Paniccia v. Success Vill. Apartments, Inc.

Decision Date11 October 2022
Docket NumberAC 44322
Citation215 Conn.App. 705,284 A.3d 341
Parties David PANICCIA v. SUCCESS VILLAGE APARTMENTS, INC., et al.
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Megan E. Bryson, Stamford, for the appellant (named defendant).

Richard E. Hayber, Hartford, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Prescott, Suarez and Bishop, Js.

PRESCOTT, J.

In this breach of contract action, the named defendant, Success Village Apartments, Inc.,1 appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a second court trial, in favor of the plaintiff, David Paniccia, the defendant's former employee. In 2018, following the first court trial of this matter, the court, Arnold, J. , rendered judgment for the defendant on the plaintiff's claims for breach of an employment contract, violations of General Statutes §§ 31-71b and 31-72,2 and breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. Thereafter, however, Judge Arnold granted the plaintiff's motion to open and vacate the judgment because his judgment was rendered untimely pursuant to General Statutes § 51-183b, which requires that a trial court render a decision within 120 days after the completion of a civil trial.3 After conducting a second court trial in 2019, the court, Jacobs, J. , rendered judgment for the plaintiff and awarded him $172,969.90 in damages, which included $11,672.46 in prejudgment interest on back wages.

On appeal, the defendant claims that Judge Arnold improperly granted the plaintiff's motion to open and vacate the 2018 judgment for the defendant. In the alternative, the defendant claims that Judge Jacobs improperly (1) relied on parol evidence rather than the employment contract in finding that the contract was valid and enforceable and (2) awarded the plaintiff prejudgment interest pursuant to General Statutes § 37-3a. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts, as found by Judge Jacobs or that are otherwise undisputed in the record, and procedural history are relevant to the defendant's claims. The defendant is a nonprofit residential community association registered with the state of Connecticut. In January, 2012, pursuant to a written employment contract, the defendant, through its board of directors (board), hired the plaintiff as its property manager for a term of two years, beginning on January 25, 2012 (2012 contract). Under the 2012 contract, the plaintiff earned a yearly salary of $85,000 and received health and dental insurance. The contract included a termination provision, which provided: "Employee shall receive sixty ([6]0) days advance written notice of the Employer's decision to terminate. Prior to termination, Employee shall receive a written complaint detailing the issue(s) needing attention or correction and will be given a ninety (90) day period to cure, resolve and/or correct such listed issue(s)." In October, 2013, the board executed an option to renew the 2012 contract for an additional term of two years, beginning on January 25, 2014 (2013 renewal).

On October 13, 2015, the board approved and executed a new employment contract with the plaintiff, pursuant to which the plaintiff was hired as the defendant's community association manager for a term of two years, beginning on January 25, 2016 (2015 contract). Although the contract was dated October 12, 2015, the court found, on the basis of testimony from members of the board, that the board approved the contract on October 13, 2015, at a special meeting. The 2015 contract provided that the plaintiff would earn a yearly salary of $90,000 with various benefits, including health, dental, and disability insurance.

On December 30, 2015, the defendant notified the plaintiff that his employment would be terminated as of January 25, 2016. In May, 2016, the plaintiff commenced the underlying action against the defendant.4 In the operative three count amended complaint dated July 13, 2017, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant, by preventing him from performing under the 2015 contract and by failing to pay him pursuant to the terms of the 2015 contract, (1) breached the 2015 contract, (2) violated §§ 31-71b and 31-72, which require that an employer pay an employee's wages weekly and provide for penalty damages in a civil action brought to recover such wages, and (3) breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In his prayer for relief, the plaintiff sought "back pay, front pay, and the value of benefits," interest, and costs, as well as penalty damages and attorney's fees pursuant to § 31-72.

The defendant denied the material allegations in the complaint and alleged the following seven special defenses: (1) The plaintiff obtained the 2012 contract by fraud; (2) the plaintiff's employment contracts are invalid and/or unenforceable pursuant to statute; (3) the 2013 renewal is invalid and unenforceable because the 2012 contract was obtained by fraud; (4) the board's approval of the 2015 contract was invalid; (5) the plaintiff's termination was as of right under the employment contracts; (6) the plaintiff was paid for his services through the end of the 2013 renewal, inclusive of benefits; and (7) the plaintiff failed to mitigate his damages.5

As previously stated, the case initially was tried to Judge Arnold. The trial began on July 25, 2017, and was completed on September 25, 2017, when Judge Arnold received the parties’ posttrial briefs.6 On January 16, 2018, the parties filed a joint stipulation providing that they "agree that Judge Arnold will have until March 14, 2018, to issue a ruling." Judge Arnold issued his memorandum of decision on April 16, 2018, rendering judgment for the defendant on all counts of the complaint. Judge Arnold found that the board approved and signed the 2015 contract during an executive session on October 12, 2015, in violation of General Statutes § 47-250 (b) (1), which provides in relevant part: "No final vote or action may be taken during an executive session...." Accordingly, Judge Arnold held that the 2015 contract was void and unenforceable.

On April 26, 2018, the plaintiff moved to open and vacate the judgment and for a new trial, claiming that the court's decision was untimely under § 51-183b. On October 3, 2018, Judge Arnold granted the motion over the defendant's objection, and Judge Jacobs held a new trial over the course of three days in December, 2019.

The parties submitted posttrial briefs in January, 2020, and Judge Jacobs issued a memorandum of decision on June 16, 2020, rendering judgment for the plaintiff on all counts of his complaint. Although the court found that the defendant had proven its sixth special defense regarding payment of the plaintiff's full salary and benefits under the 2013 renewal, it rejected the defendant's remaining special defenses. Contrary to Judge Arnold's conclusion regarding the 2015 contract, the court found that the 2015 contract was valid and enforceable. The court found that the defendant breached the 2015 contract by preventing the plaintiff from performing under the contract and by failing to pay him pursuant to the contract. The court also found that the defendant's failure to pay the plaintiff his salary violated § 31-71b and that the plaintiff was entitled to penalty damages on the unpaid wages pursuant to § 31-72 because the defendant neither pleaded nor presented evidence in support of the good faith exception under the statute.7 See General Statutes § 31-72 (2) (plaintiff not entitled to twice full amount of unpaid wages "if the employer establishes that the employer had a good faith belief that the underpayment of wages was in compliance with law"). The court awarded the plaintiff $172,969.90 in damages, which included: $69,176.85 for back wages; $11,672.46 in interest on back wages at a rate of 5 percent;8 $69,176.85 as penalty damages under § 31-72 ; and $22,981.63 for the value of lost health insurance.

On July 6, 2020, the defendant filed a motion to reargue and a supporting memorandum of law, claiming that the court improperly: (1) relied on witness testimony to alter the execution date of the 2015 contract in violation of the parol evidence rule; (2) determined that the plaintiff's failure to obtain a certificate for "association management services" while providing "community association manager" services, as required under General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 20-457,9 did not render the 2012 contract and 2013 renewal unenforceable under General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 20-458;10 and (3) awarded prejudgment interest "without any basis in law." The plaintiff filed a memorandum of law in opposition to the defendant's motion on July 9, 2020, arguing that the issues raised by the defendant were not proper for reargument. On July 17, 2020, the defendant filed a reply memorandum, and Judge Jacobs heard oral argument on the motion on September 8, 2020.

On September 24, 2020, the court issued a memorandum of decision denying the motion as to the defendant's first two claims but granting reargument as to the defendant's claim that the court improperly awarded prejudgment interest without statutory citation. Judge Jacobs noted that "[r]eargument shall be scheduled by the court clerk." On October 13, 2020, the defendant filed the present appeal.

On November 27, 2020, the defendant filed a motion for articulation, requesting that Judge Jacobs articulate her factual findings and legal conclusions regarding the applicability of the parol evidence rule with respect to the execution of the 2015 contract. Judge Jacobs denied the motion for articulation on January 19, 2021, and the defendant filed a motion for review of that ruling. On March 17, 2021, this court granted review but denied the relief requested.

On December 21, 2021, this court marked over the scheduled argument in the appeal and ordered, sua sponte, the parties to file memoranda on or before January 13, 2022, limited to two issues: "(1) [Whether] the rationale of Gardner v. Falvey , 45 Conn. App....

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1 cases
  • Prioleau v. Agosta
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • July 4, 2023
    ...such motions are governed by Practice Book § 11-11." Paniccia v. Success Village Apartments, Inc., 215 Conn.App. 705, 715 n.ll, 284 A.3d 341 (2022); see also Disturco v. Gates in New Canaan, LLC, Conn.App. 526, 536, 253 A.3d 1033 (2021) ("[section] 11-11 do[es] not require the court to sche......

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