Martocchio v. Savoir

Decision Date09 August 2011
Docket NumberAC 31363
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

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The syllabus and procedural history accompanying the opinion as it appears on the Commission on Official Legal Publications Electronic Bulletin Board Service and in the Connecticut Law Journal and bound volumes of official reports are copyrighted by the Secretary of the State, State of Connecticut, and may not be reproduced and distributed without the express written permission of the Commission on Official Legal Publications, Judicial Branch, State of Connecticut.Bear, Espinosa and Borden, Js.

(Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of

Tolland, Abery-Wetstone, J.)

Henry J. Martocchio, pro se, the appellant (plaintiff).

JoAnn Paul, for the appellees (defendants Roland Savoir et al.).


PER CURIAM. The plaintiff, Henry J. Martocchio, appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting the motion for contempt brought by the defendants Roland Savoir and Tina Savoir1 (grandparents) and ordering that the plaintiff submit to a psychological evaluation. On appeal, the plaintiff claims, inter alia, that the court improperly concluded that he was in contempt of a previous court order and that the court abused its discretion in ordering that he submit to a psychological evaluation.2 We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts, as found by the court, and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff and Stephanie A. Savoir (mother) are the parents of a minor child. The parties were not married at the time of the minor child's birth and the plaintiff was initially unaware that he was the child's father. Subsequent paternity tests revealed that the plaintiff is the biological father of the minor child. In August, 2006, the child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. On July 28, 2008, the court, Shluger, J., granted the plaintiff sole custody of the minor child. The court granted the grandparents visitation rights every other weekend and granted the mother visitation rights once a week during the grandparents' visitation time or at a professional visitation facility. The court ordered that the mother and grandparents shall not interfere with the plaintiff's choice of physician, medication or educational options for the minor child.

In July, 2009, the grandparents brought a motion for contempt, claiming, inter alia, that the plaintiff prevented them from visiting with the minor child in accordance with Judge Shluger's order. After a hearing, the court, Abery-Wetstone, J., found that the evidence ''clearly indicates that there were clear court orders in [effect and] that father unilaterally decided he wasn't going to follow those court orders and terminated contact between grandparents and grandchild.''3 The court, thereafter, held the plaintiff in contempt. Additionally, the court ordered that the plaintiff undergo a psychological evaluation before filing any other motions, after finding that the plaintiff lacked control in the courtroom and had an ''extreme'' attitude toward the care of his son. This appeal followed.4

We begin by setting forth our well settled standard of review. ''Our review of a judgment of contempt is limited. Contempt is a disobedience to the rules and orders of a court which has power to punish for such an offense. . . . Contempt may be civil or criminal in character. . . . If the underlying court order was sufficiently clear and unambiguous, we . . . determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in issuing ... a judgment of contempt, which includes a reviewof the trial court's determination of whether the violation was wilful or excused by a good faith dispute or misunderstanding. . . . The trial court's findings are binding upon this court unless they are clearly erroneous in light of the evidence and the pleadings in the record as a whole. . . . We cannot retry the facts or pass on the credibility of the witnesses. . . . The credibility of witnesses, the findings of fact and the drawing of inferences are all within the province of the trier of fact.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Johnson v. Johnson, 111 Conn. App. 413, 420-21, 959 A.2d 637 (2008).

In the present case, we conclude that the court's findings were not clearly erroneous and the court did not abuse its discretion in holding the plaintiff in contempt. There was a clear order of the court granting visitation rights to the grandparents. The plaintiffadmit-ted violating that order by preventing the grandparents from visiting the minor child. The court found that there was no credible evidence that the grandparents were not properly administering the child's medications and, as such, there was no good faith justification for the plaintiff's deliberate violation of the court order. Therefore, the court properly held the plaintiff in contempt.

Moreover, we conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion by ordering that the plaintiff undergo a psychological evaluation. ''The court's authority to impose civil contempt penalties arises not from statutory provisions but from the common law. . . . The penalties which may be imposed, therefore, arise from the inherent power of the court to coerce compliance with its orders. In Connecticut, the court has the authority in civil contempt to impose on the contemnor either incarceration or a fine or both.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Gil v. Gil, 94 Conn. App. 306, 310, 892 A.2d 318 (2006). This court has held that the trial court has the discretion to order a contemnor to submit to a psychological evaluation if it is necessary to enforce a court's earlier order. Johnson v. Johnson, supra, 111 Conn. App. 427 (''[a] trial court has the power even to incarcerate contemnors in civil contempt cases until they purge themselves . . . and we see no reason why it should not be able to order a contemnor to undergo a psychological evaluation if that is necessary to enforce the court's earlier judgment'' [citations omitted]).

We conclude that the court's order that the plaintiff undergo a psychological evaluation was within its inherent power to ensure...

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