss on September 24, 2012, after finding that “Specialized Student Education Services, Inc.,” 6 presented “uncontroverted evidence via affidavit that it was not the employer of the plaintiff.” The plaintiff did not appeal from that order, and neither party moved for an articulation.7

On October 11, 2012, the plaintiff filed the present action against the defendant in the Meriden Superior Court.8 The defendant then filed a motion to dismiss claiming that, pursuant to CFEPA and Title VII, the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies against the defendant prior to filing the action in the Superior Court. The plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss to which the defendant replied. The plaintiff argued that the exhaustion requirement should be set aside by the court under the doctrines of waiver and estoppel because SESI was the alter ego of the defendant, and, therefore, the defendant was aware of, and had participated in, the proceedings before the commission. The matter was heard on short calendar on December 10, 2012. Again, neither party requested an evidentiary hearing. In its December 12, 2012 memorandum of decision, the court, J. Fischer, J., noted that there already was a judicial determination by Judge Frechette that SESI was not the plaintiff's employer, and that the defendant and SESI were separate entities. Accordingly, the court concluded that the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to the defendant and dismissed the plaintiff's action. This appeal followed.

We begin by setting forth our standard of review. “In an appeal from the granting of a motion to dismiss on the ground of subject matter jurisdiction, this court's review is plenary. A determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law. When ... the trial court draws conclusions of law, our review is plenary and we must decide whether its conclusions are legally and logically correct and find support in the facts that appear in the record.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Chayoon v. Sherlock, 89 Conn.App. 821, 825–26, 877 A.2d 4, cert. denied, 276 Conn. 913, 888 A.2d 83 (2005), cert. denied, 547 U.S. 1138, 126 S.Ct. 2042, 164 L.Ed.2d 797 (2006).

I

The plaintiff claims that the court erred in its interpretation of Judge Frechette's order granting SESI's motion to dismiss the February, 2012 complaint. The plaintiff argues that Judge Frechette dismissed the claims against Specialized Student Education Services, Inc., not SESI, and that Judge Frechette did so because no such corporation existed, and because the plaintiff's counsel acknowledged that listing Specialized Student Education Services, Inc., as the defendant was a misnomer. Additionally, the plaintiff contends that the court erred in concluding that Judge Frechette had found the defendant and SESI to be separate entities. We do not agree.

“Because [t]he construction of a judgment is a question of law for the court ... our review of the ... claim is plenary. As a general rule, judgments are to be construed in the same fashion as other written instruments.... The determinative factor is the intention of the court as gathered from all parts of the judgment.... The interpretation of a judgment may involve the circumstances surrounding the making of the judgment.... Effect must be given to that which is clearly implied as well as to that which is expressed.... The judgment should admit of a consistent construction as a whole.” (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Chapman Lumber, Inc. v. Tager, 288 Conn. 69, 91–92, 952 A.2d 1 (2008).

Judge Frechette specifically found that “Specialized Student Education Services, Inc., has submitted uncontroverted evidence via affidavit that it was not the employer of the plaintiff. (See affidavit of Nancy Kelly, attached to [the] motion to dismiss.) The plaintiff did not dispute at oral argument that she sued the incorrect entity, and that [it] was not her employer.” The plaintiff argues that this is a finding that Specialized Student Education Services, Inc.—an entity that the plaintiff concedes does not exist—is not the plaintiff's employer, and therefore, that it is an order dismissing the plaintiff's February, 2012 complaint against Specialized Student Education Services, Inc. Additionally, the plaintiff argues that there is no finding by Judge Frechette in his order that SESI and the defendant are separate and independent entities. The defendant argues that this is a finding that SESI—the party that the plaintiff actually served, that appeared in court and that submitted affidavits—is not the plaintiff's employer, and therefore, that it is an order dismissing the plaintiff's complaint against SESI. The defendant also argues that it is implicit in Judge Frechette's finding that he rejected the plaintiff's claim that SESI was the alter ego of the defendant, and therefore, that it is a finding that SESI and the defendant are separate and independent entities. Although Judge Frechette's order...

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