Seramonte Assocs., LLC v. Town of Hamden

Decision Date02 February 2021
Docket NumberAC 42770
Citation246 A.3d 513,202 Conn.App. 467
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
Parties SERAMONTE ASSOCIATES, LLC v. TOWN OF HAMDEN

Brenden P. Leydon, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Zachary J. Phillips, with whom was Adam J. Blank, for the appellee (defendant).

Bright, C. J., and Alvord and Oliver, Js.

OLIVER, J.

The plaintiff, Seramonte Associates, LLC, appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the town of Hamden, as to count one of the plaintiff's complaint and granting the defendant's motion to strike the plaintiff's constitutional claims in count two. On appeal, the plaintiff claims, with respect to count one, that the court erred in holding that the word ‘‘submit’’ as used in General Statutes § 12-63c requires that certain tax forms have to be received by the defendant by June 1, and, with respect to count two, that the court erred in granting the defendant's motion to strike, because the penalty imposed for the plaintiff's late submission of the tax forms amounts to a fine that violates the excessive fines clauses of the federal and the state constitutions. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following undisputed facts and procedural history, as set forth by the trial court in its memorandum of decision and otherwise gleaned from the record, are relevant to the plaintiff's claims on appeal. The plaintiff was the owner of certain parcels of rental property located in Hamden known as 520 Mix Avenue, 609 Mix Avenue, and 617 Mix Avenue (properties). On February 1, 2016, the assessor for the defendant assessed those properties at $15,683,080 for 520 Mix Avenue, $2,927,890 for 609 Mix Avenue, and $10,521,560 for 617 Mix Avenue. Pursuant to § 12-63c (a), the plaintiff was required to ‘‘submit to the assessor not later than the first day of June’’ certain tax forms.1 The assessor sent the required forms to the plaintiff, and the cover letter to those forms stated: ‘‘It should be clearly understood that if the attached report is not completed and submitted to the [a]ssessor's [o]ffice by June 1, 2016, it will result in a 10 [percent] penalty being applied to your assessment per [ § 12-63c ].’’ Additionally, the cover letter stated that ‘‘[s]ubmission means this form is physically in the [a]ssessor's office by 4:30 on June 1, 2016, faxes, e-mails and postmarks will not be accepted.’’ The plaintiff sent the required forms to the assessor by first class mail on May 31, 2016, and it is undisputed that the assessor received them on June 2, 2016. Because the required forms were not received on or before June 1, the assessor, pursuant to § 12-63c (d), imposed a 10 percent penalty, amounting to $132,145.16, that was added to the assessments of the properties.

On September 28, 2016, pursuant to General Statutes § 12-119,2 the plaintiff commenced by service of process an appeal in the Superior Court claiming that the valuation of the properties, which included the 10 percent penalty, was excessive. Pursuant to General Statutes § 12-111,3 the plaintiff also timely appealed to the defendant's Board of Assessment Appeals (board) the assessor's imposition of the 10 percent penalty. The plaintiff appeared before the board on March 2, 2017, and, on March 21, 2017, the board issued its decision denying the plaintiff's appeal.

On February 27, 2017, the plaintiff filed a withdrawal form in the Superior Court, stating that it was withdrawing its claim insofar as it alleged excessive assessments, and that it was proceeding with its claim insofar as it concerned the impropriety of the 10 percent penalty added to the assessments. On March 27, 2017, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and, on April 26, 2017, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment.

On May 1, 2017, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint (operative complaint) to clarify, in part, its February 27, 2017 withdrawal form. In the operative complaint, the plaintiff alleged, in count one, that the board improperly had upheld the assessor's imposition of the 10 percent penalty and, in count two, that the penalty was unconstitutional under the excessive fines clauses of both the federal and the state constitutions. See U.S. Const., amend VIII ; Conn. Const., art. I, § 8. On July 3, 2017, the defendant filed a motion to strike count two of the plaintiff's operative complaint on the ground that it failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted, arguing that the excessive fines clauses of both the federal and the state constitutions do not apply to tax penalties.

On December 21, 2017, the defendant filed a new motion for summary judgment as to count one of the plaintiff's operative complaint. The defendant argued that it properly had imposed the 10 percent penalty pursuant to § 12-63c, because the plaintiff failed to submit its income and expense report to the defendant by June 1, 2016. The plaintiff argued in its own motion for summary judgment that the defendant's interpretation of § 12-63c was legally incorrect. On February 5, 2019, the court denied the plaintiff's April 26, 2017 motion for summary judgment, and it granted the defendant's December 21, 2017 motion for summary judgment as to count one of the plaintiff's operative complaint. In its memorandum of decision on the motions for summary judgment, the court recognized that the word ‘‘submit’’ is not defined in § 12-63c, and it reasoned that, because different dictionary definitions of ‘‘submit’’ could support either party's interpretation, the term was ambiguous. The court also determined that the statute's legislative history did not clarify the meaning of the word ‘‘submit.’’ The court, however, explained that in MSK Properties, LLC v. Hartford , Superior Court, judicial district of New Britain, Docket No. CV-15-6029158-S (July 3, 2017) (64 Conn. L. Rptr. 747, 753–54), 2017 WL 3332728, the Superior Court interpreted the language of the statute to mean that a town must receive the tax forms by June 1. Additionally, the court noted that, ‘‘in interpreting another tax statute, General Statutes § 12-41 (e) (1), [the] Superior Court [has] held that ‘file’ [by November 1] as used in that statute, meant that the tax information had to be received by the town by November 1.’’ See SBC Internet Services, Inc. v. Bridgeport , Superior Court, judicial district of Fairfield, Docket No. CV-06-6000408-S (February 14, 2008) (44 Conn. L. Rptr. 870, 871), 2008 WL 589008. Accordingly, the court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment, holding that the word ‘‘submit,’’ as used in § 12-63c, ‘‘means that the town must receive the tax forms by June 1 of each year.’’

Also on February 5, 2019, in a separate memorandum of decision, the court granted the defendant's motion to strike count two of the plaintiff's operative complaint, agreeing with the defendant that the excessive fines clauses of both the federal and the state constitutions do not apply to tax penalties. With respect to the federal constitution, the court held that the tax penalty in § 12-63c is remedial, rather than punitive, because ‘‘it is imposed to ensure compliance with the timely payment of taxes and to deter delinquent payment of taxes, which could harm the government with additional expenses of ensuring compliance in collecting those taxes.’’ Accordingly, because the federal excessive fines clause applies only to those forfeitures that may be characterized as ‘‘punitive’’; see United States v. Viloski , 814 F.3d 104, 109 (2d Cir. 2016), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 137 S. Ct. 1223, 197 L. Ed. 2d 462 (2017) ; the court held that the federal excessive fines clause did not apply.

With respect to the state constitution, the court held that the 10 percent penalty in § 12-63c is not a ‘‘fine’’ within the meaning of the excessive fines clause. The court relied on the definition of ‘‘fine’’ set forth in Bankers Trust Co. v. Blodgett , 96 Conn. 361, 368, 114 A. 104 (1921), aff'd, 260 U.S. 647, 43 S. Ct. 233, 67 L. Ed. 439 (1923), in which our Supreme Court stated that ‘‘[a] fine is a pecuniary punishment imposed by a lawful tribunal upon a person convicted of crime or misdemeanor.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) The court explained that the tax penalty in § 12-63c ‘‘is not punishment imposed due to conviction of a felony or a misdemeanor. Rather, it is a tool to ensure payment of the tax and punish evasion or neglect.’ Accordingly, the court concluded that the tax penalty is not a violation of the excessive fines clause of the state constitution.4 The court rendered judgment on the second count of the plaintiff's operative complaint on March 18, 2019. This appeal followed.

I

The plaintiff first challenges the summary judgment rendered in favor of the defendant as to count one of its operative complaint and claims that the trial court erred when it held that the word ‘‘submit’’ as used in § 12-63c means that the defendant must receive the tax forms by June 1 of each year. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that (1) the ordinary meaning of ‘‘submit’’ is ‘‘to send,’’ and that, in the tax context, ‘‘timely mailing is timely filing,’’ (2) the rule of lenity applies to civil penalties for alleged lateness, and, therefore, the statute should be strictly construed ‘‘and not extended by implication,’’ and (3) because the court found that the word ‘‘submit’’ was ambiguous, a decision in favor of the taxpayer was compelled as a matter of law.

The defendant counters that ‘‘submit’’ means present, file, or formally deliver, arguing that ‘‘[i]n some tax settings the legislature has intended for the date of sending to be considered the date of filing or submission. Crucially, however, when the legislature so intends, it expresses that intent explicitly by adding words such as ‘or postmarked’ to the statute.’ With respect to the rule of lenity, the defendant argues that it applies ‘‘only if the statute...

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4 cases
  • Seramonte Assocs., LLC v. Town of Hamden
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 18 Octubre 2022
    ...each year."The plaintiff subsequently appealed from the trial court's judgment to the Appellate Court. Seramonte Associates, LLC v. Hamden , 202 Conn. App. 467, 468, 246 A.3d 513 (2021). In that appeal, the plaintiff claimed that the trial court erred in its interpretation of § 12-63c by re......
  • Schaghticoke Tribal Nation v. State
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • 27 Septiembre 2022
    ...or its equivalent––to the tribe. Our review of that issue of statutory interpretation is plenary. See Seramonte Associates, LLC v. Hamden , 202 Conn. App. 467, 476, 246 A.3d 513 ("[i]ssues of statutory construction raise questions of law, over which we exercise plenary review" (internal quo......
  • Your Mansion Real Estate, LLC v. RCN Capital Funding, LLC
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • 3 Agosto 2021
    ...were paid directly to the state, it would not constitute a fine for eighth amendment purposes. See Seramonte Associates, LLC v. Hamden , 202 Conn. App. 467, 482–83, 246 A.3d 513, cert. granted, 336 Conn. 923, 246 A.3d 492 (2021) (10 percent penalty for failing to file tax forms in timely ma......
  • Seramonte Assocs., LLC v. Town of Hamden
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 9 Marzo 2021
    ...petition. Adam J. Blank, Stamford, in opposition. The plaintiff's petition for certification to appeal from the Appellate Court, 202 Conn. App. 467, 246 A.3d 513 (AC 42770), is granted, limited to the following issue: "Did the Appellate Court properly construe the phrase ‘who fails to submi......

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