Rocque v. Design Land Developers of Milford, Inc.

Decision Date06 April 2004
Docket Number(AC 23701)
Citation82 Conn. App. 361,844 A.2d 882
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesARTHUR J. ROCQUE, JR., COMMISSIONER OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION v. DESIGN LAND DEVELOPERS OF MILFORD, INC.

Lavery, C. J., and Dranginis and Berdon, Js. Elizabeth C. Barton, with whom was Sharon M. Seligman, for the appellant (defendant).

Matthew Levine, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, and Mark P. Kindall and Kimberly P. Massicotte, assistant attorneys general, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Opinion

DRANGINIS, J.

The defendant, Design Land Developers of Milford, Inc., appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting the motion for contempt filed by the plaintiff, Arthur J. Rocque, Jr., the commissioner of environmental protection, for the defendant's alleged violation of a stipulated judgment. The dispositive issues in this appeal are whether (1) the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the commissioner's motion for contempt because the defendant was in compliance with the terms of the stipulated judgment prior to, and at the time of, the contempt hearing and (2) the court improperly found that the defendant had violated the terms of the stipulated judgment. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the defendant's appeal. The defendant operates a solid waste landfill in Milford. In June, 2001, the commissioner brought an action against the defendant, alleging various violations of the permit to operate the landfill. In his complaint, the commissioner alleged that the defendant had (1) exceeded the established height requirements by overfilling portions of the landfill, (2) failed to maintain proper grades and slopes of the landfill, (3) failed to extend public water service to homes located on Oronoque Road within six months of the landfill reopening and (4) failed to apply timely cover to portions of the landfill that had reached the final grade.

Prior to trial, the parties reached a settlement agreement, which became the stipulated judgment that was approved by the court on November 5, 2001. The judgment required the defendant (1) to operate the landfill according to a revised operation and management plan,1 (2) to cease depositing solid waste above the established grades, (3) to cease disposing solid waste after May 15, 2003, (4) to apply cover to and close the landfill according to the plan, and (5) to pay the cost to connect the homes on Oronoque Road to public water service. In addition, the defendant was required to pay a civil penalty of $100,000.

In July, 2002, the department of environmental protection (department) inspected the landfill and found numerous violations of the judgment. The department found that the defendant had not observed the plan requirements when it (1) failed to utilize the cell method of landfill operation, (2) failed to comply with the requirement of weekly coverage, (3) dumped waste beyond the permitted boundary of the landfill, (4) failed to shape the landfill to permit adequate storm water drainage, (5) failed to control the dust at the landfill and (6) failed to have a proper sign. The commissioner subsequently filed a motion for contempt against the defendant for violating the judgment. A hearing on the motion for contempt was scheduled for October 8, 2002. In its objection to the motion for contempt filed on October 4, 2002, the defendant denied that it was in contempt, claiming that it would establish at the hearing that it was in full compliance with the judgment. The court, in a written memorandum of decision on November 12, 2002, granted the commissioner's motion for contempt, but refused to grant the commissioner's request for a conditional order to close the landfill as a sanction if the defendant violated the judgment again. This appeal followed.

I

The defendant first claims that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the commissioner's motion for contempt because it was in compliance with the terms of the judgment prior to and at the time of the hearing. Specifically, the defendant claims that the court improperly invoked its contempt powers and that its compliance at the time of the hearing on the motion rendered the issue moot. We disagree.

"Our standard of review is very narrow, and we will afford great deference to the trial court's rulings.... We will not reverse the judgment of the trial court unless it can be shown that the trial court misapplied the law or could not reasonably have reached its conclusions as it did." (Citation omitted.) Lord v. Lord, 44 Conn. App. 370, 376, 689 A.2d 509, cert. denied, 241 Conn. 913, 696 A.2d 985 (1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1122, 118 S. Ct. 1065, 140 L. Ed. 2d 125 (1998).

At the outset, we note that there is no dispute between the parties that the defendant was in full compliance with the judgment at the time of the hearing on the motion for contempt. At the hearing, the defendant argued that the court had no jurisdiction to consider the motion because the defendant, at the time, was in compliance. In its memorandum of decision, the court "emphatically" disagreed, stating that "[t]he court has continuing jurisdiction to enforce its orders and judgments. When a defendant has violated a court judgment or order, its subsequently coming into compliance before the hearing does not deprive the court of jurisdiction of the matter. Otherwise a defendant could violate a court order or judgment and then comply with it without the court having power to reach him."

The court properly stated the rule of law in Connecticut. "[T]he trial court's continuing jurisdiction is not separate from, but, rather, derives from, its equitable authority to vindicate judgments. Moreover, we hold that such equitable authority does not derive from the trial court's contempt power, but, rather, from its inherent powers. See Connecticut Pharmaceutical Assn., Inc. v. Milano, [191 Conn. 555, 563, 468 A.2d 1230 (1983)] (recognizing `trial court's power to fashion a remedy appropriate to the vindication of a prior consent judgment'); Papa v. New Haven Federation of Teachers, 186 Conn. 725, 737, 444 A.2d 196 (1982) (recognizing `the inherent power of the court to coerce compliance with its orders'). Although the trial court found the noncompliant party to be in contempt in both Connecticut Pharmaceutical Assn., Inc., and Papa, nothing in those cases suggests that the court's authority `to fashion a remedy appropriate to the vindication of a prior consent judgment' derived from the finding of contempt. Connecticut Pharmaceutical Assn., Inc. v. Milano, supra, 563. Rather, the language in Papa suggests the converse: that the contempt power arises from the court's inherent power to vindicate prior judgments. See Papa v. New Haven Federation of Teachers, supra, 737 (`[t]he penalties which may be imposed [in a contempt proceeding] ... arise from the inherent power of the court to coerce compliance with its orders')." (Emphasis in original.) AvalonBay Communities, Inc. v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 260 Conn. 232, 241, 796 A.2d 1164 (2002).

"The interests of orderly government demand that respect and compliance be given to orders issued by courts possessed of jurisdiction of persons and subject matter. One who defies the public authority and willfully refuses his obedience, does so at his peril." United States v. United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 258, 303, 67 S. Ct. 677, 91 L. Ed. 884 (1947). "[A]n order issued by a court with jurisdiction over the subject matter and person must be obeyed by the parties until it is reversed by orderly and proper proceedings." Id., 293; see also W. R. Grace & Co. v. Local Union 759, International Union of United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum & Plastic Workers of America, 461 U.S. 757, 766, 103 S. Ct. 2177, 76 L. Ed. 2d 298 (1983); DeMartino v. Monroe Little League, Inc., 192 Conn. 271, 276-77, 471 A.2d 638 (1984).

The defendant argues in its brief that civil contempt is "designed to coerce the contemnor to achieve compliance, thus requiring that the contemnor be out of compliance, and to compensate the opposing legal party for losses sustained because of such noncompliance." (Emphasis added.) The defendant further argues that if there is no opportunity for the court to coerce the defendant to rectify existing noncompliance because, as here, there is compliance, any sanction imposed ceases to be remedial and coercive, but rather becomes wholly punitive, i.e., criminal, in nature. According to the defendant, the court's purely punitive finding of contempt is contrary to law. We disagree.

Our Supreme Court addressed that issue in In re Jeffrey C., 261 Conn. 189, 197-98, 802 A.2d 772 (2002). In that case, the respondent father agreed that he had failed to adhere to two of the court-ordered steps to regain custody of his minor child, namely, to refrain from engaging in criminal activities and from abusing substances. He was found to be in civil contempt and ordered to pay attorney's fees to the commissioner of children and families. He argued on appeal that the trial court effectively had held him in criminal contempt because he had not been given the opportunity to purge himself of the contempt by complying with those orders that he was found to have violated.

Our Supreme Court rejected that argument, stating: "[A]lthough it is true that, in civil contempt proceedings, the contemnor must be afforded the opportunity to purge himself of the contempt, this is only a consideration when punishment, such as imprisonment or a noncompensatory fine, has been imposed in accordance with the finding of contempt.... In the present case, the trial court did not impose a noncompensatory fine or other punishment. Rather, the trial court ordered that the respondent father pay attorney's fees pursuant to [General Statutes] § 52-256b to...

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  • Edmond v. Foisey
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
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    ...... must be obeyed by the parties. ..." (Emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Rocque v. Design Land Developers of Milford, Inc., 82 Conn.App. 361, 366, 844 A.2d 882 (2004). Before discussing the specifics of the defendant's claims, we identify the scope of our review. In Papa ......
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    ...("[e]very court must of necessity possess the power to enforce obedience to its lawful orders"); Rocque v. Design Land Developers of Milford, Inc ., 82 Conn.App. 361, 366, 844 A.2d 882 (2004) ("[t]he interests of orderly government demand that respect and compliance be given to orders issue......
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    ...implicates [this] court's subject matter jurisdiction ...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Rocque v. Design Land Developers of Milford, Inc. , 82 Conn.App. 361, 369 n.3, 844 A.2d 882 (2004). "If there is no longer an actual controversy in which [this court] can afford practical relief ......
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    ...could reasonably have concluded as it did." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Rocque v. Design Land Developers of Milford, Inc., 82 Conn.App. 361, 370, 844 A.2d 882 (2004). The plaintiff's first claim is that the court improperly found her in contempt for acts and time p......
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